Hello, it’s Jack, Exec Chef at BAHA – also known as ‘BIG DOG’ by my fellow chefs at BAHA.
My partner and I made the decision to travel to Bali last month based on various great reviews from people we know. I had a strong suspicion that if anywhere would have pacific rim theme, it would be there.
It turned out I wasn’t wrong….
From amazing poke’ bowls to red dragon fruit smoothies, Mahi-mahi ceviche and an all-dessert taster menu, the choice was almost overwhelming and most certainly inspirational. The bounty of global cuisine on offer here seems more suitable to a cosmopolitan city than a tropical island. Bali has clearly moved beyond a beach destination and has become a lifestyle destination. The Australians are to thank for most of this culinary revolution with a clique of international chefs highly regarded in Aus setting up shop all over.
It is evident people are dining out for the experience rather than just the food now. Bali, like the UK, is having to adapt and move accordingly, but the pace of the trendsetters out there is undeniable. Really the only constant in Bali has been the evolution of what people want and expect and this has created a movement, which in my opinion has put Bali at the forefront of modern cuisine. The fact I had the best Mexican food in my life at the famous Motel Mexicola, is testament to this. And all for half the price you would pay anywhere else, except Mexico of course.
However, with that said, Bali’s indigenous cuisine shouldn’t be ignored either. Beyond the cheap and cheerful “warungs” are plentiful upscale restaurants serving authentic Balinese and Pan-Indonesian menus, where one can sample babi guling (whole-roasted suckling pig) and gado-gado, a hearty, cooked vegetable platter with savoury peanut sauce.
There is a limit to how many Nasi Gorengs you can eat in 17 days, so we were grateful to have such a selection on offer each day, but as far as Indonesian food is concerned, there’s a whole archipelago out there just waiting to be explored.
I will mention a few of our stand out food experiences, starting with “BO$$MAN.”
It is proclaimed by most to be the best spot in Bali for burgers, BO$$MAN is run by New Zealand–born restaurateur Adam McAsey and chef Jethro Vincent, both responsible for Sisterfields next door which i will come onto in a minute. The beef-based selections are 60-day dry-aged chuck cuts, moulded by hand on-site, and the pork selection—named The Notorious P.I.G., naturally—is 18-hour cooked pork belly with Asian slaw and candied chilli. The sole chicken burger takes on Korean fried chicken with kimchi, sesame emulsion, and gochujang mayo. And yes, there’s a vegan option too, which consists of edamame beans, beetroot and quinoa. Each burger is served with house-made sauces and a multi-coloured sesame bun to hold the magic together. This is something myself and the team are now seriously considering putting on our Pacific street food menu.
Warung Pak Malen specializes in one thing only: babi guling, whole roasted suckling pig, a signature of Balinese cooking and ceremonies. A set meal here consists of pork prepared in a variety of ways. First up is a heady spiced broth with pork, which you drink directly from the bowl. Then it’s on to the main event, a bamboo plate piled high with rice, roasted pork, pork satay, fried pork, a piece of fried pork rind, some pork skin, and braised pork. Sides include traditional lawar, a mix of slow-cooked vegetables, and spicy sambal. This is a meal that most visitors will try at least once—Balinese people eat it often—and Pak Malen manages to be a step above other warungs without abandoning its traditional feel.
Sisterfields is an all-day Australian breakfast cafe that feels like it’s been plucked straight out of the shores of Sydney. Located conveniently in central Seminyak, the place is light and airy, with smart glass walls and marble-top tables. An all-day menu is casual, easy, and filled with crowd-pleasers like chilli scrambled eggs with pastrami and the most unreal rye bread i have ever eaten. Filled with Instagram-worthy acai bowls made of blueberries and banana and the juice list, which features the Inner Cleanse, with apple, pear, lime, and ginger; smoothies include Morning Glory, with mango, basil, coconut cream, yogurt, honey, and lemon juice. Naturally, the flat whites are also fabulous. The art of Coffee seems to be an completely nailed in Bali. I expect this is due to such strong competition.
Finally, onto our favourite experience, Motel Mexicola.
The space itself is split into a few sections, but the sense of fun and frivolity is common across every single one. Upon approaching, you can see bright yellow umbrellas and neon floor to ceiling. They are just the first indication of what’s to come inside.
The bright colour theme continues with splashes of paint across the front entrance and the interior walls. Once inside, you’ll find a huge table covered in marigolds – you’ve just encountered the Motel Mexicola ‘shrine’, complete with retro photographs and thick candles overflowing with wax.
Keep going to find the central courtyard, where all the action takes place. Bars line the perimeter, dishing up, amongst other libations, Mexico’s drink of choice: tequila.
Mexicola’s Head Chef, Steven Skelly, shares the owners’ love of authentic Mexican street food and a desire to ‘up the ante’ when it comes to Bali’s taqueria offerings. He arrives with 23 year’s experience working for some of Sydney’s best chefs, including Greg Doyle, Grant King, Stephen Hodges and Tony Bilston.
The menu is full of mouth-watering tostadas, empanadas, quesadillas, tacos and salads, but the best way to get the fiesta started is with the Feed Me menu. This is a five-course journey with a selection of esquites, tostadas, tacos, ceviche and a few of the mains, all designed to share.
For street-style tacos, there is a selection of the costilla with shredded pork ribs, the jaiba suave with soft shell crab and pineapple salsa, and the pollo with marinated chicken and pico de gallo.
My personal favourite was the baja taco, which is described as ‘Mexican fish and chips’, or the ceviche de coco – a tuna and young coconut ceviche spiked with ginger and chilli.
Vegetarians need not fear, they can indulge on the calabaza rotizada. The agave-roasted pumpkin accompanied by grilled corn, black beans, pumpkin and sunflower seeds with a tangy yoghurt dressing.
The final touch was watermelon in cinnamon sugar – the perfect dessert for humid climates. Amazing!
I believe Motel Mexicola has to offer some of the island’s best cocktails. Sip on the El Agave and Passionfruit Smash, an intoxicating combination of smashed passionfruit, mint and ripe pineapples, balanced perfectly with local rainforest honey, Jose Cuervo tequila and Grand Marnier.
Also Manuela’s mojito, featuring a secret rum blend with organic mint, local limes and house-pressed sugar cane, or a classic margarita, made using 100% blue agave tequila.
A stand out drink for me that i had on numerous occasions is the Mexican favourite, the Michelada – fresh tomato juice with a hit of Mexican chilli and lime, accompanied by a full bottle of San Miguel Pilsner Pale. I personally love bloody Mary’s but this blows that out of the water.
Overall the experience was a pure delight. I certainly took a lot away from this dining experience and I will be introducing more of this crazy style Mexican cantina in Baha.
I have travelled extensively throughout my career in the Royal Marines and in my adult life, including many parts of Asia. By saying Bali is probably the closest place to paradise on earth, nearly does it justice. I think the Tropics overall are just fabulous because they provide a perfect climate for growing the most out of this world exotic fruit and veg. Some of which actually look like they’ve been on steroids and apparently avocados the size of honeydew melons are the norm.
But If you are choosing to go anywhere after this COVID-19 pandemic passes, choose Bali, to guarantee your mind being blown.
At BAHA my aim is to bring to the Lake District, the flavours and dishes from around the pacific rim. Tastes that blow your mind and make you want to experience every dish we create. I love food more than anything and I love creating dishes with my team that take our guests on a journey that’s unlike anywhere in the North. After all this has blown over I invite you to come and taste my love for Pacific Rim Street Food at BAHA. See you there.
Big Dog – Jack Wyness
Executive Head Chef
Hargreaves Enterprise at BAHA in Bowness.