Locavore: An Offbeat Culinary Lab in The Heart of Ubud

Locavore in Ubud is a two-hour saga of fine dining, presented as visual works of art. It’s a perfect place for foodies willing to pay for stellar service coupled with unique and mysterious culinary offerings – a walk on the wild side.

I’ll start off by saying that Locavore was one of the most interesting dining experiences I’ve ever had, not just in Bali, but ever. I wasn’t sure what to expect at first, as I arrived at the understated building on Jl. Dewi Sita in the pouring down rain. We showed up early, and the restaurant wasn’t yet open, but the staff informed us that we could sit down at the table in the centre of the room while the chefs and wait staff continued getting set up. I felt obligated to introduce myself to the chef, a tattooed, bearded man named Eelke. He was undeniably a cool customer – soft-spoken and earnest – but nice all the same in his casual brevity. The young chef was probably just putting himself in the mental zone for what he and the crew were about to be focusing on in great detail: a one-of-a-kind, multiple-course, nature-themed, fine dining saga for the guests paying top dollar in Ubud.

I felt obligated to introduce myself to the chef, a tattooed, bearded man named Eelke. He was undeniably a cool customer – soft-spoken and earnest – but nice all the same in his casual brevity. The young chef was probably just putting himself in the mental zone for what he and the crew were about to be focusing on in great detail: a one-of-a-kind, multiple-course, nature-themed, fine dining saga for the guests paying top dollar in Ubud.

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I’ll get to the food in a minute, but I think what I like best about Locavore was the pacing of the dishes. In between courses, the staff only allowed five to ten minutes to pass before bringing out the next unique dish. Customers never have to flag anyone down, as someone will always appear quietly (yet non-invasively) at your side. This was done deliberately, and with pinpoint timing. The flow went something like this: The dish comes out and is placed in the centre of the table, under a focused hanging light to illuminate the food, which is presented in some sort of unique fashion (every course is like a work of art). The waitress explains what the food is, elaborates on the concept a bit and says “please enjoy”, then walks away. At this point, it seems as if the edible sculpture on the table is deliberately begging for Instagram love, which is precisely what my wife and I did for many of them.

Nature and nurture

It’s important to note that I had no prior knowledge of Locavore’s accolades or concept before I sat down. That said, the interpretation you’re getting here is just from my own experience. Each dish that came out of the fully visible kitchen at Locavore had – what I believed to be – a nature theme. Now, I’m not a food critic, nor do I often write about food, so just try to bear with me as I attempt to describe the experience. I will also just try to stick to the highlights, as the whole endeavor was a marathon of additional treats from the chef, many of which I can’t even remember.

The first thing that came out was a drink called Ashes. It was the most unique alcoholic beverage I’ve ever had. It consisted of blowtorched dehydrated fruit, Ketel One vodka, Bulleit rye whiskey sweet and sour, homemade fortified wine palm sugar syrup, burned cassia bark molasses cracker, served on a ‘rock’ pine forest mist. The appeared behind me with a blowtorch and burnt a pinecone (at least I think it was a pinecone), next to create an aroma like we were in the woods. I broke the sugar syrup surface with a burning spice stick of some kind, mixed it all together and sipped the delicious liquid. We were in the woods now.

Without skipping a beat, next out was the crab, an awesomely delicate but punchy little experience, consisting of crab meat from Timika, South Papua, slightly spicy creamy cantaloupe melon, dark sourdough, cured kampung egg yolk bangkuang and topped with Jasmine flowers. It was gone in a couple bites, and I was wondering why the portion was so small. I would soon find out that it was because a conveyor belt of culinary creations was on the way.

Snails and frogs for first-timers

If you had told me earlier in the day that I’d be eating snails and frogs in Ubud that afternoon – and actually liking it – I wouldn’t have believed you. Yet, lo and behold, without even realizing I had ordered it, out came a creation that Locavore dubbed “Into The Sawah”. According to the menu, it was a mixture of high-grade rice from Central Bali, snails and garlic, a duck egg cooked to 64 degrees, catfish, fern tips and wild flowers.

Wait, snails? Yup, that’s right. I didn’t want to let any part of this meal sit uneaten, so I thought I’d just take one bite, then I could forever claim that I tried escargot once on holiday. Just get it down and move on to the next dish, I thought to myself. But after I took that first bite, I felt a bit like the character in Dr. Seuss’s “Green Eggs and Ham” – you know the guy who ends up liking it at the end? It tasted delicious, and I ate both mine and my wife’s portions. Similarly, when a dish came out later that had frog legs in it, I was hesitant, but then became bullish after the first bite.

Over the course of the roughly two-hour meal, we got to experience a variety of dishes that satisfied our taste buds, filled our bellies and gave amateur food photography a new meaning for my wife and I. One interesting highlight was a dish called “The Leaves That Nobody Knows”, consisting of wild leaves, peanuts, hibiscus vinegar and pyramid salt. Another playful yet satisfying dish was the “Umami” – an interesting amalgamation of brown rice, mushrooms, egg yolk sauce, watercress and savoury powder. This one stuck around on the palate for many minutes after.

In the end, Locavore made a believer out of me, despite the fact that I’m a bona fide newbie when it comes to fine dining. Perhaps a more experienced critic would have something negative to say, but after all was said and done, I thought that the service, the menu and the concept were all truly unique and interesting. The way Chef Eelke turned each dish into a visual work of art alone was worth the trip. Perhaps all these elements working together are what garnered Locavore a spot of “Asia’s Top 50 Restaurants”. I was grateful for the experience and would definitely recommend Locavore to foodies with deep pockets, complex palettes and an appreciation for food art.

For reservations and more information, please visit http://www.locavore.co.id/

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Leighton Cosseboom covers a variety of topics related to news, business, and technology in the region.


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