Bali weekend: Balangan Beach Part 1

I’ll start this entry with a confession.

Late last week I stole my wife’s dinner.

Balangan from the clifftop

Balangan from the clifftop

She’d cooked up a beef casserole in the slow-cooker and had a bowl of it before heading across to Kuta for some shopping. I ate later, and, assuming she had had her fill, after putting aside some for the kids’ lunch the next day, I ate the rest of it.

I won’t repeat the exchange of text messages as Sam drove home from Kuta, though let’s just say her first message noted she’d bought some bread for soaking up the beef sauce… and it was all kinda downhill from there.

As it turned out, I did Sam a huge favour. The beef was bad and it gave me a bout of food poisoning worse than anything I have experienced since India. It laid me out, emptied me out and nothing, not even water, stayed down.

Beach umbrellas

Beach umbrellas, late afternoon

So what’s one to do in a situation like that? Head to the beach for a night I say. So Saturday morning off we headed to one of Bali’s best strips of sand, Balangan Beach.

Balangan is one of Bali’s lesser known beaches, but it is all the better for it. It’s basically the next beach of any size between what used to be known as Dreamland (now fittingly referred to as “New Kuta”) and the Ayana Resort (and Jimbaran after it). The beach is down a steep staircase (easy to climb when not carrying two wet children) and an assortment of warungs and cheap homestay/shacks are set up along the eastern end of the beach. Slightly to the west of centre is a temple and after that there is nothing — just sand.

People walking on Balangan Beach

People walking along Balangan Beach

At hightide there is some good swimming to be had — though bear in mind, as a surf beach, you’ll need to keep a close eye on any rugrats. At low tide a rocky base breaks the surface, making much of it crummy for swimming but ideal for pond watching, shell collecting and of course, as the tide drops, dam-building — my favourite.

And let me state unequivocally: The biggest threat to the Three Gorges Dam is not silt build-up but rather the arrival of a 50-metre tall two-year-old boy who just “wants to help”.

The western headland, note fishermen at top

The western headland, note fishermen at top

If you start building lots of dams — or sand castles — you’ll note another of Balangan’s special features. The grains of sand are, by and large, perfectly spherical. They immediately brought couscous to mind, and I’ve never ever seen sand quite like it.

The sun sets more or less directly offshore and the vista is spectacular.

Looking east from the headland

Looking east from the headland

So down on the beach, the basic procedure is surf, swim, sand castle- or dam-build and eat and drink to your heart’s content, then take in the sunset and get ready to repeat the procedure the next day.

Accommodation basically falls into two categories — cheap and basic backpacker digs down on the beach and more flashpacker-midrange stuff up above the beach on the cliff.

As for us it was just a one nighter and as I had a stolen dodgy beef to make up for, we decided to splurge and opted for the decidedly salubrious La Joya (The Jewel).

The nautilus shell motif that welcomes visitors to La Joya

The nautilus shell motif that welcomes all to La Joya

Set on an undulating plot, the bulk of the accommodation is spacious freestanding bungalows (some with outdoor bathroom), each with their own little fenced-in garden (great for containing kids!) and lawn. A larger two-storey building has more hotel-style rooms along with a very large private villa with its own pool. Two infinity swimming pools and a spacious restaurant fill out the property.

Gardens are simply gorgeous. Lovingly tended and with a glorious mix of colours, you find your way though them via a network of lawn pathways with the occassional subtle signage helping to point you in the right direction. Lots of shade.

Garden pathways

Garden pathways

Our room, a Deluxe Bungalow (Room #14 1,501,830 rp inc tax, service but before KITAS discount), certainly wasn’t cheap. The bungalow was quite spacious, easily fitting a double bed and a daybed (which we used as the kids’ bed) and came with separate toilet and shower rooms. Airy and bright, with a slight Moorish tone and excellent lighting through the evening, it was a room I could comfortably spend a few days in (ed: I could take a few weeks. Just in case you were wondering about a birthday pressie).

Double-width glass doors opened out onto our private yard with terrace seating. It was comfortably, but not totally, private.

It wasn’t all perfect though. One of the soft terrace seats had two nail heads sticking out (a hazard for the kids) so we asked for it to be replaced. We ended up with upright chairs from the restaurant, which were not the most comfortable to lounge around in. The glass doors, once locked, could easily be forced open from outside — both Samantha and myself broke in this way when we forgot our keys, so it’s difficult to say whether this is a plus or a minus. Lastly, while La Joya has some of the best water pressure I’ve experienced anywhere in Asia, the taps were fitted backwards (or the water pipes connected wrong or something) so when I turned on the cold water in the basin, I got scalding hot. Not good. And while it was a bonus for us, the lack of TV may bother some (it should be clear on the web site this is the case, we think).

Our (already messy) room

Our (already messy) room

But overall these were fairly minor things. The room was stylish and comfortable, clean and very well looked after (save the terrace chair), the air-con was cool enough to freeze Walt Disney and the kids loved their little zone.

The restaurant overlooks one of the pools and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The Western food is excellent and competitively priced for the standard, while the Indonesian fare isn’t so great and struck us as overpriced. The muzak was just awful. For the first time in my life I got up and asked restaurant staff if they could change the music (we were the only ones in the restaurant at the time — maybe the muzak was why!).

The restaurant pool

The restaurant pool

My crusted tuna salad (sliced rare tuna with julienne mango, in lime coriander with mixed lettuce finished with orange zest black vinegar) would, at 65,000 rp, certainly break a backpacker budget, but for this standard of resort, the price was more than reasonable. There are cheaper places to eat, both down the road and on the beach itself, so you don’t feel trapped with a lack of other options. Service was prompt, polite and very friendly. We found the mostly female staff to be exceedingly helpful and friendly with our kids — so much so we’d recommend this place for families on that strength alone.

Tuna for lunch

Tuna for lunch

However, a couple of things should be noted by those travelling with children, starting with the very prominent rat poison traps positioned by the two main entrances to the restaurant. With bright red arrows indicating their position and holes just big enough for a childs arm, these are an accident waiting to happen (unless there is no bait there during the day?). They should, at least, be obscured or better positioned, so while still obvious to a rat they are less so to a three-year old. Also around the restaurant we saw plugs hanging out of sockets and a junction box sitting beside a water feature. Neither outright dangerous, and not an issue for adults, but for kids, this kind of thing can really be better done.

Now a word on internet. I think it is outrageous that any property, anywhere in the world, charging over $100 a night charges a surcharge for WiFi access. If you can’t supply WiFi for free, then don’t offer it.

La Joya offers WiFi access, at a surcharge of 100,000 rp for 24 hours. I think it is an unacceptable charge, but we were told of the price upfront over the telephone, and we decided to grin and bear it. When we went in the early afternoon to ask about sorting out our access, we were told that only the manager could connect us, and she was down in Kuta “for a couple of hours”. Throughout the afternoon I wandered back to reception asking after WiFi, but the manager still wasn’t back. In the end it wasn’t till evening, after our dinner, that I returned to reception and managed to get the manager to hook us in.

Stylish coffee for breakie

Stylish coffee for breakie

At no stage was I offered an “Oh, I’m sorry for the inconvenience” by the manager — even though she was sitting across the pathway from me. I didn’t need — nor want — a grovelling apology, but I think it’s a pretty base level of service to apologise to a guest when they’ve been inconvenienced for the last eight hours. And though I was only in the resort for another perhaps 18 hours, half of those sleeping, they still charged me for the full 24 hours internet access.

Two things spring to mind concerning this. Firstly, train your staff to connect a guest to the router. Secondly, if you don’t see the inconveniencing of a guest for eight hours to be worthy of an apology or at least the gesture of a nominal discount, then I think you’re in the wrong trade.

And this brings me to my final thoughts on La Joya, centred on the staff. We found the local staff to be absolutely exceptional. They were terrific with our kids, they arranged a babysitter for us at very short notice, and we left feeling there was nothing we could have asked of them that they wouldn’t have helped us with. On the other hand we found the foreign staff — namely the manager and owner — to be, well, the mirror image of their staff. That on checkout, as they both stood in the office across from reception, neither felt the need to stroll the five metres across and enquire as to whether we enjoyed our stay, really left me scratching my head.

Leafy gardens

Leafy gardens

The hotel’s custom is almost all French (the receptionist said 97% French, then Portuguese) and we’re not French, so maybe that was the problem. Or perhaps it was that we brought kids, or that we asked for a KITAS discount. Perhaps they were both just having a really bad couple of days. Who knows?

But overall I left really feeling that they felt they didn’t need our custom — and that is a shame as I would have liked to have said I’d return here, but I probably won’t.

Cliff top fishing

Cliff top fishing

We’ll be returning to Balangan in a couple more weeks to check out a few of the other more backpacker and flashpacker orientated gigs in detail. But if La Joya sounds like your kettle of fish, you can reach them here:

La Joya
Jalan Uluwatu Pantai Balangan, Bali
Tel: +62 361 7450501
Mob: +62 818 565 839

Metis Bali: a review

When Bali institution Kafe Warisan shuttered a few weeks ago, those craving French cuisine with rice paddy views didn’t have long to wait to head out again. Warisan creators Said Alem and Nicolas Tourneville opened Metis just shy of two weeks ago and we thought we’d give it a test drive for a birthday dinner on October 27.

In summary: The food, in particular the sauces, are superb; the prices are reasonable; the service is friendly but needs a little work; and foie gras isn’t “legendary” when a new restaurant has only been open two weeks!

Their phone rang unanswered twice through mid-afternoon when we tried to make our reservation. Called in the evening and it was answered immediately. We had no problems making a reservation just a couple of days beforehand, booking in for a table for two at 8pm on a Tuesday. Courteous.

Layout & initial impressions:
Metis sits well back off Petitenget Road with adequate parking. We came by taxi. The dramatic pathway leading from the street to the restaurant — complete with water-borne torches ablaze — is somewhat lowlit, enough so that the half-dozen two-inch high steps along the way could be tripped on by the unaware. Brisk and polite security zapped our bags. When a mobile phone set off an alarm he asked, “Is that a phone?” to which we resisted saying, “No, it’s a bomb!” and entered the main foyer. The main entry has an Asian-inspired antiques store to the left and macaroon/chocolate shop to the right, with the main restaurant reached via a slight dogleg between the two. As you enter the dining area, you can immediately take in the splendid vista of the restaurant and rice paddy beyond.

Low slung bar at Metis. Image from Metis website

The restaurant is configured as an open-plan “U” with the central area a small grassy tableau, behind which sits the paddy views, a la Warisan. A long, luminescently green bar and casual lounge area runs along the right leg of the U ending in a sunken bar that juts directly into the paddy. The long bar was held up by a few foreigners in shorts and flipflops — we’re not clotheshorses, but come *on* people! The left leg is partly given over to the enclosed kitchen area. The best seating is at the centre of the U, right beside the lawn — and that’s where we were seated.

The bar:
We arrived almost 30 minutes early but were seated to eat immediately — we would have preferred to be asked if we wanted a drink at the bar first, so we ended up asking. The sunken bar, open to the sky, was initially deserted save one other customer, and a rat that ran straight between my feet (a mouse, according to our waiter), giving the paddy setting a touch more authenticity.

The modular seating is somewhat problematic. It’s basically two concentric half-circle lounges, one bigger than the other — they fit together with a small table flush to both at the centre. But the smaller circle needs a few people to be moved out to allow people to sit down, with the table then at the centre. We had to get the staff to help us position the seats, as did two other groups who came later. We imagine they’ll eventually have the tables spun out and ready for customers in the future.

Once we were seated, service was prompt and helpful. We ordered a Fifty Seven Magnum (70,000 Rp++) and a Chamango (70,000 Rp++). We’re all too aware of the liquor pricing issues in Indonesia, but in a place like Metis, we expected to pay more for our drinks — and get a martini glass of the size KuDeTa serves up. Beer nuts with toasted garlic accompanied the drinks. A margarita served for round number two was a better size. Service had to be called over to make a second order, despite an empty glass on the table for five minutes or so. Napkins didn’t arrive till the second drink. Beer nuts were not refilled. The jazzy music was audible but not too loud and as it wasn’t crowded, it felt quite intimate. We can’t help but wonder what they will do in wet season though — as it was the lounges felt a touch damp and the rains haven’t even begun. When I asked a waiter about protection in the rain, she said they would cover everything in plastic sheeting.

Metis long bar image from Metis website

Once back at our table, we perused one main menu each, a specials menu, a foie gras menu and the wine list. A small canapĂ© was served and we asked for bread — twice — but it didn’t appear until our appetizers did, 30 minutes later. The lack of bread was annoying, as was the floodlight directed upwards into the frangipani beside our table, which needs some shielding.

The food:
The business end of the evening! If you were a fan of Warisan, you’ll not be disappointed with the fare at Metis. An expansive menu, one of us had a lot of trouble deciding just what to have. Describing a dish as containing the restaurant’s “legendary foie gras” when the paint is barely dry on the walls, was a little presumptuous. You *were* Warisan, and now you are Metis! We ordered grilled scallops with foie gras (195,000 Rp) followed by barramundi (165,000 Rp) and grilled fresh Japanese scallops with gratinated sea urchin sauce (180,000 Rp) followed by Moroccan lamb rack mechoui (215,000 Rp). We asked for and received a twenty-minute break between courses.

Unfortunately wine in Indonesia is taxed to a completely ludicrous degree and as we’re just not willing to pay $75 for a $15 bottle of wine, we tend to make do with the “local” Hatten wines. Metis had both their white and rose on the menu, at a slight mark-up, but not the red. I’m the first to say the Hatten red is far from memorable, but its drinkable and not outrageously expensive. We’d have got a bottle of the Hatten Red if Metis carried it, but their next cheapest, (3Rivers Shiraz Cabernet) carried a substantial mark-up — so we just went with a glass of 3Rivers (120,000 Rp per glass) with the main and a couple of Heinekens (35,000 Rp per bottle).

On the upside, water comes cheap — free flow Evian for the evening cost 25,000 Rp per person, though we’d suggest the water be decanted into something more attractive than 1.5 litre plastic bottles that look to be straight from the Circle K.

Metis bar area. Image from Metis (note image on their website is reversed)

The Japanese scallops were fabulous. Set on a creamy sea urchin sauce, the dish was especially rich, but the scallops had a smooth, succulent texture and delicious flavour. The bread — at last! — was perfect for mopping up the sauce. That plate went back glisteningly clear. The fois gras with scallops and puy lentils was outstanding. We usually feel sufficiently guilty to never eat fois gras, but were tempted and it was delectable. Despite the fabulously rich sauce, even the flavour of the lentils came through.

By the time we’d finished the entree the restaurant was humming. The staff coped well and we were never left waiting. One distraction was that as the restaurant got busier the double swinging doors into the kitchen area were swung open and closed near constantly. This continual flicker of light and moving people was mildly irritating — and we were on the opposite side of the restaurant — yet people were being seated right beside this. Reserve ahead and specifically ask to be seated away from the kitchen doors.

If our scallops were fabulous, the lamb rack was superb — we’d go as far as to say it was probably the best lamb rack one of us has eaten — ever. Set on a base of vegetable ragout with a side of couscous, the etched crackle skin (easily removable for those who watch what they eat — not us!) sat atop lamb that fell off the bone. There was a slight spice-y aftertaste — star anise? — but the complex flavours were delightful. This was a hearty serving and it took a long, thoroughly pleasurable time to work through.

Our barramundi meanwhile was perhaps just a touch overdone, but the risoni underneath had perfect bite and was nestled in yet another amazing sauce. A win, but with some order envy alongside that lamb.

Dessert? We couldn’t fit anything in, but it must be said, after spending a lot of time trying to decide on the mains, the dessert offerings left us a little uninspired.

All food and beverage plus service (6%) and tax (10%) came out at 1,614,910 Rp which was a bit less than the expected million per head we’d have guessed ahead of time.

As we left, we suddenly found inspiration lurking again in the

little sweet shop. We selected some chocolate mint truffles and a few macaroons to take home, with a selection of six coming to 33,000 Rp. We also perused the antiques — a lovely Chinese wedding box jad a cool price tag of 37,5000,000 Rp — not sure if the price includes a wedding ceremony.

Our advice?
Book ahead and ask for a table by the lawn. Specifically ask to be away from the kitchen doors. Get there early, perhaps 30 minutes beforehand to enjoy the bar area. Get the lamb!

Jl. Petitenget No. 6, Bali, Indonesia.
T: (0361) 737 888

All images taken from the Metis website – note the last images is reversed on their website