Michelin star Italian chef Nicola Russo is creating some of Bali’s most delicious and detailed food with a 10 course degustation at Api Jiwa at Capella Ubud.
The 10 course degustation menu at Api Jiwa is strategically and temperately designed to create an awakening of the taste buds and the senses.
The setting is in the middle of Capella Ubud, one of the most extraordinary and exclusive tented camp hotels in the world, designed by South East Asian design guru, Bill Bensley. (Read more about the hotel here). Best part is you don’t have to be staying to dine at Api Jiwa- although that is the ultimate experience.
The restaurant is open air, and guests can dine at the bar like we did, enjoying the show, or there are tables for couples or groups dotted around the intimate restaurant.
The meal at Api Jiwa is served at the same time for all restaurant diners, which creates a collaborative setting for everyone to share their excitement at the arrival of each of the ten courses, and the subsequent demolition of each and every dish.
Api Jiwa means fire to the soul in sanskrit, and dining there is a powerful, soulful journey.
The meal began casually with local and house made tapioca, prawn and peanut chips, served in a metal cylindrical cup with spicy Indonesian sambal chili, edamame, and cashew chips, along with a refreshing complimentary cocktail.
The activity in the bar began with chopping, cooking and a blend of exotic flavours slowly filling the air and our taste buds.
The first course of raw, fine sushi sparkled like coloured jewels, and was presented glistening on bamboo – a touch of Bali. The taste was clean and ocean fresh. The Lombok oyster was medium sized and succulent, local tuna was flavoursome and delicious and bright orange thinly sliced ocean trout slices from Australia melted in the mouth.
The Japanese style lobster in cooked egg custard, Chawanmushi, was a crowd favourite, and the first big WOW of the night.
The Japanese style lobster in cooked egg custard, Chawanmushi, was a crowd favourite, and the first big wow of the night. If it wasn’t impolite the diners would all have been squealing. This was creamy, salty, yet sweet and the lobster so soft it dispersed in the mouth. A dish to be savoured.
A modern mini take on Vietnamese style bone broth, Saigon Beef Pho was slow cooked for 40 hours then aromatised with ginger, lime leaf, lemongrass. It was served with a few noodles, herbs and mushrooms and a small beef satay in it -a fabulously modern interpretation of a dish bursting with the soul food and Oriental flavours this part of the world is famous for.
Another modern interpretation of an Asian classic – the trendy boa bun arrived stylishly bursting with texture and flavour. It was filled with Japanese style crunchy fried chicken (which had rice flour added in the frying process to increase the crunch). Fresh, zesty kimchi mayonnaise was there, and thin slices of cucumber added a wet, cool, refreshing feel and taste. I ate this dish slowly.Delicious.
A painter would choose the signature vegan dish out of the ten for a classically elegant work of art. It consists of a generous slice of grilled cauliflower which arrives on a whole sitting in (very dark) Indonesian green curry with white on black dalmatian spots of fermented black garlic all over the base of the dish. A vegan’s delight, it was perfectly cooked with a crunchy texture, smoothness of the curry flavour, and a gentle bite from the garlic. Gorgeous.
An oversized Sumatran prawn served whole in its shell was a highlight of the meal for most. A plump, fleshy and flavoursome prawn sat in the shell topped with local fried rice and cured egg yolk. The prawn meat was juicy and moist, and there was a lot of it. The fried rice gave each mouthful a crunchy, salty, flavour filled moment. I wasn’t surprised the vegan diner next to us, who saw it come out, quickly explained to the chef that he was in fact able to eat seafood – and Nicola promptly organised the prawn for him at a later course. Wise choice.
The degustation journey then took a more western, traditional direction when a piece of Australian beef arrived. A tender piece of smoked beef sat on a dash of delicately blended truffled, buttered mashed potato, with king oyster mushrooms and miso sauce. A local, edible green leaf on top was a reminder that the western style meal was still being served in South East Asia.
The meal had two desserts. The pre- dessert looked even better than it tasted. Fresh raspberries were topped with creamy, rich coconut sorbet. A tiny tree of coconut coral sat on top. This was a refreshing palette cleanser, raspberries being an indulgence in this part of the world.
A second dessert was bursting with attitude and flavour. The tropical brownie was not for the timid degustation diner, and (thankfully for me) chocolate was the star. I always feel like I haven’t had a legitimate dessert unless it has chocolate. This one did not disappoint and featured thin slices of chocolate cake, Kintamani (local) chocolate shards, banana, icecream and a delicate pineapple sauce as well as some finely chopped small pineapple squares. Tasty, rich but not too rich, with chocolate filled with cacao and not overrun with sugar.
The Bali meal didn’t end there. Five multi coloured truffles sat on a plate for every guest, with a hand made bamboo bird as decoration. Each was filled with different flavours, mostly local from pandan to coconut.
Chef Nick has some humour; when I picked up the bamboo bird to admire the handy work, it was clear there were two balls rolling around inside it. To access them, the bird had to be squeezed to release the two balls out of the rear tail feather, like eggs, where they neatly popped out one after the other sprinkling sesame seeds. I laughed out loud, not just at the bird, but at the joyous emotions this incredible meal had brought out in both myself and my dining companion, as well as the guests dining next to us.
The best high end dining experiences are as much about theatre as they are about food. This one in Bali does not disappoint on either front. This is world class – and I would say Michelin star dining in Bali’s Ubud. I woke up the next day in the lap of luxury in my extraordinary tent wanting to do it all again. Such is a stay at Capella Ubud in Bali.