The enchanting voice of Peggy Lee singing Bali Hai’i, is much better imagined if its actually about Bali. Its not, but we can pretend.
Probably up there on a list of the most over-used, over-done holiday destination on earth like Ibiza, Cancun, the place actually deserves a lot more credit. Yes it’s over-run at times by hordes of utterly pissed up Australian dimwits who take over Kuta and Legian and turn it into some exotic tinny-up fest where they can act like complete twats and feel no sense of shame for the local people. Those areas truly are hell on earth.
But there are others.
Nature-wise this still is one of the most beautiful places you can visit. The lush forests and rice terraces, volcanos, temples and oceans that spread across the entire island are magical. Every house seems to have a small shrine in its garden which the locals treat with reverence, cleaning them every day keeping it all pristine. The houses themselves often have ornate rooves and carvings. Smiles ring out from every corner despite it being so tourist-ified.
A small haven from the party crow is Ubud. Yes, I know... EAT PRAY LOVE almost decimated this place by replacing anyone of substance with a middle-aged crisis ridden American looking for meaning under the palms of a (in)different hemisphere. Truth be told there are plenty of them walking around, but they are avoidable and wake up and go to sleep early.
Having been to Bali multiple times, the following advice is a culmination of all those visits, except the first one which was before mobile phones were widely used and they certainly didn't have cameras on them to capture your next waking meal. If you find yourself in Bali, either staying in Ubud, Canggu, Denpasar or even around Kuta - Seminyak, there will be something in here for you to try:
Here we go, the best bars and restaurants in Bali:
Fu Shou Noodle Club ($$)
A discussion in a bar lead to the person I was talking to recommending this place as the “Best place in Bali”. He mean’t that it’s so difficult to find such authentic Chinese hand-made noodles at this price-point. I of course had to check it out the very next day and spent a few minutes driving past it, turning around, driving past it again until I noticed the tiny little blip in the wall. The owner/Chef came out of the kitchen to greet me and recommended the Chicken Noodles. I waited quite a while for the food, but thats more often than not a good thing.
This was sublime, the texture of the noodles were amazing, the chicken was free-range and really succulent. It’s a tiny hole in the wall that might scare a few tourists off, but this truly is a hidden gem in Ubud.
Naughty Nuri's ($$)
An homage to the late, great Anthony Bourdain, no visit to Ubud would be the same without a pop over to a place he used to love. His entry in the guestbook read “Best Martinis in the world”. I followed his advice to the T, but only managed 2 martinis, not 3 like him and had an awesome night. The ribs were succulent, the sambal really elevated everything, spicy and super fresh, and the Martinis just rounded the edge off life. (Make sure you go to Naughty Nuri’s and not the Mexican place a bit further down the hill called by the same name)
Tip: Most definitely do not dare to eat this without ordering a side of spicy sambal! It's epic
The Melting Wok Warung ($$)
Jam packed from opening til closing, this place is full for a reason. The food is great, the service friendly and the prices very affordable. It’s on a pedestrian street so if you get one of the front tables you can also people watch while you wait for your food.
The Coconut Chicken Curry with Noodles was the only thing I tried here and it was delicious.
The Watercress Cafe ($$$)
I dined here for lunch one sufferingly hot afternoon, and sat outside in the shade guzzling a cold Sav Blanc until my food came. The beef cheek Rendang was sublime, rich yet unctuous with perfectly cooked rice speckled with deep-fried shallots.
A slightly more expensive place but the food is worth it.
If, like me, you sometimes just want a dose of home comforts, this is your spot. Come here for great burgers, pastrami sandwiches, etc. You know the quality is spot-on because the butcher shop is right next door. You have to pay a premium for good meat, but this is worth every penny.
Johnny Tacos ($$)
Located in a tiny alley in Kuta, near the airport, this spot is barely the size of a taxi but pumps out the best Mexican food on the island. Great fish tacos, great salsas, super cheap prices and a constant line of tourists and ex-pats lining up to eat in or take-away to their condo’s hidden behind.
Grab a few taco’s, some mango salsa, a margarita and get a feed before your plane journey.
Ganesha Ek Sanskriti ($$$)
Yes, a bizarre name. Looks like a totaly overpriced wanky restaurant from Benidorn too from the outside, but luckily it’s whats inside that counts. The food here was the closest I got to authentic Indian in Bali. Really good home-style chicken curry and naan (the only dish I tried so can't vouch for the rest).
Service was good, but a little bit finicky when you feel they are standing behind your shoulder waiting to burst in with a suggestion. But come for the food.. it's good.
Hakkata Ikkousha Ramen ($$)
THE place in Bali for an Authentic bowl of Tonkotsu Ramen, tender pork and great eggs. It’s in a bizarre area with lots of construction around it but take an uber out if you get the chance.
Wacko Burger ($$)
Bali’s best burger?
Locavore gives it a run for it’s money, but by god this is good. The perfect spot by some ricefields in Seminyak that does exceptional burgers and fries and everything that comes with it. Worth a taxi ride from wherever you are staying to park yourself here for an enjoyable hour of carnivorous carnage.
Two Trees Eatery ($$)
Perched just beside The Piring Daun (another place worth checking out for its take on Indian food) this spot is a bee's nest of activity. Yoga mums and healthy people line up for their exceptional food, whilst reading books on calm minds and rubbing coconut essence all over their bodies.
I opted for the healthy sandwich, but added bacon. F*** it. It was delicous. Fresh, tasty and not too hard on the wallet. Service was super, Indonesians really are some of the friendliest people on earth, and this spot is perfect for having lunch and bringing a book.
Where to drink
🤘 Senimans Spirits
Owner Xenia and bar-tender extraordinaire, Sinta will welcome you in with some exceptional drinks in this gem of a spot. Tucked up a side street, its well worth heading over there and basically letting them make you some classic cocktails or ask them to go ahead and create something to suit your taste. The prices are decent, the bar is cosy, and the pair of them will have you wanting to come back.
I was there off-season and the place was generally thin with customers, however Friday night was a riot and packed to the brim. The bartenders are friendly as most Indonesians seem to be, the place is an ode to music of all genres and if you’re lucky you get to hear some great DJ’s.
Bars I didn't photograph
Gimme Shelter - Turned off entirely based on the fact that people smoke inside, but if you smoke then don’t worry about that. If you are up for a few beers watching a local band playing Nirvana covers then this is your spot! PRICE: $$
Pretty Poison - Skatebowls, cover bands, cheap drinks and a huge backyard where you can mingle with young and old. It’s not my scene, but you never know, people are differentt. PRICE: $$
Mingle Bar - This spot is a perfect place to spend happy-hour, sitting on the porch watching life stroll by enjoying 2 for 1 cocktails. The drinks are not top class but the price is excellent. PRICE: $
Old Man’s Bar - A horrendous place taken in perspective, but if you sneak in and just sit up at the far corner of the bar you can enjoy some cold beverages and usually meet some friendly people. I used to sit by the ATM’s at the grocery store and have some cold Bintangs but the youth have seemed to discover hacking into the speaker there and just end up playing godawful techno. PRICE: $$
The Melting Pot Saloon - Definitely my spot to go to for soccer or sports. A long bar where you can sit in relative peace watching the many screens, the bar food here is nothing to sniff at either and the kitchen is open late. PRICE: $$