I suppose that it was only what you should expect from one of the worlds great hotel chains, but the food at the new Conrad Hotel in Tanjung Benoa really took me by surprise. When you eat at a major five star hotel you always know that the basic ingredients will be of the best quality and the offerings will have been produced in clean hygienic kitchens. The food will invariably be safe! However, with the exception of the occasional elite restaurant, it will rarely be exciting. Often the value will also be quite questionable.
Suku is a knockout! And this is not even Conrads main fine dining restaurant. That will be Spice in the final wing of the hotel that is due to open in a few months.
No matter where you sit, either in the air-conditioned interior or out on the open terrace, the sea view is quite breathtaking! You are on a lower terrace under the foyer with a view of the swimming pools, then the beach, further out the endless sea that seems to stretch to nowhere.
Whilst open for breakfast, many of the unusual specials will soon be available for a leisurely brunch. What a great idea! Everything from the traditional Eggs Benedict to a more exotic version with Smoked Salmon, and a whole lot more. The Tuscan Omelette comes with potato, pancetta, and mushrooms. Dill smoked Salmon Hash and a novel Breakfast Burrito [scrambled egg combined with chorizo, onion, potato and peppers, topped with cheese of course].
If you want a simple sandwich or burger, forget it. Even the simple things here are bordering on the exotic. The Burger is a Salmon one, on a whole-wheat roll with a black olive tapanade and fennel spread. The Steak Sandwich is with cheddar cheese, and a spicy tomato jam. Even the trusty Club Sandwich gets a makeover at Suku. Smoked turkey breast, combined with cheddar cheese, avocado, bacon and tomatoes on toasted country-style bread.
Suku, in fact all the food outlets at Conrad, have many trio dishes, or combi in the case of drinks. This commences with the arrival of a freshly baked and sliced loaf of Ciabatto bread in a basket accompanied by a set of three different olive oils. The three containers sit like the top half of champagne flutes in a special wooden holder.
Interesting luncheon specials include a Pumpkin and Bacon Soup with sweet potato chips, or a Chilled Gazpacho Soup that has been made Andalusian style. The Salad Antipasti is a great starter or extra side dish for your mains. A pile of so fresh greens is surrounding with liberal helpings of prosciutto, salami, roasted peppers, olives and sliced tomato topped with mozzarella. A chunk of pesto baguette is on the side. The Trio of Balinese Sates is served with a tangy chilli peanut sauce.
Even pastas take on exotic combinations. The Lasagna is of Wild Mushrooms, with prosciutto and spinach. Together with a Pumpkin Risotto [baby spinach and toasted pine nuts] they are just some of the mouth-watering offerings to tempt your palate.
All the usual grills are here, seafood, steak, lamb cutlets and a rack of pork loin. You choose your own side order and sauce from a long list. It is almost impossible to avoid ordering one, or more, of the Suku Specials on your first visit. The Twice Cooked Beef Short Ribs with garlic mashed potatoes and a Dijon horseradish sour cream is a signature dish of well-travelled Executive Chef, Gary Rosen. Being a Duck Freak, I could not pass up the Spice Braised Duck Confit. Sensational, one of the greatest I have ever had! A succulent leg and shoulder of duck tops a pile of mustard mash, with shallot sauce drizzled all around. Be French and soak up the sauce with some of the great bread.
The Steamer Basket Salmon is unique. Steamed in a Chinese basket from broth of soya, ginger and scallions, the quite large portion of salmon is so fragrant you savour the taste of each mouthful. A small bowl of julienne of vegetables, perfectly wok fried, accompanies this dish. The Hainanese style Poached Chicken comes with fragrant rice accompanying broth and condiments.
Other Asian specials include a Madras style Chicken Curry served on saffron rice, served with a papadum of course. The Laksa contains rice noodles, prawns, bean curd, chicken and bean sprouts in a coconut curry broth. An old favourite is the Sweet and Sour Crispy Fried Pork, with pineapple and peppers.
Desserts can be enjoyed to complete a perfect meal, or as an excuse to drop in for a mid afternoon coffee and snack. The Apricot Cheesecake is topped with a raspberry coulis. A Half Baked Chocolate Cake, with pistachio ice cream and passion fruit sauce, is heaven-sent for all those chocaholics. There is a Trio of Crème Brulees, galangal flavoured, kopi Bali and pure vanilla bean. The Campari Orange Parfait is dribbled with a strawberry ginger sauce. A wild variety of assorted ice creams, some with familiar flavours, others that take you by surprise, come with all the fruit combinations you could imagine. The strangely named Tete-a-Tete comprises seven scoops of different ice cream flavours combined with marshmallows and fruit. For total decadence try the Iced Tiramisu; cappuccino mascarpone ice cream sits on a layer of liqueur soaked biscuit, all dusted with cocoa
Whilst the sheer quality of food presented at Suku is a wonderful surprise, so is the fact that the prices are, as yet anyway, incredibly good value. There are no Rp.300,000 main courses here, in fact the average is barely half of that. Even more amazing is that the good value prices even extend to the drink list. Most standard cocktails are priced at Rp.60,000++. Try their Bubble Combi, three flutes of champagne; Mangolini [nectar of mango], Azure [blue curacao] and The Strait [midori]. For something very different there is a Combi Rita; a glass each of classic, strawberry and golden margaritas.
The food at Suku is what you would expect from a chef who has spent half a lifetime working in Asia, exploring the wonderful and varying tastes that exist from country to country. We cannot wait to discover what is in store for us when Conrads fine dining restaurant, Spice, opens later this year. That menu is going to reproduce all the flavours found along the famous Spice Route of Marco Polo, from Persia to China, and all in between.
Five star food, with the same level of service, all go to make Suku one of those places where you must take your overseas guests so they can sample that so Bali experience of great food and view in a setting never to be forgotten. We lucky locals can, of course, re-visit as often as we like.