Bali has many historic and cultural landmarks that regularly attract visiting tourists. Whilst many of these sites require a drive of a few hours, so few of them have a quality International restaurant in the vicinity. Something that would have made the day even more complete. Normally there are only local warungs [and no matter how good they are not always what the tourist is looking for], or worse still that infernal buffet, ten trays of re-heated [more than once] tasteless food being charged for at 'tourist price'.
Now, at last, at Karangasem's famous Water Palace at Tirta Gangga, the two are combined. The small villas that surround that of the King are now under English management, and their beautiful restaurant has had a total makeover.
The restaurant at Tirta Ayu is perfectly positioned, perched on the mountain ledge in front of the villas, overlooking the majestic Water Palace, with island sisters of Nusa Penida clearly visible in the background. As soon as you arrive at the restaurant you know that you have stepped over the threshold between Bali and International. Furthermore it is done without losing that wonderful naturalness of local Balinese service.
Start with a subtle Goat Cheese Ravioli, pasta rounds stuffed with that unique cheese and doused in a light mustard butter sauce, along with leaves of fresh ruccola [also great dipped in the sauce]. Vietnamese Rice Paper Rolls are thinly shredded cucumber and carrot, combined with glass noodles, coriander and prawn, then rolled in soft moistened rice paper. The accompanying dipping sauce is a tangy chilli/plum that wakes you up. Even the normal Vegetarian Spring Rolls are above average, crunchy exterior stuffed with healthy things and a great sweet chilli sauce for immersion.
Among the soups is an unusual Pumpkin that combines roasted pumpkin with onions, blended with chicken stock and finished with double cream, served with garlic bread. The Tirta Ayu Special is their Duck Soup, full of noodles and duck breast, flavoured with star anise.
As many visitors call in here for morning or afternoon snacks, as well as for a major meal, they are also catered for with an array of Salads [Mixed Seafood with squid and prawns tossed in a salad with a chilli coriander dressing], Snacks [Tortilla, filled with avocado, toasted bellpeppers, tomato cheese and greens], Sandwiches [Crispy Corn Chicken], Pastas [Turmeric Tagliatelle, tossed with chicken breast, mushroom, tomato concase and basil] and Pizza [Spicy Sausage, sausage slices with chopped bacon, paprika, shallots and tomato].
Whilst impressed from first arrival at Tirta Ayu, it was the main courses that really surprised me. Not the quality [presentation and content] that you expect at a country tourist location, no matter how good! It is obvious that the chef has special credentials and a wealth of good experience. Some dishes you expect to be good, such as the Slow-Cooked Duck Leg, combined with perfect pan-seared duck breast glazed with palm sugar. The Hoisin sauce is brown rather than black, cloyingly sweet, so good you want to ask for extra.
A total surprise was the normal sounding Chicken Safriana Jingga, grilled young chicken with curry! The chicken is first marinated in yoghurt, peppers and lime juice, before being grilled. In the bowl to be pounded is ginger, galangal, onions, red chilli and turmeric, later to be combined with a little coconut milk. The gilled chicken is coated with this mixture, the final taste so full of wild flavours, the result a true Indonesian curry, so different from all others!
Another shock was the Crispy Skin Salmon. A large slab of that cold water fish sits atop a generous serve of mushroom risotto with a spiced apple salsa. The Salmon was firm and tender, the skin very crisp, perfect to be eaten.
Other mains include Beer Battered Snapper [surprisingly crunchy, but I could get to like it like that] atop a pile of thinly sliced potato wedges, Cajun seasoned, with two sauces, a traditional tartar and a creamy chilli mayonnaise, Chicken Parmigiana, Beef Rendang and Roasted Chicken with a garlic and herb butter.
A few mandatory Indonesian and Balinese dishes are also available plus a predictable list of desserts [amongst them an unusual Chocolate Samosa topped with roasted cashew nuts and ice cream].
Due to the complexities of local custom they unfortunately cannot at this stage accept credit cards, but this will change very soon, as will the now very minimal wine list.
Bali's restaurant scene just keeps on getting better!
Dine with the King, you will certainly feel like one!