When you think of the enormous change that has happened to Bali?s dining options over the past ten years it is natural to think, at first, about all the wonderful new top-end eateries, of almost every different ethnic persuasion, that now confront the eager diner.
Initially these stand-alone restaurants, without the protection of a 400 room hotel, were in the Kerobokan and Seminyak areas, and that general district still easily leads the race, by their numbers. Ubud was soon to follow, and even more reluctantly was Sanur. Denpasar, Nusa Dua and the rest of Bali still hover in the wings.
Almost without exception this quality upsurge was a result of International professionals bringing their experience and expertise to Bali. In recent years we have also seen that change come to the mid-range restaurant, even lowly cafes that now present real coffee, interesting breads and pastries, tasty snacks and light meals. Now many locals are also getting into the act, ignoring all the tired old options and coming up with refreshing new alternatives.
It was, strangely, that long strip of road that winds through Sanur that first began to reform from the bottom up. Initially the home to a seemingly endless string of no-name, same-menu warungs, one by one these have been changing hands, been renovated and begun operating with interesting menus and young professional staff. An equal number of foreigners and local restaurateurs have led the way.
One of these quiet achievers is Pregina. Completely Balinese, owner, kitchen and front-of-house, Pregina competes with the best of the imported variety and comes out with honours. Sure it is a warung! But have you ever seen a warung in Bali with such a nice classic fit-out, nothing flash or trendy thank you very much, instead black and white photos adorn the walls all depicting Bali?s cultural history. A massive print of one of the earliest examples of Ubud?s Kecak dance, au natural, holds pride of place.
I often harp on ?attention to detail? as I believe it always tells the real story, if the little things are all done correctly you can usually be sure that the big ones will follow. Checking the toilet area at many places tells you all, or more, than you really want to know! At Pregina that area is simple but it shames many foreign-owned restaurants that are raking in the dollars.
You have to keep telling yourself that Pregina is just a warung. With its entrees under Rp.20,000 and mains around Rp.30,000 it is not on the ?get rich quick? journey of many foreign and locally owned establishments with their sky high mark-ups, and should not necessarily be judged against them either.
The cuisine is predominately Balinese, even to the extent that Balinese words are constantly used in the menu descriptions, just to confuse the new tourist who has just mastered Ayam for chicken, only to now discover that it is really Siap! The food is authentic too, and not doctored for the nervous tourist. If the dish should have chilli so that you can taste it, it does, and you do!
Kuah be Pasih is fish soup Balinese style or there is an Indonesian Hot & Sour Seafood soup. Jukut Mekuah Santan is assorted vegetables simmered in coconut milk and spices, whilst Jukut Kacang Mekalas are long beans in a Balinese curry sauce.
From elsewhere in Asia come perfect Fresh Asian Rolls [better known as Vietnamese Spring Rolls], combining vermicelli noodles, shredded vegetables and seafood wrapping in rice paper and served with a real Nuoc Nam [fish oil] dipping sauce. General Indonesian entrees include very good Lumpia, either in vegetarian form or with seafood, or simple Pangsit, crisp crunchy wantons stuffed with minced chicken. Tahu Isi are small slabs of tofu sandwiching some vegetable strips, all dipped in a light batter and deep fried till very crisp.
There are many chicken combinations available and all the grilled variety consist of a quarter chicken, perfect for one person. Siap Panggang Metok-tok is very popular with those who want a touch of chilli to wake them up or Siap Sisit Mebase Barak which combines tender shredded chicken with a fiery red paste. Considering it comes from the kitchen as ordered the Betutu Siap is surprisingly good. Other options are the classic from Manado, Ayam Rica-Rica, tender chicken covered with a spicy but non-chilli sauce comprised of many ingredients. The Indonesian Kare Ayam is simple but perfect, chunks of chicken on the bone and vegetables in a coconut milk curry, the meat falling off the bone as usual. Try Bakso [balls of minced chicken and noodles in a spicy broth] from a restaurant kitchen rather than the roadside or a great Asian Laksa of chicken, prawns and egg noodles.
Pregina always has a choice of fresh seafood available, check the blackboards at the entrance. Their Ulam Segara Combo [4 stick kebabs of prawn, tuna, squid, capsicum and onion] is one of their most popular dishes. Mahi-Mahi is almost always on the menu, grilled on the street-side BBQ or even as a tasty Sate. Bali?s Pepes is also available, another spicy treat of real Balinese cuisine.
What other way can you finish a Balinese meal except with Bubuh Injin [black rice pudding with coconut milk, sliced banana and ice cream], or Jaje Dadar, those Balinese pancakes.
Pregina is much more than just a warung, it is a very special little restaurant.