England has her Galloping Gourmet, Singing Chef and a host of other such named TV chefs, Bali just has our Surfing Chef!
Young Justin Masters came to Bali 7 years ago, chasing waves and kitchen experiences, both of which had begun in the Margaret River area of Western Australia as an apprentice chef. A stint with Paul at Loloan [in its early hey days] inspired him to experiment with Asian spices. Various surfing/cheffing stints around Indonesia were followed by a serious period in Europe displaying his newfound Asian skills.
The dream was always 'back to Bali' where surfing and kitchen could be combined, but small capital meant a tight set up. I have seen so many restaurants open, and fail, over the past 10 years or so in Bali. The amount of available capital seems to have virtually no relevance here [a number of big money newbies are on the verge of going under right now, some even for the 2nd time!]. Ingenuity, passion and that key ingredient, skill [experience, ability, whatever?] are more important.
Justin had very little capital so he chose an economical site [coincidently close to the surfing beaches along the west coast of Bali], on the road to Canggu beach. He had no money for an elaborate 'flash' building, nothing trendy here with concrete, glass and coloured lights! So he bought the dying coconut trees at the back, chopped them up and made himself a restaurant that was intimate, almost funky, and definitely one that 'felt right', an often overlooked but all important ingredient so often missed by expensive architects who know little about restaurant operations.
Then came the food, and the menu comprises what he and his fellow serious surfers like to eat, varying between the very healthy and other dishes for the alternate tasty tempting escapes from same. A cuisine that is both local and International, sometimes even a blend of both.
Betelnut Café opens early for breakfast as these real surfers are often catching waves at dawn, building up a monster appetite. Eggs of course, and they can be any which way, with a whole host of extras to order as you wish. The Scrambled Eggs can be with avocado and feta, wrapped in a tortilla or with spinach, mushroom and a relish of roasted tomato served on toast. Fruit Bowls can be just tropical fruits alone or combined with muesli, yoghurt and that special honey from Sumbawa. The baby surfers are not forgotten, a popular starter for the young fry are the Soft Boiled Eggs with crunchy toasted soldiers for dipping [pictured].
Start with a healthy Mezze Plate [falafel balls and tempe crisps with hummus, roasted peppers, marinated feta, sun-dried tomato and pita bread], a Fish Sate [lilit style minced with coconut on lemongrass], a high fibre Lentil Burger, the thick patty is topped with a light curry sauce and combined with mixed greens, fresh tomato and hummus] or if you are a Japanese surfer, or just super healthy, then a plate of Edamame Beans [immature soy beans still in the pod] are for you.
Other Burgers include Chicken [with betutu spices], Fish [herbed] or Beef [with cheese and other optional extras]. The Wraps are mostly healthy; Roasted Vegetables, Falafel Balls, Tofu [with crunchy tempe] or Sauteed Mushrooms. If you are into Raw Food then there are Tempe Handrolls [spiced dried tempe sheets filled with an Asian slaw and sweet soy sambal], a Vietnamese Salad or the original Indonesian salad, Gado-Gado.
A popular main is their Nasi Gila [crazy rice], a Nasi Goreng but made with red rice, all vegetarian with Balinese spices. Mex is the way to go at Betelnut, You can have your Tacos veggie style [avocado, mixed greens, tomato salsa and cheese] or have mahi-mahi or chicken breast meat added. The Tostado is a crisp flour tortilla with spiced beans, the Burrito a soft tortilla with red rice and beans, both also with guacamole, tomato salsa and cheese. The excellent tortillas are made fresh by a 'Mexican lady just down the road!'.
There are daily blackboard specials of Salad and Soup as well as the Friendly Fish dish [whatever was available fresh from the market that morning, simply grilled to keep all the juices inside] and a Wonky Wok dish that usually comprises a variety of noodles with chicken or seafood, vegetables, Asian spices and a local sambal.
A big daily array of fresh fruit is always available to produce juices, coolers, mocktails or smoothies of your choice, or even a wild fruity Frappe. The list of teas reads like a cocktail list, sourced local and International.
For dessert it is hard to go past the Strawberry, Lime and Basil Tart. Betelnut Café is one of those 'drop in anytime' places, whether it is just for a thirst quencher, snack or meal.
The fact that the place is relaxing, friendly and incredibly cheap whilst maintaining a high quality from the kitchen makes it a very special place. It only takes money and connections to open a new restaurant with a queue of customers. The big test is if it is still packed 12 months later!
Betelnut Café passes the 1 year test, with flying colours!