It is simply called The Warung and it is located in the upper valley above Pejeng [on the road to Tampak Siring, you turn right at the S bend, signed to Villa Ubud, go to the end of road, at T junction turn left and then proceed up the hill to The Pesantian].
Built on the side of a narrow gorge, amidst natural lush bush-land, with rice paddies in the distance, Pesantian is a pleasant escape. In the middle of nowhere, but still only 20 minutes from central Ubud, it is a paradise for its regular guests. The Warung is the restaurant at Pesantian, it serves classic and very traditional Balinese cuisine.
In 1994 The Serai, in Candi Dasa, made its name, internationally [particularly in Australia] with its Balinese Cooking Class. Featured in Australia?s Gourmet Traveller at the time, it attracted many food lovers and even established chefs to visit Bali and The Serai, to take part in those cooking classes. At the helm was Australian chef Jonathan Hirt, the boy in the kitchen was Nyoman Santika. It was the first true Balinese cooking class held in Bali, explaining the use of all those Balinese spices. Since then hundreds of others have copied and followed.
In 2010 the boy in the kitchen from 1994 returned to The Serai [now re-branded Alila Manggis] as Executive Chef. In the intervening years he had been polishing his skills at Amandari in Bali and Amanyara in the Turks & Caicos islands of the Caribbean. Now he replaced the popular Penny Williams back where he had started many years before.
5 years later Pesantian was born. It is set in a pure Balinese setting of rice paddies, natural bush-land above a small but fast flowing river stream, perfect for showcasing Balinese cuisine.
Time has not been wasted on fussy presentation, the dishes are just plain and simple. No effort has been made to westernize the food, it comes nicely plated but in traditional form.
The secret of Balinese cuisine is what is known as Bumbu Bali which is a set combination of spices just finely chopped [basa rajang], in a ground form [preferably done with the traditional stone mortar and pestle], combined with liquid to form a paste or used as a marinade. The spices include garlic, chilli, galangal, lemongrass, kencur, nutmeg, tamarind and red shallots. In the correct quantities the bumbu has a powerful taste, an overall one although many if the individual ingredients are recognizable.
For your meal at The Warung start with the Rujak, fresh fruits, shredded and tossed in tamarind, palm sugar and chilli, hot and sweet, sprinkled with crunchy peanuts. A plate of Sate with Bali's own version of the accompanying peanut curry sauce makes a perfect partner to the Rujak.
A very refreshing drink to sip whilst eating is their special herbal mocktail that combines ginger, lemongrass and turmeric, balanced with a dash of lemonade.
Soups are an integral part of Balinese cuisine as they are for most Asian ones, and are often consumed throughout the meal rather than as a separate course. Whilst the Jukut Jagung Kacang Bayam [a well spiced clear soup of corn and red beans infused with the flavours of the chopped bumbu] is very popular it is the Pulung Pulung Ayam that I could eat every day. Lumps of minced chicken and shredded young coconut, red beans and sprigs of that day?s fresh vegetables are combined with the ground bumbu bali and coconut milk. It is a thick soup of intense yet delicate flavour, really a meal in a bowl.
You have a choice of two chicken salads, either can be had with chicken that has been grilled after a marinade process, or poached in coconut milk with lemongrass and ginger. The salad can be with red rice, avocado and a tomato dressing or the way I like it; with a mound of green mango and papaya, mint and herb citrus dressing.
Standard Indonesian mains of Nasi Goreng and Mie Goreng are on the menu, of course. Very Balinese is the Babi Kecap, slow cooked pork with shallots, ginger and kecap manis [sweet soy]. If you want to be really Balinese then order the Ayam Panggang, grilled chicken with the local fiery favourite, Sambal Matah; that is definitely the way to go.
Kare Ayam is on many Bali menus but I have never had it any better than this. Cooked on the bone for extra taste, but falling off it at first touch, this mild curry still has an intense taste, quite exceptional!
Top of the bill here is their Bebek Menyatnyat, a duck leg slowly cooked with that bumbu bali paste and coconut milk. The meat used is imported [far better size and more tender than the small local ducks], so it is safest to pre-order if you wish to select this dish.
The Warung's Nasi Campur combines a serve of the chicken curry with sate sticks, vegetable salad, egg and sambal. Even the pork ribs [Iga Bakar] get the full Balinese bumbu bali treatment, so different from the normal Texan one seen everywhere in Bali.
Vegetarians are looked after with a couple of healthy but still tasty dishes. Jepang, Nangka Muda and Green Bean Curry combines choco, young jackfruit and green beans simmered in a mild coconut milk curry. The Sayur Mesanten is a Balinese Laksa without the noodles. A squash and vegetable curry with tofu and soy bean cake, the overall taste so much like laksa.
Pesantian also operate a very professional cooking class which is no surprise with chef Nyoman's background.
Escape the traffic and people hordes to the hills of Bali, just peace and quiet, friendly service and tasty traditional Balinese cuisine. It is nothing flash, nothing fancy; just friendly, personalised service in the most magic of settings. If you want to hear the birds singing in the morning, then stay the night in one of their 6 large suites.