The Serai, in the 1990's, was one of the first quality Bali hotels to actively promote hands-on cooking classes using their Executive Chef.
Alila Manggis, as it is now called, has had a succession of chefs since then, most of whom have been from Australia. The latest is a dynamic young lady, Penelope Williams, and she has blown in like a breath of fresh air, with a new and exciting menu. Whilst the menu still offers all of the essential International dishes to cater for the hotel guests it concentrates wherever possible of regional dishes and variations of same from East Bali. Coming from the famous Bathers Pavillion on Sydney's northern beaches, Penny's credentials are impeccable.
But it is not just the menu but the ingredient sourcing that makes this restaurant and their enthusiastic chef, different from all others in Bali. Not only has Penny developed a special organic garden, in a small banjar behind the village of Manggis, she also actively trains the local farmers to grow organic. Vegetables without drugs! It starts with local indigenous Balinese rice which is rarely grown these days as it takes 6 months to mature against the 90 day cycle for the imported disease ridden hybrids. Balinese rice is not dissimilar to the Italian Arborio variety.
The SeaSalt restaurant overlooks the tropical gardens of Alila Manggis, with the swimming pool in the background and the blue sea beyond. That fresh smell of salt is in the air!
Lunch is generally light, and very organic. Char-grilled Prawns are touched with Balinese spices and thrown in a green papaya salad, a roasted tomato sambal on the side. A very special Bakso consists of glass noodles in a broth with coy sum and white cabbage, large balls of minced chicken added. Crisp Squid is combined with an artichoke potato and apple salad, and a chilli dipping sauce.
A Mangosteen Salad [the local fruit of the area] has sugar-cured Tasmanian Salmon [cured in the restaurant's kitchen] and asparagus added. Fresh Red Snapper is just pan seared and served with cassava, organic veggies and passion fruit vinaigrette. If you must have meat for lunch then there is a Grilled Spring Chicken, with fermented soy bean, bok choy, sweet corn and a potato dumpling. What perfect luncheon mains?
For a taste of East Bali at lunch, try the Ayam Kalas, roasted garlic marinated chicken with a spicy turmeric coconut sauce. Kare Bebek dan Labu Kuning is a roasted duck breast curry with pumpkin. On the side order Urab Paku, fern tips and red beans mixed in kencur and grated coconut dressing.
Dinner is a casual but fine dining experience on the seashores of Bali's eastern coast.
Starters include a Char-Grilled Prawn Salad with black rice, and an avocado and coconut dressing, or one of Citrus Spiced Duck with pear, blue cheese and walnuts. A Salad of Green Mango and Papaya is with fried peanuts and apple eggplant has a slight Thai touch. Another tasty salad is one of Tuna Confit with kalamata olives, cherry tomatoes, long beans and boiled quail eggs split in two. All the salads are so fresh and clean tasting you feel proud of yourself for such healthy eating!
Mains include a very tender Grilled Baby Chicken served with sweet soy wing beans, pepper potato salad and a tangy lime dipping sauce. Char Grilled Lamb Kebabs are with an aromatic couscous and a dressing of herbs and tahini with unleavened bread.
A whole deep-fried Baby Snapper is with a chilli ginger and caramel sauce, whilst the Poached Salmon is wrapped in nori seaweed and stuffed with scallops.
On the side, order a serve of Grilled sweet Corn with spiced chilli butter!
A most unusual dish is the Balinese Risotto. Using that special local Balinese rice it is combined with local truffles and wild mushrooms. Like all great risottos, you just keep on having one more spoonful, very, very good.
The Balinese Megibung offers a feast of eight different local dishes, highlighting the previously unknown cuisine of East Bali. At Rp.180,000++ per person it is very affordable and you will not forget the experience. The meal is served with Nasi Kuning [turmeric flavoured rice]. Pasan Telengis is local shrimps and snapper with shallots, chilli and young coconut, all wrapped in banana leaves and steamed like a Pepes. Pelecing Kangkung is water spinach in a spicy tomato sauce sprinkled with fried shallots. Jukut Urab Campur Undis is a Balinese black bean salad with roasted green papaya, cucumber, snake beans and grated coconut. Then comes a simple wonderful Lawar [Nyawan don dan Paku], baby fern tips are finely shredded and mixed with lumps of honeycomb from local bee hives. Enak!
The Sate Lilit on this menu uses finely ground chicken rather than the more common fish, and in contrast the Tum Ikan [marinated fish fillet steamed in banana leaves] uses fish instead of the more common chicken. Timbungan Babi is pork ribs braised with lime leaf, galangal and turmeric.
After this feast you finish with a dessert of red rice pudding with jackfruit and coconut ice cream, and a new respect for local organic farming, and Miss Penny. Quality living in East Bali!
An excellent wine list, typical local friendly service and that tangy fresh smell of sea salt will all go to make you want to book a room for the night, rather than drive home!
Alila Manggis continues with a variety of Cooking Classes including one that is actually held in a Bale in the Organic Garden, selecting vegetables from the garden itself then preparing everything in the traditional way, mortar and pestle, earthenware pots, etc. You are even prompted to bicycle the 3 km from the hotel to the garden with the chef, so you can enjoy the smells of nature!