I despair at the standard Bali International menu which I often refer to as a ?tourist? one, even though I know how necessary it is. Most tourists, whilst they may stray once or twice, prefer food just like home. Of course what is served in many local restaurants may sound like ?at home? but not resemble it in looks or taste, and that is the saddest part.
However the Watergarden Kafe at Candi Dasa provides a nice balance and a big thanks to the thoughtful management who were virtually the first in Bali to signify all nut-free and gluten-free items in their menu, a constant problem for Bali tourists with dietary problems. As of today only a handful of restaurants in the south bother to conform by supplying this essential requirement!
I often order the simplest dishes when visiting restaurants, items found on many other menus. For me that is where the kitchen?s attention to detail is best examined. The appetisers at Water Garden Kafe set the scene for a pleasant meal, but then they have been leading the way in Candi Dasa for many years. They include a simple Spanish Beef Salpicao, beef strips sauteed with garlic and shallots, the Thai Fish Cakes are not the Thai Tod Man Pla with their rubbery consistency but rather patties of minced fish nicely spiced. The accompanying sweet ginger and cucumber relish is perfect and very Thai. The Samosas are triangles of a very light pastry wrapped around curried vegetables, a trace of Madras, served with fruit chutney. To this add Indonesian favourites; Bergedel Jagung [spicy corn fritters], Lombok?s Plecing Kangkung [blanched water spinach seasoned with chili, tomato, garlic & shallots] and the very popular vegetarian Spring Rolls, these ones light and crisp.
For the International set there are Italian Bruschettas [fresh tomato, basil, garlic, olive oil dressing], Mexican Nachos [beef or a vegetarian version], from the USA Potato Skins [with 2 dips], Chicken Nuggets [certainly not from KFC, these are with a sweet chilli sauce] and that all time favourite, Shrimp Cocktail with its tangy cocktail sauce.
Soups can be Indonesian, Soto Madura, vermicelli noodles, hard-boiled egg, chilli and vegetables in a rich chicken soup, a variation on the Thai soup in Bali considered International as it is on just about every menu because of its popularity, Tom Yum Goong?at Watergarden instead they offer Tom Yum Pla with mahi-mahi instead of prawns, and from Java Sayur Asem a well spiced vegetable soup.
I love snacking and there a few here which I will find it difficult not to re-try. What can be easier than the standard Fish and Chips, or the more exotic Potato Royale [mashed potato with bacon, melted cheese, jalapeno pepper, accompanied with a black pepper béarnaise sauce]. For the homesick Aussie or English there are real Meat Pies, either beef or chicken. There is the standard Ham & Cheese [mozzarella] toasted sandwich as well as Hot Dogs, Burgers, etc. For the Vegetarian [there are many options throughout the menu] a 3 decker Vegetarian Club Sandwich that includes vegetarian sausage. From the pizza oven at front, thin and crispy with any toppings you want.
Asian mains include a Vietnamese Tom Ngon, pan-seared prawns stuffed with garlic, lemon grass & chilli or a Malaysian style Laksa, a rich & spicy coconut broth with prawns, fish dumplings, fresh bean sprouts & noodles. From India a Tikka Masala, chicken fillet, chili, tomato puree, curry masala with yoghurt. From Japan Tori Teriyaki, roasted chicken marinated in soy sauce & sherry, served with rice & teriyaki sauce. A touch of Thai with Kaeng Phed Nuer, a beef stew spiced up with red chilli & rounded in flavour with coconut milk.
There are also a few International dishes, Chicken Fricassee with apple cider sauce, very English and the usual beef standards. Very special is the Watergarden?s Chateuabriand, beef tenderloin served with French fries, peas & a demi glaze of Worcestershire sauce, mustard, sherry, parsley & cream. An excellent Pork Schnitzel and a pork version of Steak Diane, pan seared tenderloin served with spring potatoes, chayote vegetables, buttered carrots, with a pepper reduction of Worcestershire, parsley & butter sauce. The Vegetarian menu gets a lot of attention at Watergarden and the choice is quite extensive but I like the 3 Bean Chilli dish [for those who want a bit of spice with their veggies] black and kidney beans with chickpeas are served in a thick chilli tomato sauce.
Being seaside, many fresh seafood options are available such as a local dish of Crisp Prawns [pictured]. There are also an interesting variety of other Indonesian dishes including many local specials of East Bali.
Candi Dasa is really growing up! To imagine this variety of cuisine at this standard and low price being available in Candi Dasa says it all.