....and still going strong. It seems to outlast all of it's opposition even when they are younger and prettier. The Mini Restaurant is a Balinese institution. It's last makeover, with a change in ownership in the early 90's, almost doubled it's size. It now seats over 300 people. Whilst rarely full, it is also never empty.
As we walk past seafood restaurants in Bali, we are used to seeing their fish, lobsters and prawns packed in ice displayed in wooden boats, out front. Perhaps Mini was the first to so display their watery produce, way back when the Poppies Lanes were just sand trails, amongst the coconut trees, winding their way to the raw beach and wild surf of Kuta.
Sure there are better and classier restaurants in Bali, but for sheer value, and convenience, Mini takes a lot of beating. Food that is of a good quality, simply cooked with traditional Indonesian methods.
After perusing the result of the day's catch, at the front of the old restaurant, you enter via a lane that splits the cooking areas. On the left are lines of enormous works. The gas flames beneath them forever burning at seemingly a constant top heat. On your right is the barbecue area where lobsters or over-size green prawns, that have been split in two, or even whole fish, are cooked in wire frames over the hot embers that are forever being fanned by the cooks.
You are overcome with a variety of cooking smells that assail your senses. If the wind is blowing the wrong way, you'll also be inhaling the acrid smoke of the barbecue, as you go past!
The pricing of the seafood seems rather arbitrary. Whilst obviously varying on market prices, the enormous green prawns [3-4 make an adequate meal] at around Rp.15,000+ each and whole fish for Rp.30,000+ or Rp.50,000+ for one large enough to be shared, make a seafood meal that would be considered very cheap in most other cities of the world. The prawns are most commonly split and barbecued over the embers. The whole fish may also be barbecued or deep-fried in hot bubbling oil, oriental style.
Either way these dishes can be served with an assortment of accompanying sauces. You may select from a garlic sauce, a sweet and sour or even a wonderful chilli concoction that is very tasty and has just enough tang to it without burning your throat. If you can't make up your mind on which sauce to have then ask for one of each, they don't worry about little things like that here. The sauces don't get served in minute portions either, but arrive in large bowls. Sufficient for you to dunk your seafood in the sauce of your choice, and then subsequently ladle the rest all over your rice.
The tables are spread out through three large rooms, almost like separate restaurants. In the centre of the restaurant is a 'fresh fruit juice preparation area' that never seems to stop working, If you want to be different then try the Balinese favourite, Avocado juice. It arrives with a dollop of chocolate syrup poured down it's centre, and tastes much better than it looks! Small ponds, full of goldfish and fountains abound, and together with the many electric fans, and the building's very high ceiling, do seem to keep the place at a pleasant dining temperature at all times. We always seem to gravitate to the tables at mid-centre up against the pond guarded by an elfin lad who is constantly returning water to the pool....shades of the Mannekin Pis in Bruxelles.
Whilst seafood may be the main attraction here at Mini, there is a very large menu with just about all of the standard Indonesian and Chinese-Indonesian dishes. We have tried most of them over the years, and the only real disaster was the beef ribs, which were rather dry, a bit tough and quite fatty. But however, on that night I was most impressed with the service. My complaint resulted in them being removed from the table, replaced with another dish, and not appearing on the subsequent bill. All without a murmur of dissent! What you do expect in an expensive restaurant and not always get it but what you would rarely find in one operating at these bargain prices, anywhere in the world.
On a recent non-seafood visit we had, what is for us, a rather typical spread. Five dishes, all very different, but seemingly complementing each other very well.
The first three are rather standard fare, but then we divert from the norm. A Babi Kecap, pork and vegetables cooked in soy is always reliable, the vegetables and the sliced peppers enhancing it. Mini's Sate Ayam [chicken sate, still cooking on it's little ceramic stand full of burning coconut husks] is nothing out of the box, but it seems to go well with the rest of the dishes, although sometimes we replace this with the Ayam Kare [chicken curry, Indonesian style]. A Kolo Udang [shrimps and fruit, cooked in a non-sickly sweet and sour sauce] cancels out the slight bite of the Kecap and Sate sauces.
Now to be different you should try the Katak Goreng Saos Mentega [frog's legs in butter sauce] and the Puyung Hay [a very thick omelette stuffed with assorted vegetables and shreds of meat]. My Balinese friends tell me that Puyung Hay, as sold in Warungs throughout the country, is normally very boring. However this version, produced at Mini, they think is wonderful! I must admit that as omelettes go, it is rather different. Very thick yet never dry, it arrives with a sweet, not unpleasant, sauce spread across it. All five dishes are vastly different from each other and, for us, seem to gel well together. All are served at once, of course, depending on your luck with the various sections of the kitchen.
Rice is ordered separately at Rp. 2,500+ per portion. The above spread costs Rp. 130,000. More than enough for four persons and is a very cheap and satisfying meal.