When you travel to the outer reaches of Bali, you do not get, nor should you expect, Fine Dining. What you do hope to find though is local simple food, expertly prepared, even if in a home cooking style, and incredibly cheap!
The area referred to as Amed, on Bali's North-eastern coast, is in fact a series of small fishing villages south of Amed. Many foreign residents, from a virtual United Nations of background countries have invested in the small boutique hotels all along this strip. At last count the owners come from 12 different countries, so the cuisines they offer in their hotel restaurants normally have some unique dishes, although they too are sometimes presented Bali style.
Traditionally, this area with its instantly fresh seafood, often caught just that morning, constantly presents some of the best value food in Bali, although Indonesian Chinese cuisine is the norm.
The new Santai, now under Finnish management, has been the first hotel in the area to use an International chef, Pasi Huusko, to set up and supervise the kitchen. It really shows in the end product. Whilst the menu also offers many local treats, interspersed amongst them are some surprising options. Santai is a small boutique hotel, the view from the restaurant is through multi-coloured flowering trees, the wide sea beyond. Immediate relax mode.
Chicken Drumsticks cooked Tandoori style [marinated in a yoghurt curry mix] sit on a base of perfect cous cous. The Santai Salad is refreshingly different; chicken pieces, melon, feta cheese and roasted bellpeppers are all tossed in a tangy red vinaigrette.
That Indonesian standard, Tempe, is modified slightly. Crunchy tempe is combined with egg noodles, finely shredded carrots and cabbage and crushed peanuts, then coated in sesame oil, kecap manis and a spicy sambal. As with many of the dishes at Santai this one can be ordered as a small serve, just to try, or in a larger one to share.
Other entrees include excellent Balinese Fish Cakes [fish minced with chilli and coconut before being pan-fried and served with Balinese sambal], simple Bruschettas, the expected Sates and King Prawns in garlic
Soups include the Indonesian standard, Soto Ayam, a local Amed Fish Soup and one of Roasted Garlic with King Prawn. Pastas are the basic combinations you find almost everywhere [spaghetti, penne, tagliatelle and lasagna].
As fresh fish is what this area is renowned for that is what most people want to eat when they come to Amed. At Santai the four most common local fish are given International treatments. Yellow Fin Tuna is grilled and served with a Thai style green curry reduction. The great Mahi-Mahi is baked in the oven with tomato and pesto, a large chunk of Barracuda is coated with a sticky sweet ginger glaze and served with cashew nuts and vegetable noodles. Whilst the much maligned local Mackeral is simply pan-fried, yet does not go dry. The strong tasting flesh is perfectly paired with a fragrant dill sauce.
All can be ordered separately or in a combined 4 Fish from Amed Platter in which you select two sauces to accompany the fish from Green Curry, Garlic Butter, Pesto and Ginger Glaze. Whatever you order, the kitchen techniques of someone with many years of experience comes through in every dish, no matter how simple of complex. Great that this knowledge is now being passed on to the locals, it augurs well for the future. If you prefer your fish Bali style then the Pepes Ikan is what you order [yellow fin tuna minced with coconut and spices, wrapped in banana leaf and grilled over coconut embers].
International options include Ginger Glazed Chicken, Minute Steak [stuffed with tomato and mozzarella, in a mushroom sauce with a crisp potato roll], Grilled Lamb Medallions [olive and red wine sauce, cous cous and feta cheese], Grilled Sirloin Steak [with roasted garlic, tarragon butter and 'Burning Love'; a spicy mix of mashed potato, bacon and jalapeno peppers] and Grilled Pork Medallions in a green pepper sauce.
All very different for the Bali Provinces!
Two desserts at Santai are very worthy of a mention. Their Key Lime Pie is so refreshing after a hot meal with its tangy lime on a crunchy base, whilst the Chocolate Orgasm combines a luscious icy cold chocolate mousse with a coating of thin crisp chocolate.
Needless to say, as it is an all day hotel restaurant, there are also a number of interesting snacks including a most unusual Quesadilla; a mix of chopped beef or chicken with mozzarella, vegetables and a very spicy salsa, between two paper thin home made tortillas. A great snack, some may call it a Mexican Pizza Sandwich! A modest, but well balanced wine list and the very friendly service that this area is famous for, all go to make your visit as relaxed as the name suggests.
When you are served this level of food in remote areas such as Amed you appreciate just how much Bali has come of age, in a culinary sense!
As a hotel guest you can also avail yourself of their special Pool Menu, whether lazing around the pool or on your own bungalow verandah. Spicy Beef & Jalapeno Tortillas, Spanish Chicken Croquettes and Sweet & Sour Chicken Wings are just some of the available finger food.
What a difference an experienced chef makes! Well done, Pasi!