Ubud offers a wide choice of restaurants, from cheap places serving local cuisine to trendy fusion joints. New places open every month, but not all of them stay open that long, and often it is the places that have been around for years that are the most reliable for quality of food, innovative cooking and price. Balinese cuisine can be refined, surprising and utterly delicious, but Ubud also has its fair share of bland western fast food – pizza, pasta, tex-mex, even fish and chips. Avoid them and discover the delights of authentic satay, suckling pig, grilled fish and local vegetables served at these places.
Ibu Oka Warung
Tucked away in a spot opposite the former Royal Palace, Ibu Oka’s shanty cafe is an Ubud institution that draws both locals and food lovers from around the world. Babi guling is Balinese roast suckling pig and that, and only that, is what everyone is here to feast on. The restaurant opens at around 10.30am and the tables fill up quickly. The roast pigs themselves – they get through around 30 each day – aren’t cooked on the premises but arrive by motorbike, precariously balanced on a tray. Swiftly sliced up, they are served in big chunks in a rattan bowl with rice, fried intestines, spicy vegetables and Ibu Oka’s secret sauce. The pork is unbelievably succulent and the crackling is the best you will ever taste, all for a grand total of £2.
• Jalan Tegal, +62 (0)361 976435
Padang food comes from the Muslim island of Sumatra, so it is halal, with no pork on the menu. But it has become immensely popular on Bali, with a couple of stalls in every village, setting out a feast of up to 20 dishes at lunchtime and dinner, to be eaten on the spot or taken home. Puteri Minang has both the best quality and the widest selection of Padang in Bali – to tempt the most adventurous foodie: sambal prawns, curried fish, deep-fried baby eels, spicy rendang (coconut beef), plus a dozen vegetarian dishes such as aubergine, okra, jackfruit and tempeh. It is very easy to get carried away with the self-service system of Padang food, but even if you end up with heaps of food you’ll still pay less than a couple of pounds.
• Jalan Raya Ubud 77,+62 (0)361 975577
Bebek Bengil means the Dirty Duck Diner, and the anglicised name is used by locals and tourists alike. It is difficult to imagine a more beautiful, relaxed place to savour Bali’s most famous dish, bebek tutu (smoked duck). The whole menu here is almost entirely dedicated to the humble duck – crispy fried duck, duck in chilli sauce, duck fried rice – but the speciality, smoked duck, has to be ordered 24 hours in advance. Smothered in Balinese spices and wrapped in betel leaves, it is slowly smoked for a whole day. Served with rice, satay and vegetables, a whole duck for two people will set you back £13. There is a main restaurant building, but it is fun to reserve one of the traditional bamboo pondoks, raised huts with a long table and cushions, looking out over the rice fields.
• Jalan Hanoman, +62 361 975489
Although Cafe Lotus has opened restaurants all over the island, none can compare with the original location, created in 1982 as a bohemian meeting place for local artists and backpackers. Prices have gone up significantly since then, but so has the standard of the food, and this remains one of the most beautiful places in Ubud to have dinner. The cafe looks out over an immense lotus pond bordered by tall flowering trees, and beyond that is the Pura Saraswati temple, which at night comes to life with performances of Balinese dancing accompanied by a gamelan orchestra. Be aware, though, that if you reserve a front-row table during the dance, the price of the performance is added to the bill. The menu here is eclectic to say the least, with dishes ranging from Balinese be-pasih goa lawah (fish marinated in turmeric, lemon grass and ginger then steamed in a banana leaf) to tuna carpaccio or the vegetarian favourite, lentil and shitake soup. If you have a glass of wine as well, the bill will come to £10-15.
• Jalan Raya Ubud, +62 (0)361 975660, lotus-restaurants.com
Although this restaurant has been around for a long time, the cuisine has changed over the years, and today dining at Ibu Rai is full of surprises, with dishes that blend Asian, European and Pacific Rim flavours. On the main menu, try the spicy Thai beef coconut salad or a delicious Balinese chicken avocado salad. Also check the blackboard for specials such as plump honey and ginger glazed prawns sautéed with garlic. Main courses like this cost around £4. Although it is on the busy Monkey Forest Road, the restaurant is set back and the tranquil open dining room is surrounded by plants, flowers, antiques and stone statues.
• Monkey Forest Road, +62 (0)361 973472, iburai.com
Warung Rai Pasti
Try to get one of the tables hidden away at the back of this newly opened warung: they have fabulous views over the rice paddies. Rai Pasti is well-known as Ubud’s finest tailor, and she has moved her workshop off the main road and turned the place into a cheap and cheerful cafe. But it is worth noting that if you want clothes made, she is still the person to go to. This is the place to try simple Balinese classics, like soto ayam (chicken noodle broth), ikan pepes (fish with spice paste steamed in banana leaves), and tempeh goreng (bean curd fried with a sweet sambal sauce). You’ll see babi guling on the menu too, and this is a great place for suckling pig – which comes direct from Rai Pasti’s sister, the famous Ibu Oka – except here you don’t have to queue to be served. Main dishes £2-3.
• Monkey Forest Road, +62 (0)361 970908
Naughty Nuri’s Warung and Grill
Driving along Jalan Raya you can see the clouds of smoke and smell the irresistible aroma of barbecue long before arriving at Naughty Nuri’s. This is a favourite expat hangout; no one can say the food is Balinese, but anyone who doesn’t grab one the wooden tables in this rickety shack is missing out both on a slice of local life and some of the best ever barbecued spare ribs, lamb and pork chops, and fresh tuna. The atmosphere is always riotous, because the dirty martinis are as good as the food – celeb chef Anthony Bourdain claims they are the best he has drunk outside of New York. The bill should be reasonable, with a plate of ribs costing £4.50, but who knows how many martinis you might order.
• Jalan Raya Sanggingan, tel: +62 (0)361 977547
Warung Nasi Be Tutu
Tourists visit Ubud’s market by the busload, and all they see is store after store on the main street selling Balinese arts and crafts. But down in the basement is a lively food market whose food stalls that will provide an adventure even for the bravest foodie. The place is very dark, with shafts of brilliant sunlight occasionally breaking through, and there is always a crowd of market workers and shoppers hunched on small wooden stools around Wauring Nasi Be Tutu. Kuming serves the food while her mother tends pots and grills on charcoal braziers at the back. The menu is limited but very tasty – simple roast duck, chicken and pork satay smothered in spicy peanut sauce, and soto ayam soup. This Balinese brunch will cost little more than a pound, but come early as everything is finished by around 11am.
• Ubud Market, Jalan Raya
If you are going to splash out on one gourmet meal in Ubud, reserve a table at Mozaic. The stunning cuisine of Franco-American chef Chris Salans would be garlanded with Michelin stars if this were Europe or America. Eat here in the evening, as a meal can take several hours, and tables are laid out in a magical candle-lit tropical garden. Diners are presented with a choice of two tempting six-course tasting menus that change daily. Salans cooks what inspires him in the moment – sometimes he creates recipes during the evening and doesn’t even tell the waiters, proposing dishes like beef tenderloin and ripe jackfruit in a vermouth and balsamic reduction or grilled yellow-fin tuna with a kaffir lime leaf dressing, and then a ripe tomme de savoie cheese from France, with black truffle honey and apricot sorbet. You’re sure to have a memorable evening, but the tasting menus cost £45-£60 a head, before you’ve ordered wine.
• Jalan Raya Sanggingan, tel: +62 (0)361 975768, mozaic-bali.com
If Mozaic seems a bit steep, there is an alternative for a memorable dinner. E xpensive by Ubud standards, but a bargain compared with back home, Lamak is a funky diner of the kind you’d normally find in Bali’s hip Semanyak neighbourhood, just north of Kuta. You can sit outside in the lush tropical garden, looking out at the bustling open kitchen, or at a romantic table upstairs in one of the few air-conditioned dining rooms in Ubud, should the heat and humidity get too much. The menu is filled with enticing dishes like sweetbreads with crusted asparagus and turmeric sauce, seared goose liver on glazed apple with a cranberry sauce, and a wonderful Balinese bouillabaisse of barbecued seafood in a tangy starfruit and lemongrass soup. The five-course tasting menu costs £20.
• Monkey Forest Road, +62 (0)361 973482, lamakbali.com