Wined and dined in Bali

BEFORE we start, let's get a few things straight. I'm no food connoisseur.

I'm no Gordon Ramsay, I'm no MasterChef and I'm certainly not a pretentious fine diner who will only eat if the food sits proudly in the centre of an oversized plate.

But I do like a good feed and often base my travel plans around this daily activity. I reckon I've got a fair understanding of what constitutes a good meal.

But the older I get, the closer I drift towards favouring a meal of better quality.

Fortunately, one of my favourite holiday destinations, Bali, has mirrored my gastronomic journey.

No, I'm not kidding. Just a few kilometres up the road from Kuta, in Seminyak, are travellers who are happy to forgo the economical advantages for a more comfortable holiday.

In Seminyak, the dining is centred on Jalan Laksmana, which is often referred to as Eat Street.

At first glance, it's really not a lot different to most of Bali's other streets: it's not neat, the footpath is uneven, the ever-present scooters still line the street and you could argue it still has that feel of seediness so familiar to a lot of other Asian tourist destinations.

However, stepping into the middle and high-end restaurants is like falling into a parallel universe.

They have an exquisite ambience that we never see here. Mass arrangements of fresh frangipanis and tuberoses, sweet incense, fairy- lights in the trees, tea lights flickering, clouds of fine table linen and overcloths, tinkling water features and cool cocktail tunes.

The dining options lining this street were certainly not what I was used to on my previous Bali trips.

It was goodbye to nasi goreng and hello to black truffle risotto, beef rendang envelopes and soft-shell crab.

On our first night, we chose the highly regarded Chandi (

We waltzed in about 7pm and assumed we'd have the pick of the best tables.

However, we then became aware reservations were the norm and had to choose the best spot out of the last two tables available.

We emerged 90 minutes later with a belly full of spicy tenderloin lettuce cups, black pepper crab dumplings with sugar snap peas in a soy butter cardamom vinaigrette, lemongrass-steamed red snapper, and grilled, sliced tenderloin with herbed mashed potatoes and sweet soy galangal broth.

Satisfied. Surprised.

For the next week, we sampled everything from duck breast with caramelised nuts, crispy pastillas, spinach, braising turnip and orange sauce (The Living Room) to homemade Bircher muesli (Bali Bakery); pasta dishes at La Trattoria and club sandwiches and fish and chips at Gado Gado, which is undergoing a major renovation). But for every restaurant we tried, there were five others we didn't get a chance to try.

The pick was undoubtedly The Living Room restaurant because of its garden setting and quiet ambience.

Dave Hulsman is from Ucango Travel and Cruise Centre.

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