Soul-searching in notoriously blissful Indonesia can be hungry work. Restaurateur and chef Janine Booth takes us on a culinary tour of Bali.
BALI, Indonesia — Bali is a magical place filled with lush tropical plants, bustling streets, great beaches, and an incredible food scene. Because I grew up in Australia, an easy three-hour flight away, Bali is a place I hold very close to my heart. Now that I live in the United States, it takes much longer to get there, but Bali (and its wonderful, healing energy) still lures me to visit annually for five outstanding reasons:
The people: The Balinese are the most hospitable I have ever met, sporting gracious smiles from ear to ear at all times. It is incredibly humbling to be around them.
The shopping: Some of the best in the world and so cheap! Many famous fashion designers have their pieces made in Bali. Some have stores that sell their designs at half the regular price.
The food: The culinary scene is mind-blowing. From local street food to haute cuisine, it’s among the world’s best — at great prices.
The spas: For as little as $6 (or $20 at a fancier spa), I can get a one-hour Balinese massage. Which means I can get one every day of my trip and leave the island feeling absolutely invigorated.
The beach clubs: Watching the sunset from a pool overlooking the ocean with a delicious drink in hand and a superstar DJ spinning in the background is pure bliss.
Here’s my little black book:
Sunset Drinks and Snacks
Potato Head Beach Club
Jalan Petitenget 51B, Kerobokan; +62-361-473-797
A modern tropical beachfront location with multiple beachside bars, restaurants, and chill-out areas. This is where it all comes together — amazing contemporary food, crafted cocktails, excellent music, and sunsets disappearing into the ocean.
Ku De Ta
Jalan Kayu Aya 9, Seminyak; +62-361-7369-6969
One of Bali’s original beach clubs, Ku De Ta is always transforming with the times. For the best view of the sunset, sit upstairs on a day bed and have your libations brought to you by one of the friendly Balinese staff members.
Upscale and Fine Dining
Jalan Petitenget 198, Seminyak; +62-361-846-979
In the mood to embrace Balinese culture but feeling a little fancy? A path of stepping stones over water will lead you to a high-end Indonesian restaurant serving unique and well-executed Balinese dishes in a beautifully lit outdoor space.
Jalan Kayu Aya, 1-2 Seminyak; +62-851-0170-0078
When you are in the mood for foams, gels, and forward-thinking techniques or just want an upscale spot for a special occasion (hello, honeymooners), this stunning French restaurant in the heart of Seminyak will not disappoint.
Kayu Cendana 6 Seminyak; +62-813-5338-2346
A gorgeously designed restaurant balancing super fun food and haute cuisine. Surprising flavor combinations, amazing beverages, and an affordable tasting menu make for a lively night out, whether you are with your significant other or a group. I love sitting at the bar and watching the action in the open kitchen.
Warungs (Casual Indonesian Eateries)
Kayu Aya Village, Seminyak; +62-361-900-3006
An Indonesian concept focusing on humble poultry — chicken and duck — fully loaded with Indonesian spices and flavor. Each dish comes with a number of house condiments and steamed rice over banana leaves. You will come back time and time again.
Jalan Kayu Aya no. 7, Seminyak; +62-361-734-533
Easily the best affordable Balinese food in Seminyak. Sate — skewers of marinated meat served with a punchy peanut sauce that we call satay — is one of their specialties and a must. This place packs out every day of the week, so get in early or make a reservation.
Kayu Aya Square 19-21, Seminyak; +62-877-6155-6688
Although known for the best barbecue pork ribs in town, I always opt for the satay tasting plate known as rijsttaafel (don’t ask me how to pronounce it), a mini coal-fired grill with sizzling skewers, ribs, rice, and tasty condiments.
Coffee and Breakfast Spots
Jalan Kayu Cendana 7, Seminyak; +62-361-738-454
Sisterfields is an Australian-style cafe by the same people as Bikini that travelers are obsessed with! Amazing coffee is a given, and fresh, elevated breakfast and lunch options include acai bowls, Middle Eastern-style eggs, avocado toast, halloumi tomato salad, and polenta fries with Parmesan black pepper aioli. Sit outside and watch the street action from the patio or sit on the terrace and admire the beautiful living wall. This is a place I could happily eat at every day.
Jalan Kayu Aya Oberoi 22, Seminyak; +62-361-738-667
This breakfast spot is super fun and kid-friendly, with a bright pastel palette, tasty food, and amazing coffee. I love the açai bowls and smoothies. They serve their delicious coffee with a cute little mantra, almost like a fortune cookie.
Jalan Kayu Aya 3, Seminyak; +62-361-788-4968
Solid coffee shop that delivers to your hotel or villa. Perfect when you are deep in holiday mode and don’t want to leave your pool chair for a caffeine hit.
Seafood on the Sand
Jalan Pemalisan Agung, Jimbaran; +62-812-398-1408
THE place to go for the freshest seafood in Bali. Fishing boats pull onto the sand after grabbing their morning catch, which ends up on the grill for lunch and dinner. Lia Café, like most seafood spots in Jimbaran Bay, is very casual yet delivers on fresh, affordable seafood. Why does everything taste better when you’re dining with sand between your toes?
Made Bagus Café
Muaya Beach Jimbaran Bay, Jimbaran; +62-361-701-858
For about $35USD, you can feast on the sand overlooking the beautiful ocean with more seafood than you can handle. A platter of grilled fish, squid, lobster, clam, crabs, prawns, and a bottle of Bintang, the local favorite beer, is perfect to share and quite possibly all that you need in life.
Jalan Kunti, Seminyak, Bali; +62-361-734-701
After a long day of shopping, eating, drinking, walking, beaching, or just lounging by the pool, Chill Reflexology is the most glorious way to relax. Upon arrival, you are offered a zesty cup of lemon iced tea while your feet are washed in a marble fountain. You are then walked into a long white room with soft leather chairs and given an iPod and earphones to listen to calming tunes while you get your massage. Appointments are recommended.
Jalan Kayu Jati 2 Seminyak; +62-361-733-317
An institution in the Bali spa world. This is where you book a whole day of pampering — body scrubs, milk-flower baths, massages, hair, nails, the works.
A great option for massage and nails, where the facilities are very clean, the manicures and pedicures are great, and the multiple locations mean it’s convenient wherever you are staying.
Where to Stay
Changgu and Seminyak are my two favorite areas to stay in Bali, with most of my top picks for eateries close by and endless accommodation options. If you are traveling as a couple or a family and want your own space with a kitchen and private pool, opt for a villa. DISINI Villas in Seminyak are amazing and super central to shopping and dining. If you are looking to be social and meet other travelers, then a hotel is the way to go. The W Hotel in Seminyak is absolutely spectacular if you are looking for a superb 5-star resort experience on the beach, while Tijili Seminyak Hotel is young, hip, cheap, and pretty central to the beach and shops.