RESTAURANT REVIEW – DINING IN THE RICE TERRACES

One of Bali’s most acclaimed retreats, Tanah Gajah Ubud, has opened its reimagined restaurant, The Tempayan, with executive chef Khairudin ‘Dean’ Nor at the helm. Nick Walton pulls up a chair…

There’s nothing quite like taking a walk through a vegetable garden with a chef. The proximity and possibility of the ingredients seems to speak to them, enchanting and hypnotising like a siren’s call. So it is with Dean Nor when touring his extensive plantings adjacent to the newly reopened Tempayan Restaurant in Bali. The new-look restaurant, once one of Ubud’s leading kitchens until it burned down last year, is set to be the canvas on which the Singaporean-born chef showcases local produce and cuisine, and the experience garnered over his many years on Bali.

The tragedy of the fire was a chance for Tanah Gajah, a Resort by Hadiprana, to continue the restaurant’s inspired journey as a dining destination with a real connection to provenance and community. The resulting space boasts a cathedral-like traditional roof inspired by local wantilanpavilions, bespoke art pieces by Jakarta’s Hadiprana Artwork, an expansive outdoor terrace overlooking verdant rice paddies, and two private air conditioned rooms with extensive wine cellars.

During the tour of the gardens, chef Dean proudly shows me everything from his own compost system and a traditional irrigation canal bursting with 1,500 catfish, to rows of soursop trees, lines of Vietnamese coriander, and clusters of heirloom tomatoes. Brilliantly white herons walk delicately between the rebuilt paddy fields and above, traditional Balinese kites soar in the fading light.

We return to the new restaurant and the chef busies himself with the preparation of dishes from the relaunch menu, which applies modern cooking techniques to brilliant Balinese and regional produce. This includes a delectable starter of scallops from eastern Indonesia that’s matched with seaweed from Nusa Penida dusted with torched white sesame seeds, and house made tataki and wasabi offset with pickled ginger coloured with ginger flowers.

Continuing chef Dean’s passion for local produce, he marries flaked dried tuna with lump fish caviar from Flores that’s washed with sochu to maintain the integrity of the eggs. This fascinating combination is then elevated with a touch of fleur de sel and an emulsion of local saffron and white wine.

There’s also Javanese Pekin duck breast that’s been semi cured, smoked with coffee wood and cinnamon leaf, sous vided for eight hours, panseared and served with wild white honey, cloves from Tabanan, Balinese potato mash, and truffle oil. The dish is rich yet delicate, the lingering sweetness of the cinnamon and the earthiness of the truffle creating an amazing complexity.

Another stand out is the Balinese beef shortrib that the chef aged in butter before smoking it, rubbing it in a combination of coriander, chilli, paprika and salt, and finishing it in the sous vide bath. The result is an inspired menu that gives a brilliant sense of place and captures the authenticity and beauty of the surrounding Ubud landscapes.
www.tanahgajahubud.com

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