SQ 943 DPS-SIN C B777-200 seat 15D

We left for the airport two hours before our flight, figuring we’d get there in half an hour, but due to a Galungan parade one of the main roads was closed and the alternate routes were thus jammed bumper to bumper. It took us one hour just to get near Kuta, usually a 10-15 minute trip, but then the traffic miraculously cleared up and we got to the airport a little under an hour before our flight.

Check-in was unproblematic, although I realized only later that we’d been unceremoniously shifted from my prebooked A/C seats across to D/E. Some last-minute duty-free shopping (bottle of Hatten rose wine, check) and a 5-minute breather in the lounge, which is a little tired, but has a reasonable selection of eats, a ridiculous amount of staff and has a noisy little outdoor patio in the “nice idea, poor execution” category… and then to the gate, past the economy class boarding scrum via the business class line. Rank hath its privileges.

There wasn’t much difference to the flight in, except that this time the plane did have AVOD, and (as all ex-DPS flights) there was no Book the Cook service. I neglected to snag the menu, but I had a rather blah baked snowfish dish, while Z tried out a rather reasonable lamb. The meal service was even more abbreviated than last time, with the ice cream replaced by such a generic dessert that I can’t even recall it afterwards. Z noted that the flight attendents addressed her by name, but not me, which may not be unrelated to the fact that my name is twice as long as hers…

The rest of the flight passed uneventfully and, to my mild disappointment, the flight landed at T2. Back in Singapore — but not for very long.

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Reviews of a Gourmet Snob: Kafe Warisan, Seminyak, Bali

When I booked Kafe Warisan for a friend’s birthday dinner, I couldn’t help but snigger at their slogan of “World Famous French Mediterranean Cuisine in a Classic Rice Terrace Setting” — surely a little pretentious for a small restaurant in a podunk town in rural Bali, no? And thus I was expecting mediocre, somewhat overpriced food in a cheesy Balinese setting… only to get way more than I expected. This was easily among the best Western meals I’ve had in Asia, or anywhere else for that matter.

First a word about the restaurant: it’s been around for a good 15 years now and looks quite unremarkable from the dusty main street outside, but everything changes once you’re inside: it turns out to be a sprawling colonial-style house, with the sun setting over the rice paddies in front — bought and maintained by the restaurant to make sure they stay there! — as you settle down for dinner.

We had dinner on the patio outside, which certainly has the best views in the place but, being open-air, can be kind of hot. (Once we’d settled down, though, it was fine.) Service is excellent, with staff always there when you need them, but not in your face like they are in most of Singapore’s fancy Western places. The restaurant offers both set meals (which should be booked in advance) and a huge a la carte menu, along with a lengthy wine list, but alas, due to Indonesia’s silly tax policies, a bottle that would set you back $10 in the US was selling for $40 here. We picked an interesting-sounding bottle of Costieres De Nimes Domaine de Perrieres 2001 from the cheaper end of the list, which turned out to be a decent choice: a fairly dry, strong red that was a good fit for the mains.

On to the food!

Artichoke Ravioli, Grilled Scallop and Prawn, Lemon Butter Sauce

We shared this appetizer. The artichoke ravioli (all three or four of them) were a little limp in texture and muddled in taste, but the scallop and prawn on top were both outstanding: huge, fresh and juicy, and the mild lemon butter sauce just accentuated the taste.

Hers: Duck Leg Confit, Cêpes Mushrooms, Garlic and Parsley Sauté Potatoes

This was just spectacular. Duck is a Balinese favorite, and I thought I’d had some pretty decent entrees elsewhere (esp. bebek betutu, the local “blackened duck” rubbed with spices and cooked in a banana leaf). However, these guys managed to cook it perfectly: the skin had crystallised into a crispy layer that just burst with fatty goodness as soon as it hit your teeth, while meat inside was so rich and moist that it literally just fell off the bone. On the side, I found the cepes a little astringent, but she liked them as well.

His: Pan Roasted Black Angus Tenderloin, Braised Oxtail with Shimeji Mushrooms, Black Truffle Sauce and Potato Galette

I’d asked for my steak medium rare, and while it came back rare by any measure, I was glad the chef overruled me: I’m usually not a huge steak fan, but this was just out of this world. Cooked to perfection, grilled on the outside, marbled smooth as silk on the inside, not even the tiniest hint of stringiness. The side dishes kind of faded in comparison, but the mushrooms were inoffensive and sauce was a good fit.

Passion Fruit Sherbet

To top it off, a shared scoop of their homemade sherbet, which really did taste like the Indonesian markisa passionfruit: crisp, acidic and refreshing. The perfect ending to a meal.

And the bill for two with a bottle of wine after one of the best meals of my life? About $100 — a month’s wages in Bali, to be sure, but for a meal of this caliber it was excellent value by Singapore standards.

Wahhabalinese Adventures 1: Bali

Ah, Bali. I’ve spent a lot of time working and traveling around in Indonesia, and the Island of the Gods is the one place I always seem to end up returning to. In fact, for this trip Plan A was go to Phuket, but there was no availability or remotely reasonable pricing at the JW Marriott. Plan B was the Marriott Hua Hin, but while the hotel was OK, getting there from Singapore is kinda painful. So we ended up with Plan C: award tickets on SQ and a dirt-cheap reservation (US$53/night, with breakfast for two!) at a great little place I’d stayed at twice before, Tony’s Villa.

Alas, this time returning to paradise was a bit disappointing. Kerobokan, long a bizarre mix of rural Bali (paddy fields and cows) with overflow from neighboring Seminyak (superhip bars, trendy shops, fancy restaurants) was booming, with half the establishments on the road to the beach new since my last visit less than two years ago and multi-story buildings noisily going up on both sides of once blissfully quiet Tony’s. Even Tony’s itself was looking a little worse for the wear, with no less than half a dozen cockroaches skittering about outdoor shower-bath area on the night we arrived. To their credit, the staff seemed genuinely concerned, and after a thorough extermination operation on the first night they didn’t come back. Presumably the villa hadn’t been used for a while, and the critters had found a nice place for a nest in the drains.

Fortunately it was pretty much uphill from there. We’d arrived during the Balinese festival of Galungan, so teetering penjor straw poles decked all the streets and temples like a Balinese Christmas. Hu’u, Ku de Ta and the usual cast of Petitenget Beach hotspots were rocking, and Z’s birthday dinner at Kafe Warisan was just stupendously good, way exceeding our expectations. Full review:

Both of us had already “done” the usual tourist spots, so we limited sightseeing to a visit to Tanah Lot: I’d been there before, but with a flat battery in my camera, so I wasn’t averse to a second trip. This time, too, it was a bit of a disappointment: Tanah Lot is ”really” commercialized, with a vast maze of souvenir hawkers to navigate before you can even get in, high entry fees, hordes of tour groups clambering on rocks in the temple grounds in miniskirts, etc. And to top it off, after two days of clear blue skies, the sky was now dark and predicting imminent rain, with coupled with the sun behind the famous island temple made photography pretty much impossible. Sigh.

Will I come back to Bali? Oh yes. But next time, it’ll be time to wave goodbye to the Seminyak scene and take at least a week off to go around the island.

Next flight: SQ 943 DPS-SIN C B777-200 seat 15D

SQ 946 SIN-DPS C B777-200 seat 15A

As I’d expected, the plane turned out to be one of SQ’s regional models, without even on-demand video. I’d prebooked seats together for us and, as I kicked back and praised the joys of having some space in front of me for once, Z poured rain on my parade by noting that she’s small enough to sit in any seat and has a proven ability to sleep anywhere. Well, the back of the bus is that way, m’dear… but then a stewardess came to distract us with a glass of champagne and a terrible drink of the month involving apples, bitter lemon and 7-Up, and her fear of business class (a rather rare ailment about frequent flyers, I suspect) subsided into a mixture of relief and a wrinkled nose of disapproval when a passenger on the opposite site turned out to be wearing flip-flops and shorts revealing pale, hairy legs. So much for business class being all business.

I had one last surprise up my sleeve: I’d preordered Book the Cook for us and even gotten her selection for it by asking her to pick her favorites off an e-mailed menu without telling her what it was for. Reconstructed from memory, our “Light Lunch” menu was:

Appetizer
Scallops with avocado salsa

Main
Hers: Slipper lobster Thermidor, buttered asparagus, and slow-roasted
vine-ripened tomato, and saffron rice
His: Fish souffle and spicy minced chicken served with pineapple rice and
curried vegetables

Dessert
Ben & Jerry’s Cookie Dough or Strawberry Something ice cream

The scallops were sublime, big and juicy and a surprisingly good fit for the avocado, definitely one of the best things I’ve eaten on a plane. The lobster — originally my choice, but ever the gentleman, I bowed to her birthday veto — was also cooked to perfection, but my Thai-influenced entree was a bit of a disappointment: all of it (souffle, red curry chicken, green curry veggies) was furiously spicy and tasted like something I’d get in a Bangkok canteen for 30 baht, which isn’t to say it was bad, just not what I’d associate with “gourmet”. The Italian wine she opted for was quite tasty, while the German riesling (the only other white on the menu) was sickeningly sweet and singularly unsuitable for my dish.

It’s a short flight to Denpasar, so the meal service was abbreviated, with no dessert/cheese platter or liqueurs (although port was on the menu). But the ice cream was tasty, even though I had to ask for it twice, and by the time Z finished exploring her seat controls, it was already time to descend.

Wahhabalinese Adventures 1: Singapore, Riyadh and Bali

At a squeak over 10,000 miles, this trip is no great shakes when it comes to distance, but there can’t be too many places on Earth with a greater level of contrast than its endpoints.

In the left corner, we have the virtually untouristed capital of a filthy rich, rigidly conservative, strictly Islamic absolute monarchy in one of the world’s most arid countries:


RUH DAFIF Riyadh [King Khalid Airport], SA

And in the right corner, we have the rather less wealthy yet famously liberal, only notionally Hindu and immensely tourism-friendly tropical paradise of Bali:


DPS DAFIF Denpasar [Ngurah Rai – Bali Intl], Bali, ID

I’m going to one of these for work, and the other for play, so my esteemed readers are invited to guess which one is which. Here’s the exact routing courtesy of the Great Circle Mapper:

SIN-DXB-RUH-DXB-SIN-DPS-SIN

That’s SIN-DXB on Singapore Airlines (SQ) Y, DXB-RUH on Saudi Arabian (SV) Y, and SIN-DPS on SQ C.

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