Their concept is simple but niche. It is the fusion of 100% locally sourced Balinese and Indonesian ingredients interwoven to form a menu of internationally inspired dishes, served as tapas-style sharing plates. It goes against the grain of how I usually eat on my travels, plunging head first into authentic, local specialties and avoiding luxe, fine dining establishments unless for a special occasion.
But when I read the rave reviews about Cuca Jimbaran and that by sheer coincidence, it happened to be right on the grounds of the lavish Kayumanis Resort, where I was residing, I knew I’d have to swallow my words to try it.
Only open for a year or so and led by a head chef who has trained at the likes of world renowned El Bulli in Spain and Michelin starred restaurant, Daniel, in New York City, it has rapidly gathered acclaim amongst Indonesia’s foodies, tourists across the world and celebrity guests such as David Hasslehoff. Indeed, the staff at Cuca were very proud of their visit from Raymond Blanc, whose signature decorates the wall of the kitchen.
A gastronomic evening at Cuca Restaurant, Jimbaran
By the time we arrived for our 9pm reservation, the place was packed full of enthused diners but we were fortunate enough to be seated at the chef’s table, eager to watch all the action unfold. As the staff contentedly welcomed us to enjoy our meal as slowly as we wanted, we even had the chance to have a chinwag with the chefs at the end of the night. The passion and enthusiasm of both the chefs and the waiting staff were all-consuming.
The cocktail menu alone inspired eager anticipation, featuring ingredients such as hibiscus and watermelon. As a teetotaler, I often draw the short straw at restaurants but here at Cuca, perhaps for the first time ever, I spotted that each and every cocktail comes with a formally listed mocktail option.
There was a youthful fun-filled energy exuded by my choice, which was presented with a citrus ice lolly at the top ready for dipping into the watermelon mocktail. Pumpkn’s Tokyo Mojito came with a large boulder of cucumber-flavoured ice. We found these drinks so refreshing and innovative, that we returned again for some midday hydration the following day.
Cuca are proud of their local produce, so to give us a taster about what was to come, our night started off with a puff made of the herbs and spices usually included in a traditional Balinese dish known as Ayam Betutu (lemongrass chicken.) Without the chicken, this was essentially a vegetarian cluster of spices clumped together to form a soft amouse bouche of light, chewy strangeness. Strange yet bursting with flavours that incrementally dissolved on the tongue, layer by layer.
And then came the tricky challenge of having to make our own decisions from a menu where almost every item appealed but after detailed deliberation, we selected these:
Golden Onion Rings
Smoked Butterfish, beetroot yoghurt, avocado, breadcrumbs, wild fennel
Honey baked pumpkin salad, coconut granola, creamy green bean, tarragon
Roasted Tiger Prawns, Sweet and sour baby zucchini, red chilli, coconut broth, lime leaf
Crispy fried chicken, wild honey, country coleslaw, sesame dust, Asian basil
Warm melting cheese, candied coconut granola, papaya jam, rosemary
Featured on both the main and dessert menus, we took liberties by ordering this cheese course with the rest of the savoury plates. By ordering a dessert under the facade of a main course, I felt like the teenage rebel doing the walk of shame home. And just like that teenager, it felt every bit worth the gamble.
The honey roasted pumpkin salad, crispy chicken and strawberry cloud cake were without doubt my highlights but every plate concealed a sense of intrigue and discovery, aptly mirroring each day of our visit to this culturally rich and lush island.
And with exquisite presentation and trickles of tropical colour lacing every dish, it would have been rude not to indulge in a little something sweet especially when the staff were kind enough to surprise us with complimentary desserts!
In a recent post, I mentioned how I brought back a packet of pandan tea from Bali but truth be told, feed me pandan anything and I will be a happy lady so once I spotted this dessert on the menu, I knew where my loyalties lay.
Strawberry Cloud Cake
Freshly baked sponge cake with strawberries, homemade pandan gelato and berry cream
Named so because of the light and airy property of this sponge, this was a delightful breather of a dessert to polish off a late night meal. Us Brits are no strangers to November clouds but perhaps they would be all the more welcome in this form.
As a child, it was Baskin Robins Pistachio Almond ice cream that always had me throwing a tantrum for more but for Pumpkin, vanilla and mint choc chip had no further competitors and even now, he hasn’t strayed much from his official party line. The latter combination, though, is not one I have ever comprehended. Seriously, it’s like Colgate with Dairy Milk. It just doesn’t work. Does it? For the first time in my life at Cuca, I found out it can, especially when the ice cream is made from fresh mint rather than toothpaste mint. My teaspoon developed the aggressive knack of cornering Pumpkin’s more courteous teaspoon, slowly and manipulatively, so that I could selfishly enjoy the final melting drops of this emerald burst of freshness.
Jimbaran Bay Bali has no shortage of tasty restaurants particularly if you have a fondness for beachside seafood but if you can spare yourself an afternoon or evening to explore a more novel, unique and gastronomic dining experience, this is the one not to miss.
Have you found a restaurant abroad that took you by surprise?