The six or nine-course menu is a quirky tour of Indonesia’s bounty, from the mountains to the sea.
In a destination that’s teeming with buzzy restaurants, Locavore may still be the buzziest place to dine in all of Bali. It may have something to do with its title as the Best Restaurant in Indonesia, or the fact that it’s the only restaurant in the country to make it onto Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list. All accolades aside, it most definitely has everything to do with the artfully transformed local bounty that the dynamic kitchen cooks up with lightning frequency.
Locavore is the brain-child of Eelke Plasmeijer and Ray Adriansyah, two buddy chefs who run all parts of the business equally. They met in Jakarta, then moved to Bali together and worked in various hotel kitchens until they finally decided to open their restaurant in Ubud. From day one, the concept was to proactively highlight the overwhelming diversity of Indonesian ingredients.
“[At first] we were still cooking a bit more in our comfort zones. More Western produce grown locally. But the seeds were imported and in our eyes it didn’t really make sense. People don’t travel to Bali to eat beet roots and fennel and those kinds of things. So we started looking a lot into what is actually from here — what has been here for a long time. Coffee or cacao has been here for over 350 years. That’s considered Indonesian, so those things are good. Plus just finding new ingredients that people who travel to Indonesia don’t really know. I think that’s what people nowadays are looking for, which is a bit challenging because there were a lot of things that we never cooked with. We needed to have an open mind and spend time on these ingredients..“ -Eelke Plasmeijer, Chef & Co-Owner
The dishes not only present the breadth of Indonesia’s produce, but aesthetically recreate the surrounding terrain. Many of the courses resemble the colorful plants and landscapes which can be found in the archipelago’s tropical jungles. As soon as guests sit down, they are gifted a Canang Sari, a floral spiritual offering commonly seen around Bali. What guests don’t know is that everything on the square basket is edible and the flowers on it must be eaten in order to discover the menu underneath. So begins the surprising and delightful journey of dining at Locavore. The Canang Sari is hardly the only edible surprise. Guests will find themselves sucking on straws of honey stuck with rice puffs and marigold-shaped tempura made with marigold emulsion.
The six or nine-course menu is a quirky, colorful tour of Indonesia’s bounty, from the mountains to the sea. Some dishes are remixes of familiar things like pastrami or surf and turf. But it’s clear that the kitchen is doing lots of cutting-edge stuff, even with such humble ingredients. For example, the pastrami’s made from beef heart which is smoked, sous-vide, roasted, then sliced thinly just like pastrami, but with a more tender, juicier texture. The Surf and Tropical Turf is a lush amalgam of scallops from Lombok, young coconut, rambutan, shaved scallop katsuobushi and smoked mussel vinaigrette with kaffir lime oil.
It’s unlikely that diners will encounter the same dishes anytime they go into Locavore. The Localab is constantly working on new developments and they seem to whip up fresh menu items at the speed of light. The only dish which has stayed on the menu since opening is the amuse bouche: a funky delicious mix of hot tomato consomme with bloody mary sorbet and celery-infused salt, so that you can simultaneously taste a hot and cold version of a tomato.
More than anything, dining at Locavore is incredibly fun. Dishes have cheeky names like “Cut the Crab” and “Into the Sawah.” The kitchen is fully comprised of youthful, energetic chefs who casually come up to explain what’s on your plate and answer any questions you may have. The restaurant has a laidback, organic farm-to-table aesthetic with absolutely no stuffiness to speak of. Kind Balinese waitresses in linen pants walk around the lively space to take your order and get you whatever you need.
Though the restaurant is breezy and intimate, the team seems to have outgrown its original flagship. They’re looking to move Locavore to a bigger space in the near future, one that will allow them to expand their kitchen–which is a bit cramped at the moment–and get away from the congestion of central Ubud. The Locavore enterprise has rapidly expanded within the five years it’s been in business. It now includes their casual cafe Locavore To Go, classic Indonesian restaurant Nusantara, cocktail bar Nightrooster and their creative kitchen Localab. Eelke and Ray envision a new space among the rice fields, where they’ll be able to create a more immersive experience and show off the full prowess of their creative kitchen.
But newer and bigger doesn’t necessarily mean fancier, and the core ethos of Locavore will always stay the same.
“I want [diners] to have the feeling that they are in Indonesia that they are in Bali. I always like it when people comment on the playfulness of the menu, the names of the dishes, some of the dishes themselves. I don’t think we should take ourselves too seriously. Food should be tasty but also a fun experience. I like when people comment after the meal, ‘there were so many ingredients I’ve never tried before and I like that you use humble ingredients.’ There’s no wagyu. There’s no foie gras. No truffle or those kinds of things on the menu. Simple ingredients, but still trying to make something special out of it.”