One of my favourite things to do is eat, especially on vacation. There’s something about being away from home, trying different places and styles of cuisine that’s addictive. It can also represent an opportunity for prime people watching. So without further ado, here are some of my most memorable dining experiences in no particular order: the weird, the wonderful, and the quirky…
1. KU DE TA – Seminyak beach, Bali, Indonesia
At some point whenever we’re in Bali, we hit this place – not so much for the food (good but very pricey) as for the atmosphere. The idea is to get there just before sunset, order a chocolate martini (no, really), and get ready to be blown away. Overlooking amazing Seminyak beach, the place seems large enough to be a resort, with lounge chairs on the grass, covered dining areas framing a large pool, and a lounge with long benches and pillowed seats (be prepared to get chummy with your neighbours, who are probably rock stars from, say, Glasgow). For prime sunset-watching, try to score seating on little wooden-type stools that offer a rustic beachy feel. Chill-groove beats abound and the people watching is stellar: you’ll encounter everyone from Aussie trust fund kids to Japanese tourists, surfers and even sheiks and trophy wives. See if you can tear yourself away from the view and the scene to hit the washroom – an experience all its own. (And a great place to cool off, too.) Oh, and don’t forget to look as bored and jaded as possible.
2. The Living Room – Kuta, Bali, Indonesia
Great upscale dining, walkable from KU DE TA. It’s the epitome of how Bali can really dress a place to an exorbitant scale with massive floor-to-ceiling white curtains, chandeliers, white lights, and red velvet settees. True to its name, it did kind of feel like you were in someone’s living room – if that someone happened to be Henry VIII. After an excellent dinner, we headed to the bar to party it up until the wee hours with a couple of Aussie girls we had met at KU DE TA. I swear, if the Balinese weren’t so polite, they would have kicked us out hours earlier.
3. Kinta Mexican Bistro – Cozumel, Mexico
This is an off-the-beaten-track gem of a place on an island that otherwise caters to cruise shippers on day trip mini-benders. You’ll be charmed as soon as you step through the front door and into the funky interior, with its low-lighting and chic art, dazzling bar, and inventive menu (strawberry starfruit martini anyone?). Step along the lit walkway through the garden patio with its hushed privacy amidst mini-palms, where we dined the first (and second) time we graced this little eatery. It’s no Señor Frog’s, and that’s the whole point.
4. Balcony Bar & Restaurant – Byron Bay, Australia
This restaurant’s tagline is, “Be seen on it, not from it.” Step onto a red-carpeted winding staircase and make your way up and through a curtain to the main dining area. Fortunately, that’s where the cheese-factor ends. You are then transported into a wicker-abundant, beachy-type scene. If you’re fortunate to sit outside, prepare to drink in one of the highest views of funky downtown seaside Byron Bay (which, BTW, is reminiscent of BC’s Saltspring Island. Except on more acid). It was here that we feasted on the most unforgettable Moroccan chicken wings while listening to three drunk Aussie girls complain about their dating woes.
5. Chandi – Seminyak, Bali
Located on the main strip in fashionable and gastronomically-diverse Seminyak, this restaurant quickly became one of our regular haunts, with its heavenly combo of Indonesian and Australian cuisine. We initially stumbled upon it while looking for a place to take refuge from shopping in the interminable heat (which, to say the least, doesn’t make Cam a very happy camper). Chandi exudes calm and cool, which instantly put us at ease (that and the fact we weren’t shopping anymore). We settled in lounge chairs surrounded by glass walls, overlooking the street where we could gaze at the poor saps still shopping. Must-tries: watermelon gazpacho soup, crab dumplings and Balinese crispy duck.
6. “Ghost Restaurant” – Sayulita, Mexico
Since this place actually deserves its own blog post, I’ll just give you a snippet of our experience. We were wandering around looking for a break from chile relleno and taco chips when this tiny Italian reso popped up out of nowhere. Desperately needing something to mask my acute back pain (namely red wine), we decided to give it a shot, and it turned into one of the best evenings in Sayulita (what back pain?). However, despite returning there several times, this enigma of an eatery remained closed for the remainder of our trip. We pressed our noses to the windows several nights and saw only upturned napkins and abandoned wine glasses that never moved or got washed. Eventually we concluded our night there obviously never happened at all, but that it would have been a great time, and we were glad we didn’t experience it together. As you can tell, the place messed with our minds.
7. Restaurant Perraudin – Paris, France
Steeped in old-world charm, this French reso in Paris’ Latin Quarter will make you feel like you just stepped into Madame’s own kitchen. It’s quaint and cozy, with red-and-white checked tablecloths, and popular with both students and professors (needless to say, we stood out a little). It’s so homey that the menu is written on the mirror with a white wax pencil. Naturally it’s all in French, so while there, we furtively cracked open our language book to translate, all the while keenly aware of the patrons squeezed in at both sides of our elbows. Boudin noir sounded intriguing until I realized it was blood sausage. After much deliberation, we eventually dug into a rich lunch of beef bourguignon, potatoes gratin, and a hefty bordeaux. We topped off that feast with creme brûlée. I basically didn’t need to eat for 10 hours after that meal. (And I think when I did, it was back to this place.)
8. Jimmy Watson’s Wine Bar – Melbourne, Australia
Hands-down, Melbourne has some of the best eateries in all of Australia. Mind you, I haven’t been to every inch of the place, but this city sure hits the mark when it comes to cuisine variety, affordability, and quality. What I love about Oz is the abundance of wine bars – and Melbourne does not fall short of these. Enter Jimmy Watson’s Wine Bar. I think we tasted pretty much everything on the bar menu, and not because we were flush at the time (far from it), but because the proprietor kept bringing us samples to try (at no charge – how great is that?). Specialty wines, dessert wines, honey wines … oh the honey wines. After a solid while of debauchery, we figured it would be a good idea to actually eat something, and so appeared the tiniest chicken (it was actually a quail) on a plate before us. The poor thing looked so comical, so, well… dead that I had a hard time lifting even a waif-like morsel to my mouth. More honey wine?
9. Unidentified Grotto Restaurant – Saint-Émilion, France
Due to a long time lapse, I can’t recall the name of this particular establishment, but it’s either Le Tertre or La Cote Braisee. In any case, picture a dark, stormy night in a tiny medieval village in the heart of France’s wine country. A torrent of rain, heels slick against the cobblestones running for shelter into an underground wine cellar carved out of solid rock. Once inside, this grotto was strangely welcoming with its candlelight and out-of-this-world smells. And so ensued a storm-filled evening complete with what it seemed like endless amounts of foie gras: on toasts, in salads, stuffed in roast duck (thankfully not in my tarte). Then there was the odd choice of Celine Dion on the stereo. One or two songs, I can deal with. But a whole album? Let’s just say by the time it started round three, we were gone. (If you had a similar experience, please let me know what the restaurant was actually called.)
10. Cafe Batu Jimbar – Sanur, Bali
This is one of my best-loved restaurants in Bali. Located on Sanur’s main drag, this friendly establishment is within walking distance from the lovely beachfront Tandjung Sari hotel and boasts Indonesian and Australian specialties. Although there is seating in the more casual cafe inside, the real treat (sans air conditioning) is the outdoor patio, a great spot for people watching amidst white fairy light-bedecked palm trees. Live music accompanies the scene, from classic jazz numbers to salsa to rock & roll. There’s also a store next door featuring specialty foods, wine, even greeting cards. The best part is you can buy a bottle of wine here and have it uncorked at the restaurant, only paying a corkage fee instead of restaurant bottle prices. Try the gourmet ice cream.
11. Brasserie L’école – Victoria, BC, Canada
Located in (gasp, yes!) my actual hometown, this classic French restaurant remains one of my favourites anywhere. It doesn’t take reservations (bless them, they don’t want to be the type of place that’s booked solid for 3 months), so it’s best to show up early, put your name on the waiting list and then head to one of the many other selections across town for a drink (try the bar at Fiamo). Chances are you will get a table within the next hour or so, and it’s so worth the wait. Once there, cozy up and sink your teeth into the endive salad with bacon, apple, hazelnuts and mustard wine dressing. Pair it with the Albacore tuna. Or sirloin steak with Roquefort butter and frites – ask for the “fancy” version – fries cooked in truffle oil. (I knew someone who once just ordered a side of the fancy frites to go, and then ate the whole lot of them before she got home. It’s that good.)
12. And, of course, Le Resto Ming – Sanur, Bali
PS. This is just a smattering of memorable global dining experiences (it was extremely hard to narrow it down). So keep an eye out for a part two of this series.