1. Café Marzano, Legian, Bali
Dining at Café Marzano is much akin to setting foot into a quaint countryside casa in southern Italy. The restaurant features terra-cotta tiled flooring, white-washed walls and cool wicker seats, and serves authentic, home-cooked food just a stone’s throw away from Legian beach. Bali is host to a surprisingly large number of Italian eateries, but Marzano need not be intimidated by the competition. Together with over 50 types of pizza and an array of traditional pasta dishes, you’ll be fooled into thinking you’ve wandered over to ‘il Bel Paese’.
Making our way to our table, appetising scents of baking dough wafted our way from the large wood-fired oven. Chefs hand-stretched out rounds of dough ready to thrust into the glowing red flames. Both rossa and bianca pizzas are available, the latter not often seen on menu’s outside of Italy. Favourites include the ‘Siciliana’: clean flavours of tomato, olive, capers, anchovies, oregano and garlic. The gorgonzola, aubergine and parmesan pizza is a well composed mix of powerful flavours. The ‘Hawaiiana’ is a foreign creation that I don’t usually rate. However, with Bali’s juicy sweet pineapples, it triumphs. All the pizzas have perfectly crispy crusts and come served on a rustic wooden platter; great for sharing.
The varied selection of salads make a refreshing accompaniment to the cheesy pizzas. The ‘Carciofi’ with crisp iceberg lettuce, soft chargrilled artichoke, sliced tomato, black olives and herbs is a top-choice. For a more substantial bowl, try the ‘Calabrese’: fluffy potato, tomato, onion, parsley and basil. All salads come with Marzano’s homemade bread, which unfortunately is a little floury in flavour and a touch on the pale side, lacking that inviting golden colour. On a more positive not, is is crusty on the outside with a fluffy centre.
The pastas come perfectly ‘al dente’. For a taste of the sea, opt for the ‘Spaghetti alle vongole’, with fresh clams, tossed simply with olive oil and fragrant parsley. When in search of some comfort with a glass of red wine, the lasagna. Layered with rich tomato and beef sauce and bursting with béchamel; it will not fail to impress.
The dessert list is equally as traditional. A creamy yet light homemade tiramisù is the ‘no surprises here’ front-runner. The ‘Affogato al caffe’ and range of gelato flavours are on-hand for those who overindulged a little on the mains. Finish your meal with a coffee served in the Italian way: strong, smooth and dark.
Whether in search of a spot for a leisurely lunch or a relaxed dinner as the sun goes down, Café Marzano will set the scene and leave you with a satisfied smile and a full stomach.
2. Ganesha, Bali
Imagine the freshest local seafood, coupled with fragrant marinades, married with the culinary craft of Balinese barbecue. Stunning white sands, the gentle acoustics of a Balinese band and a glowing sunset provided the perfect backdrop to our evening meal.
Seafood is the main attraction at Ganesha Café on Kedonganan beach in Jimbaran. In fact, the restaurant serves nothing else and offers a wide selection of fish, shellfish and crustaceans.
Ordering couldn’t be simpler. Choose your fish and seafood, either from the live tanks or kept fresh on ice from the day’s catch, and priced by the kilo. Then pick a marinade; the choice of either lemon-garlic or spicy Balinese, and finally pick between the grill and the fryer. Everything comes with a spread of tempting sides and dips.
A fish soup was the first dish to emerge from the kitchen. The aromatic broth dutifully cleansed the palette, readying us for the main event.
The sides comprised of slightly bitter kangkung sauteed with red chilli and peanuts, a pandan leaf vessel of beautifully steamed rice and a choice of three flavourful sambal condiments.
The mains arrived in quick succession. The mussels were satisfying in their simplicity; fresh and zingy with a squeeze of lime.
The red snapper was well-marinated with Balinese herbs and spices, with succulent flesh that flaked obligingly when nudged by the fork.
The tiger prawns, butterflied and smothered in a spicy-sweet glaze, carried the flavour of the grill. All were in agreement that these strapping crustaceans stole the show.
Each glorious mouthful was followed by sips of fresh young coconut, served proudly in its husk and served with a spoon to scrape out the soft flesh. This also acted as a refreshing dessert that brought dinner to a gratifying end as the last light sank beneath the rolling waves.