I guess it only makes sense that the deepest connection that I've made on the Island of the God wasn't through the island's beautiful sunset, but through an magical encounter with a smoked barramundi. "You need to try Hujan Locale." My aunt told me during lunch, as she bites into her avocado and chicken wrap, "If you love food, and in Ubud, that's where you'll go." And as I took a bite into that smoked barramundi a few hours later, I realised, My God, she was right.
A quick search through google tells the story of Chef Will Meyrick, the man behind the infamous restaurants, Sarong and Mama San. Hailed as the street food chef, has has already opened five successful restaurants in Bali, Hujan Locale being one of his latest additions. Apparently if you're a foodie in Bali you would've definitely heard of (and most likely dined in) places like Tiger Palm, which was also created by Meyrick.
The more I learn about Meyrick, the more Hujan Locale made sense to me. Having had a background in graphic design, Meyrick definitely not only have an understanding of flavors, but also of beautiful places. The cascading streams of lush greenery outside of the restaurant was a great indication of what's to come.
Stepping into the space, I was immediately transported into a rustic colonial time, complete with windows speckled by exposed paints and beautiful chandelier hanging elegantly above the staircase. The second floor was flooded with light, blue green colored sofas complimented the crisp rattan chair.
As the light refracted through the rows and rows of wine glasses that are set on every table and the gentle breeze flows through the open windows, my Aunt's words floated back to me. "The difference is in the details. You may not notice it, but you will feel it." As I looked around the room, I noticed that being immersed in the surrounding was akin to stepping into a story book.
This was the introduction to the amazing meal that we were about to have. The music, the tall grass decoration, the white wash beams are just small details that sets the story into motion. Gazing out of the window also makes one realize the contrast between the restaurant and the surroundings. The Sriwedari is a family temple complex just next to the restaurant, I would recommend siting by the window and gaze at it during your visit here. Intricate golden carving snakes across the red bricks and stern woods, topped with the jet black roofs that's local to Bali.
"You're on a holiday" the surrounding whispered, "let us treat you."
A quick gaze of the menu confirms the core promise of the restaurant, to serve a range of food from throughout South East Asia, in Kaki Lima or street side food vendor style. The luxurious comfort of the restaurant is a far cry from the madness of street food scene, but I suppose it hopes to make these simple food more approachable to people who may not dare to try it before. Since this is our second lunch (and third meal of the third meal of the day already - even though it was only 2 pm), we decided to go for the "Ikan Asap Mangut" tea smoked barramundi with pete ginger flower simmered in coconut milk and sambal krecek (Rp. 175k) to share and Green Papaya Salad with Carrot, Tomato and Chilli Lime (Rp. 50k) dressing as our starter.
Growing up, my parents have moved around from Indonesia to Malaysia and Singapore. During this time, she has grown a fondness towards Thai papaya salad, which she always order whenever it is available. Because of her I grew to love it as well, and what's not to love? For such a simple dish, it has the perfect balance of flavors. The spiciness from the chilli, the acidity from the lemon, and the sweetness of the produce. There's even a soft sweet nuttiness that comes from the crushed peanut mixed into the dish. The one that we've ordered from Hujan Locale has the shell of a great papaya salad, but sadly I feel that it's missing the soul of what makes is truly great. It's not lacking of fresh, great ingredients, but the chemistry between the salty sweetness and tangy tartness from those ingredients is missing. Nonetheless it was great and refreshing.
Outside, the Balinese sun was in full force, driving up the temperature to 32 degrees. The crushed ice drinks selection by the restaurant was an amazing answer to this, blending coconut and lychee with creamy ice. It's topped with candied slices of coconut and a serving of mint leaves. It was a perfect drink because a few moments later our main dish arrived.
Served with a side of Krupuk Rambak, a thinly sliced cow skin that is deep fried into a cripsy heaven, the fish dish is served on a shallow bowl. There was not as much broth as the traditional version but the smell was truly enticing. The heat was definitely present, judging from the red color, and it comes from the sambal krecek, a complicated blend of spices. Chilli, shallot, garlic, galangal, candlenut, and tumeric is mixed together with bayleaf and daun serai. It is pounded and stirred over a pan until it is turned into a paste, These combination of spices alone is enough to leave one wanting, but when mixed with the fattiness of the coconut milk, it is just right.
Traditionally the dish is sometimes cooked with fish head other than just fish fillet. Making it known as Mangut Pati, it is local to an area just outside of Semarang, mid of Java.
The Ikan Mangut that was served at Hujan Locale is an adaptation of the dish. Using fillets of barramundi rather than the usual local fishes such as catfish or kiss fish. It’s broth is red, also a variation of the often yellow or white broth of the dish.
Taking a bite of the fish is like taking a spoonful of smoke. Sweet, spicy, and tender, it is unlike a smokiness that comes from the grill. Before it is cooked with the broth, the fish is smoked with black tea and rice. Traditionally the fish is smoked over a burning ember for hours, but here in the restaurant, the fresh fish is smoked just befoe serving using their own smoker. The sambal krecek and slices of the chilli skin tossed liberally around the dish provide a heat that brings a rosy glow to the cheek.
A few minutes later I emerged from the spell of this dish, taking a bite into the crunchy krupuk rambak, a thinly sliced cow skin that is deep fried into a cripsy heaven. This dish seemed so simple, I thought. But so complicated in it’s flavour profile. It is slyly punchy, with layers of taste. It is not just spicy, or milky, which these dishes often taste like. But the depth of the flavour seem to have come from the way that the fish was smoked. The dark, swirling taste of the black tea is present. Looming somewhere in our palette.
“It’s all in the details, whether you notice it or not, you can always taste it”
Right there, in the epicentre of the Island of the Gods, I’ve reconnected with my number one passion. Food. The fact that the dish tasted so familiar and foreign to me was thrilling. I both wanted to ravish the dish and felt sad that it was coming to an end. It reminded me why I love writing and talking about food in the first place.
If there’s any regret that I have, it’s that I had another lunch before this. I slumped on my chair, calculating the day until I can come back here again. I would try everything I thought as I glanced at the menu. It was all magical to me, packed with dishes that sounds so exotic, like a treasure trove of delicious flavours I’ve never explored.
The day after our visit I research feverishly into the other dishes, they are mostly things are cooked at home, or could be found in roadside stalls. Will Meyrick has somehow found a way to advance these dishes further while fully respecting the tradition that it has come from. Combining technology with the passion for fresh organic ingredients, grown right on the island.
Eating at Hujan Locale was like enjoying those delicious afternoon hour during a long summer holiday. The bright airy space shelter one from the firece heat outside, and replaced it with warm, familiar taste of Indonesia. It’s only right that eating in bali wasn’t like any other meal. We were there not for sustenance, rushing on our way to the next chore that we needed to complete.
We were on a holiday, and Hujan Locale took care of us.
Jl. Sri Wedari No.5, Ubud, Kabupaten Gianyar, Bali 80571