Saturday, 16 February 2013

Warung Agus Balinese Restaurant

305, Victoria Street, North Melbourne, VIC 3051
Warung Agus on Urbanspoon
Scoring 88% on Urbanspoon, this is authentic Balinese food at its best and friendliness to match. It reminds me of what you might get in Ubud, a more cultured, understated, uninterupted meal of an excellent standard. Most importantly, the Babi Guling reminds me of the one served at Ibu Oka (more on that later). This is not a halal restaurant in case you are wondering - Bali might be part of Indonesia but there's a strong non-Muslim element to the culture - more on that later. This is quite an expensive place to eat and the portions are not big, but I think it's Oh! So worth it.

The Place
The ambience here is less Kuta and more Ubud (for those familiar with Bali). There's a certain rustic class and warmth to this eating place that can be quite communal but private at the same time. The deco is really well done and parking is not too bad.

Things to to nearby: Errol Street is around the corner and Queen Vic Market is not far off. Not much else other than that.

The Food
The food is good if expensive. Let's be honest, you can't compare value for money with actual Bali - anyone who does that is just silly - because we're NOT in the same country. I am going to start by focusing on the good stuff that's a must when I visit.

Krupuk Singkong - cassava crackers with their chilli sauces are really a great way to start off the meal though I know that 50% of the time, the table is tempted to order a second serve of this.
Babi Guling  - the traditional roast pork with crackle is as good as any, and definitely reminiscence of the Ibu Oka one in Ubud, with none of the risks of eating in a roadside stall seving hundreds of people. This pricy dish (and which dish is not pricy at Warung Agus?) is really well worth it.
Ayam Betutu - this traditional Balinese dish is not so traditional here because most restaurants in Bali would serve Bebek Betutu - bebek being duck and ayam being chicken. They actually use spatchcock here. I think the next time I go, I am going to ask them why? I suspect it's the ability to source small ducks consistently in Melbourne more than anything else. Nevertheles, the rich taste of spices and lemon grass is well worth a try. You'll have to order this one first because it takes a while to bake.
Sate Lilit Babi - Minced pork satay Balinese style is pretty authentic here. Yummy-, never enough of it.
Es Jus Jeruk Nipis - Fresh Lemon juice blended with ice and sweetened - really refreshing and terribly expensive but I really don't case - if one's happy to pay $6 for alcohol - this is MY alcohol.

A note for punters who are more familiar with general Indonesian cuisine about their Gado Gado and their Cumi Cumi. Their gado gado here is called Toge which is actually bean sprouts - and there's copious amount of it, and therefore, quite different to the general Indonesian style gado gado. I also do find that the Balinese usually do tend to prefer their veges more cooked and softer than in Java where veges are left quite crunchy. Cumi cumi are little babi octopi - and tends to me cooked to the point of crunchiness too. However, the Balinese tend to like theirs with a lot more sauce I think than the Javanese and not as sweet.

The Service
The service is really good here most times and they take time to explain the dishes when ordering and when the food is served. This is quite rare these days at many restaurants. When it's the family members serving the food - it's even better and there's a sense of pride in the restaurant and the food. That usually fills me with warmth and confidence, which is a great experience. I really like the service here.

This is a nice place to show off to friends and family you care about who like to try Balinese food, and are interested in spicy and tasty food. It's not a place I'd go to every week or month simply because it is quite expensive. However, it's a special place to go to once in a while and really enjoy the whole experience.

Cultural Moment
This may be unfair but I think that Ubud serves more authentic Balinese cuisine than your average Kuta restaurant which has a stronger Javanese influence. I am also entirely biased in my preference for Ubud, the cultural centre with less influence from international brands (aka Maccas, KFC, Billabong, etc). The food is also spicier, less sweet and I am more willing to try the little road side eateries here which are sometimes run out of the back of locals' homes. You can really taste the difference, compared to some of the restaurants that are really Javanese and/or Westernised. This is not to say that the Kuta restaurants do not serve good food - it's just different to cater to a different dominant clientale.

The tourists that like Ubud (like me) are usually not fans of Kuta and if they have to be close to the beach - would tend to stay in Seminyak. On the other hand, there are those who absolutely love Kuta who would find Ubud a bit naff or even, not very exciting. Each of these groups of tourists would tend to stay put in the town of choice and take a day trip into the other. There's also a third group of lesser known Bali tourists who travel up north to the Kintamani area and Gunong Batur where they might have a more immersive experience (though sourvenir pushers are pretty full on), or the northern Lovina Beach where they might live with local family run accommodation.

Simple Balinese Words include:
Warung: Eating Hut
Suk Semah : Thank you

The names :
First born - Wayan (Waah - yaan)
2nd born - Made (Maa - deh)
3rd born - Nyoman (Nyeo - maan)
4th born - Ketut (Keh - toot)

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