Saturday 20 April 2013

Wantilan Bali

571 Burwood Rd, Hawthorn, VIC 3122

Wantilan Bali on Urbanspoon
The restaurant has a relatively high score and is one of few authentic Balinese restaurants in Melbourne that appeals to a broad audience. It's always gratifying when a high score from Urbanspoon translates into a pleasant experience. The clientale is a healthy mix of Westerners, Asians and Indonesians. While the food here is authentic, it's not as intense as many of the places in Bali itself and is lighter than the offerings of Bali

The Place
This is a clean and tastefully decorated restaurant, with a contemporary sensibility and some nods to Balinese sculptures and works of art. It actually looks better than the pictures on their website. At night, it's really got a rather nice ambience. Sound insulation is not great especially when it gets crowded. Parking is never great in the area and on street parking can be limited.

Thing to do nearby: The shops of Burwood Road in Hawthorn East are worth exploring. This is close to Swinburne University too.

The Food
There are some really good choices here with a range of predominantly Balinese offerings. Having had many of the following dishes in Bali, I find the flavours here a whole lot more subtle, less spicy and chilli hot, though still tasty in their own way. I got to sample the following dishes.

Mixed Sweet Potato and Potato Chips - what a great side dish - these thin crispy tasty chips are seriously good, with a light dipping sauce. If they sold these in bags... I would be chomping on it now.

Cumi Mebase Manis - light tangy calamari salad that's a good side more than a main for me. The calamari is tender, sweet and fresh.

Betutu Siap
Betutu Siap - this is one of the 2 most famous Balinese dishes. Betutu (which is a slow cooked in spices) is eaten in many places and usually involved duck or chicken. Here, this dish, while moist and tender, is less spicy than the offerings of Bali. Nevertheless, it remains tasty and great with steamed rice.

Be Celeng Guling - more commonly known as Babi Guling, this is served here almost like pulled pork, wiht broken up crackling. While tasty, the pork is not as tender as some other places. However, the subtle spices here work and it's less greasy than most places. Wish there was more crackling (who doesn't?).

Mixed Ribs
Pork and Beef Ribs - These are probably more Javanese than Balinese - but so what, they are so good. Melts in your mouth, balance of sweet and savoury, and smokey. The slight disappointment is the chilli paste that comes with it here - it was more of a chilli jam, rather than a hot sambal oelek that would have been better with this dish.

Gado-Gado - Again, a main from Java, this is dish hinges on its peanut sauce. They do it well here and while some people like crunchy nuts in theirs, the one here is somewhat smoother but tastier than most places.

Lawar Gadang - This was a hit on the night as a fresh simple salad. Lawar is a major part of Balinese cuisine in its various forms. It's also one of the only ways I would eat snake beans because it is chopped up to beats. This one has a kick here.

Mie Goreng - Of course, nothing beats having mie goreng on the beaches of Bali, served by the little warungs, stir fried fresh. The Mie Goreng here is served with crumbed prawns and satay - perfect for those who are not into food that's too chilli hot.

The Service
Bubuh Injin
The Service here is courteous and friendly. While it is a bit slow, I prefer to call it a casual pace. It is certainly not rushed. The dishes all came at once and for a group that was sharing dishes - this meant everyone had to try and eat everything at once. The concept of dishes coming out at the same time, is good if the diners are not sharing, so everyone can start their meal together. However, if diners are sharing, it's probably better if dishes come out sequentially to give everyone to savour each dish before moving to the next. If they can get this right, that would be great.

I won't mind coming again. Here's where the comparison with my other favourite Balinese place in Melbourne - Warung Agus begins. The food in Wantilan Bali is less punchy, spicy and hot than Warung Agus. What it has is a subtle balance of flavours especially with the various salads. It is also definitely cheaper than Warung Agus. Whether you prefer Wantilan Bali or Warung Agus, really depends on how punchy you like your food.

Cultural Moment
There are many Balinese highlights for me. There are some places I would still go to, even though I have been before, just because the experience is beautiful, spiritual, rich and meditative. The really special places for me are;

Ulu Watu which is just  beautiful at sunset and dusk. Temples clinging to the side of the cliff by the sea, this is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to.

Tanah Lot the temple by the sea, is beautiful too and you usually have to battle with other tourists for the best views.

Tirta Empul is where Kings and the public bathed in the holy waters by the Hindu Temple. Still used today, if you are gamed enough to join everyone there.

Gunung Kawi, where legend says the carvings were done overnight. It's a beautiful walk through the rice fields, though walking back up the valley after the visit is great for fitness. While this is relatively run down, the temple and carvings continue to be impressive if you are a history fan.

Tirta Empul and Gunung Kawi are near to Ubud, where you might stop off for Ibu Oka's Babi Guling.
Ulu Watu is close to some seafood places by the sea, most of which are great.

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