Firsthand Review: Rumari at Raffles Bali

The latest menu at Indonesia’s first Krug Ambassade restaurant reimagines the cuisine of its island home.

Karangasem, the first course of Rumari’s Discovery set menu. (All photos courtesy of Raffles Bali)

“How do we improve the reputation of Indonesian food?”

It’s a question that has dogged French-born globetrotter Gaetan Biesuz since he took up the post of executive chef at Raffles Bali in late 2019, capping nearly a decade’s work across top-tier hotels in Thailand, Singapore, and Malaysia. The Lyon native was tasked with creating an F&B program for the soon-to-open resort, whose chief dining venue is the hilltop Indonesian restaurant Rumari. His goal for the establishment? To showcase a cuisine that remains underappreciated — and misunderstood by the world at large — through a fine-dining lens.

“People think that maybe Indonesian food is too fatty and too greasy. But it’s not if you do it properly, with care and you choose the right ingredients, and you treat them well. And if you focus on the flavor first, then I think you cannot go wrong, you know?”

Biesuz tells me this while reclining in a rattan-backed armchair at the resort’s Library, where two dreamlike paintings by Walter Spies hang on the walls. After several months of research and testing, the first iteration of Rumari’s menu was largely complete by the time the coronavirus pandemic hit. “To be honest, and maybe this sounds weird, but Covid was a gift. Because it gave us the time to explore things with the team.” His immediate challenge was opening a mod-Indonesian restaurant when the only guests were domestic travelers: in other words, the toughest food critics (for no one knows Indonesian food better than Indonesians themselves). Happily, the reception so far has been overwhelmingly positive.

Raffles Bali’s executive chef Gaetan Biesuz.

The Frenchman makes it clear that Rumari is not about replicating authentic Indonesian flavors, but providing an interpretation that is balanced, elegant, and refined. For local patrons, he says, “There will be some bites that make you remember moments from your childhood, and other bites will trick you into thinking the food is not Indonesian. But almost all the ingredients are from here.”

Indeed, 90 percent of the items found on Rumari’s new menu are sourced within the archipelago. Some are even plucked straight from the on-site Farm Terrace Garden, where in-house gardeners are cultivating rosemary and curry leaf (the latter goes into sorbets), as well as bird’s-eye chilies, butterfly pea flowers, banana, papaya, and passionfruit.

While Bali awaits the resumption of international flights, gourmands elsewhere should take note that Rumari has just been appointed the very first Krug Ambassade in Indonesia, joining a select network of 150-odd fine-dining restaurants around the world. Each one was chosen by the leading Champagne house for its gastronomic excellence and sense of individuality.

Of course, Rumari’s newfound status as a Krug Ambassade dovetails with the basic premise that underpins everything from the sourcing of ingredients to the size of events. “We only do quality. We don’t do volume,” Biesuz says. “Don’t expect us to do a brunch for 200 guests. We will do 40, 45 — that’s all we need. Because we cannot compromise on the quality of service, quality of beverages, quality of food.”

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That night, I’m one of around 20 lucky guests to sample Rumari’s newest culinary offerings. Homemade sourdough tinted sage-green from katuk leaf (a.k.a. star gooseberry) and lemon basil, paired with a spicy dipping sauce, serves as the preface to the five-course Discovery set menu. Every dish, we’re told, has a meaning; each one is named for specific Balinese regencies or areas of the island.

Karangasem, the first course, is an homage to the fishermen of Amed. Think ruby snapper ceviche topped with edible flowers, torch ginger shavings, paper-thin slices of pickled beetroot, and deep-frozen pomelo sacs. And there are also glistening pearls of Siberian Baeri caviar — the only ingredient on the set menu not from Indonesia. All this is tied together with a velvety bubblegum-pink sauce, yielding the citrusy, sweet-sour notes of torch ginger.

Then comes an equally inventive dish named for the southeastern regency of Klungkung. It combines chargrilled and lightly smoked river prawn with an elevated version of serombotan, a traditional vegetable salad from Klungkung, dressed in a kalas sauce redolent of coconut milk and earthy spices. But it’s the inclusion of bitter gourd that I find most surprising. “This dish took the longest time to get right,” Biesuz explains. “You have to be so careful with the bitter gourd. If it’s too strong it will ruin the whole thing. So, we balance its bitterness with the sweetness of the prawn, the creamy sauce … the right way to eat it is to taste a little of everything in one bite.”

Gianyar is Biesuz’s contemporary take on bebek betutu, a popular Balinese specialty.

By now, I’ve realized the intensity and richness of flavors steadily build with each new course. Up next is Gianyar, a tribute to the classic Balinese duck dish bebek betutu, often served as an offering at temple ceremonies in Ubud. The dish features butternut squash grown in Kintamani, while black pepper from Java infuses the duck jus. Singaraja, the penultimate course, nods to Bali’s famous babi guling (spit-roasted pig), and the melt-in-the-mouth pork finds its counterpoint in the purple potato, corn, and peanut recalling the foodstuffs used for traditional pig feed.

The meal’s crescendo is named Tabanan, which our host describes as a “bombastic and very naughty dessert.” He’s not wrong. Sinfully rich and indulgent, it comprises a coconut sorbet and pandan-infused white chocolate with an oozy ganache of palm sugar and salted caramel. This is naturally paired with a Krug Grande Cuvée to cut through the sweetness.

Biesuz flashes us a wide grin as he stands at the head of our table. “We have spent the past two years being told what we cannot do: cannot travel, cannot go to the cinema, cannot dine out. Now, we can eat without hesitation.”

The special plaque given to new member restaurants of Krug Ambassade.

Rumari welcomes non-staying guests for dinner from Wednesday to Sunday. In addition to à la carte options, the venue now offers six unique set menus, including three for vegetarians. The brand-new Krug Degustation Dinner can be booked separately and is included in the Raffles Bali Exquisite Opening Experience stay package.

rafflesbali.com

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