The beautiful Indonesian island of Bali seriously punches above its weight when it comes to fine dining. No restaurant, however, can come close to the critical success enjoyed by Locavore.
It opened in the elegant royal town of Ubud in central Bali back in 2013 and was named the best restaurant in Indonesia four years later at Asia’s 50 Best, holding the distinction ever since. This year it also won the award for Asia’s Sustainable Restaurant, “presented to the restaurant with the highest environmental and social responsibility rating.”
Given their name, it’s no surprise that Locavore is all about the local, from ingredients like kohlrabi plucked from their own gardens or seaweed from the neighbouring island of Lombok. It’s not just the food but the restaurant itself, including all the cutlery and plates which are crafted by local artisans. On an increasingly popular island, with millions of visitors a year, the role that the team at Locavore play in raising awareness of environmental challenges can’t be underestimated.
The Locavore's lab
That team is led by two chef-owners, the Dutchman Eelke Plasmeijer and Indonesian Ray Adriansyah. They demonstrated their profound connection to their home and its produce as they recently hosted a culinary program for the luxury small cruise line Silversea and their curated food discovery called ‘Sea And Land Tastes’ - or SALT.
The day before we had arrived on the predominantly Hindu island was Silent Day or Nyepi when no eating is allowed in Bali, meaning that food took on ever greater significance as the restaurant had been closed for three days. Eelke and Ray welcomed us at Nusantara, their sister restaurant a short walk from Locavore. It’s home to what is, in many ways, their creative heart and soul, a test lab where they develop ideas, flavours and ingredients for their award-winning dishes at Locavore. As Eelke explains: “When we tried new things it was always on a Sunday or a closing day and it was always a challenge so we felt we needed a dedicated creative space. Our cooks are here five days a week playing with ingredients, looking into trash cooking and trying to make the most of our waste. Two times a week we also have Locavore private dining here for a group of 10-12 people".
The impeccably tidy and organized upstairs space features countless bottles and jars, in fridges and on shelves. Some are labelled ‘Shitake Lacto Koji’ or ‘Noni and Palm Nectar Vinegar’ which help explain the work being undertaken:
“Here we work on what we call ‘long-term flavour building blocks’ such as our own miso, soy sauce, umami rich condiments and different kinds of vinegars. Umami and acidity are a focus as every dish we have at Locavore has quite an emphasis on them.”
Balance is critical, as is lightness, given the location as Eelke says with a smile: “We do a 9 Course tasting menu at Locavore but with extras it ends up close to 20 dishes, so we need to keep it light and easy before you walk out the door into the tropical weather!”
To give a flavour of their current menu, one of the dishes at Locavore is called Into the sawah: AKA everything that lives, grows and swims in and around the Ubud rice fields. Heritage galuh rice porridge, 64 degrees duck egg yolk, snails, frog leg abon, fern tips, wild flowers.
We were then lucky to see some of these ingredients first-hand as they then took us up to a farm in the foothills of the volcanoes which dot northern Bali, an hour’s drive from Ubud. Their enthusiasm and passion was palpable as they walked through paddy fields and the cleared areas of jungle, pointing out the incredible richness of produce at every turn.
Just some of the ingredients were betel leaves, tiny eggplant, black beans, cacao, papaya, chayote, tangerine, oranges, star flowers, coffee, bitter gourd, wood sorrel, tiny black beans that are turned into miso, money plants, peanuts, snakefruit, duck tongue plants and dragon fruit - all within just a five minute stroll.
With a stunning sustainable, natural larder like this, it’s clear that Locavore’s mission to celebrate and champion the produce of beautiful Bali will continue to bring them commercial and critical success – and with it even greater awareness of the critical importance of running truly sustainable restaurant operations.
Jalan Dewi Sita, Ubud, Bali