Restaurants come and restaurants go. Bali is no different to anywhere else in the world. Although sometimes in Bali the reason for a restaurant's success or failure can appear to be a mystery. Ones that you enjoy can disappear and others you would never return to continue and even prosper.
A narrow and steep roadway leads up to what used to be rice paddies. Years ago, a little shack on this road housed one of Ubud's few internet cafes. Unique in that the local and very inquisitive ducks used to waddle in and out, leaving their muddy trail behind them, whilst you were battling with your e-mails. This internet shack has moved to a real building not far away and the rice paddies and the ducks have disappeared.
Jln. Bisma climbs the short hill beside Miro's Cafe from Jln. Raya Ubud. Amongst the new boutique hotels, guesthouses and home stays is an attractive modern hideaway, Cafe des Artistes. Part indoor and part garden setting, it is a tranquil spot with more than a western touch.
I first dined here in 2003 and hearing that the owner was Belgian, and as I once lived in Belgium, I described anything that even half resembled dishes that I knew as being of Belgian influence. At the time I heard that the owner was not too impressed as he was trying to establish an International restaurant. I think I was right as there are now a number of pure Belgian dishes on the menu [and even Belgian beers] and the guttural sounds of Flemish or the sometimes softer strains of pure Dutch are now heard here almost every night!
Toast aux Champignons [sliced mushrooms and onions heaped high on good quality brown toast] is joined with a Pate des Ardennes on the entrée list. The Escargots are done Bourguignonne style in garlic and herb butter baked in the oven. A standard main is that famous black beer dish from Flanders, on the menu here in the French language of the other half of Belgium, Carbonades a la Flamande, and sometime on special is that classic Flemish dish Waterzooi, chicken and vegetables cooked in cream and herbs. If you pre-order you can have a Belgian style Steak Tartare [for a min of 2 persons], chopped tenderloin steak served raw with capers, red and white onions, gherkins, French mustard and a raw egg yolk.
However CDA or 'Café des' as the locals call it, offers wonderful tastes from many origins, and all at budget prices. Could this be the reason that you now need a reservation almost any day of the year, irrespective of so called high or low seasons, if you wish to dine in the early evening?
The range of entrees is all encompassing. They offer an excellent Tuna Carpaccio, it is in a marinade of ginger, citrus and garlic, topped with a crisp green salad. A Salad of Pear and Blue Cheese, sprinkled with sun-dried tomatoes, dried apricots and pine nuts. Goat Cheese Piperade is served with marinated capsicum and tomato on brown toast, topped with honey and toasted sesame seeds.
Steaks are probably their most popular dish and for me that means Steak Roquefort with that unique cheese sauce. Others may prefer the Cafe de Paris, Archiduc, Poivre Crème or Provencale sauces but it is Roquefort for me, every time. No the steak is NOT imported, and it does not cost Rp.300,000++ [actually about on third of that] but most customers and even visiting chefs are amazed at the quality.
The sourcing of local high quality fresh ingredients should always be the first choice for any restaurant! Strangely, some places seem to feel naked without that imported tag on every 2nd line of their menu!
Chicken Breasts are grilled [skin on to retain the juices, so not the usual 'Bali Dry'] and can be combined with many sauces. Our favourite is Provencal with its mix of capsicums, onions and mushrooms and of course, those herbes de Provence.
Almost every Bali restaurant should have a few local dishes on their menu, both for tourists to try and more importantly to make the visit more comfortable for locals who are invited to join the table and do not necessarily understand western food. CDA does that in style with a Nasi Goreng with shredded chicken and vegetables, pre-tossed with a dash of kecap manis [two chicken sate sticks on top as well], a dish that even the locals love. Their Sapi Rendang opts for the Sumatran spices to be in coconut milk as a sauce rather than dried on and pre-cooked as in the Padang food outlets all over Bali, normally served with rice but goes well with mashed potato to soak up the remaining sauce which has quite an after taste, more than a touch of chilli.
A surprising section on this menu is their Thai Corner. Star attraction is one of the best Yam Neau, Thai beef salad, that I have ever had. Long thin slices of cool cucumber strips intermingled with pieces of warm marinated beef, crushed peanuts, chilli and things. I wrap the cucumber slice around my fork, pasta style, then stab a piece of meat thus getting the complete taste, Thai style. An even more exciting dish is their one month a year special of Thai Lemon Chicken, crumbed breast served with a very Thai hot and sour shredded green mango salad and a piquant lemon sauce.
King Prawns, big and juicy, are grilled and served as entrée or main ['Diabolique' with tomato, capsicum and brandy cream or 'a l'ail' with garlic butter], I prefer mine with the sauce separate for dipping, not so messy when you peel them.
Desserts are simple, and ice cream combinations abound. The Ice cream Café des Artistes is one of their best, combined with local fruits, brandy and a strawberry sauce. That French special Crepes Suzette or a Cheese Platter. They have a very good wine list, and a relaxing atmosphere to finish off a most pleasant experience.
Good quality homely food, at very reasonable prices is always welcome. Particularly so when served by friendly non-intrusive staff, and the young vibrant staff here are amongst the best. Became our 'Best Value New Restaurant' of 2003, and Cafe des Artistes just keeps on getting better all the time.
People often ask me what makes a successful restaurant, well Café des Artistes ticks just about all of the boxes. For a non-specific cuisine, comfort food, recognizable to all no matter from which country they originate, fresh local ingredients cooked 'a la minute', a young staff mix, almost as fresh as the ingredients, who are forever smiling and making you feel at home and a restaurant ambience that appeals to all.
But perhaps the most important ingredient is the host extraordinaire, the genial Rudy Kerremans, in attendance almost every day, lunch and dinner.
Don't forget to make that reservation first.