The first thing that hits your senses when a real Thai meal arrives at your table, is that fragrant smell of the Jasmine rice. What a perfect name, then, for this Lovina restaurant, one that seems to get all the little things right. And at a price that should shame the many pretenders around our island!
Jln. Bin Aria is the small street [full of bars and restaurants] connecting main road and beach, at Lovina. Jasmine Kitchen is in the small gang that runs off it. It is a two level restaurant, upstairs open to the refreshing breezes.
The setting is simple, yet pleasant, the service is smiling and helpful, whilst the food smells are perfect! At the end of the night the bill will amaze you! You may almost think that you have been eating in Thailand!
Thai Toast [minced prawn, coriander, garlic and sesame seeds] is a Chinese influenced dish but there are many in this cuisine. The Fish Cakes, Tod Mun Pla, are pure Thai. The menu says with sweet chilli sauce but in fact they come with the correct cucumber vinegar combination. Vegetarian Spring Rolls are small and crunchy [stuffed with vermicelli noodles and a mix of vegetables], and they do come with a sweet chilli sauce, and an unusual thick home made one at that. Excellent!
Naturally the soups include the two Thai staples. Tom Yum [with either prawns or tofu] seems to be on every menu in Bali, sadly not all as well prepared as this one. Tom Kha Gai is the forgotten soup. Tender chicken simmered in coconut milk with galangal, kaffir lime and chilli.
Two great Thai salads are the Green Papaya [shredded papaya combined with finely grated carrot, tomatoes and cucumber, with lemon juice, chilli and toasted peanuts] and a Banana Flower Salad. Yes, the actual flower of the banana is the main ingredient, and meant to be eaten. Shredded chicken and green beans, tossed in coconut milk with lemon and chilli, sits in the flower. In other versions the flower is also shredded and mixed in as well.
The highlight of our meal was the Massaman Curry. One of the many fragrant dishes of Thailand [no, they do not all have to be fiery hot with chillies], it is a rich coconut milk curry with potatoes and peanuts, flavoured with tamarind. At Jasmine Kitchen you can have it with prawns or in vegetarian mode, as well as the more common chicken version.
Other favourites include the Stir-Fried Chicken and Cashew [nothing like the Chinese version], only the naïve attempt to eat the adorning dried chillies on this plate. A number of other stir-fried chicken courses include ones with oyster sauce, a sauce of garlic, coriander and pepper or a sweet and sour sauce with cucumber, tomato and pineapple.
Stir-Fried Prawns can be had in a sweet chilli sauce with cashews, spring onions and Thai basil or with spring onions, garlic and pepper.
Whole Fish can be had steamed [with lemongrass, lime and coriander] or deep-fried with a sweet lemon and chilli sauce. There is a selection of vegetable dishes which can be ordered as mains or as shared side dishes.
For the lone luncheon diner there is an excellent Pad Thai Gai [stir-fried noodles with chicken, bean sprouts, spring onions and crushed peanuts], or a vegetarian version with tofu replacing the chicken.
Thai desserts are rather simple, so a few international ones are added by way of the blackboard. The blackboard also features a few special dishes. During my visit one was a Prawn Salad, tossed with a wonderful spicy orange and tamarind dressing, topped with toasted coconut and crushed peanuts. Another was Stir-Fried sliced Duck in sweet chilli, Thai basil and cashews.
The small wine list is, however, at reasonable prices, and even includes some Wine of the Gods.
Jasmine Kitchen is an amazing find for the back streets of Lovina. A once dead area of Bali now finally appears to be waking up with much new blood coming into the area. Even many of those staid old ocean front hotels are now in foreign hands and things seem to be happening everywhere!
Amazingly, after shunning it for years, I now look forward to my next Lovina visit. That, of course, will also allow me to re-visit the Jasmine on the coast!