In the late 90's a small warung-like restaurant opened on Jln. Monkey Forest in central Ubud. Both the local owner and the chef had been exposed to top western chefs, having just come from the fledgling Begawan Giri where they worked under first Rodney Holt and then David King.
Back then this was something new for Bali, nowadays it is a common occurrence as internationally trained local chefs move into key positions and/or start their own restaurants. 13 years ago it was a breakthrough!
The original Bali Pesto offered a mix of pure Balinese cuisines and Italian, both prepared in a western standard hygienic kitchen but served at not much more than warung prices. Back then this was a first, and so welcomed by all that Bali Pesto was packed every night. The years advance and a move to larger premises just down the road followed. Now in 2012 the original premises have been enlarged [in nice local Balinese style of bamboo and thatch, thus temporarily halting the spread of the concrete and glass jungle that is ruining Ubud], and Bali Pesto has come home!
The menu at Bali Pesto still comprises two different cuisines; Balinese & Italian. For the local version you can start with Soup Nangka, a clear chicken soup with young jackfruit. Or Sate Lilit be Pasih, mixed minced seafood that has been wrapped around a stick of lemongrass combined with those Balinese spices, and grilled.
Most Balinese mains are accompanied by Balinese style vegetables [Lawar], the most popular of which are the Gadang [grilled and grated young papaya with shredded chicken, tossed with Bali's 'thousand spices'] or the Nagka [boiled and grated young jackfruit with shredded chicken, coconut milk and spices].
Bali's two favourite creations are available, without pre-ordering, at Bali Pesto. Babi Guling [suckling pig] is served as a platter, consisting of a chunk of that suckling pig, so tender pieces of meat and that crunchy skin referred to as 'crackling' in the west, sate lilit babi [grilled minced pork and spices wrapped around a lemongrass stick], urutan [Balinese pork sausage] and lawar. Bebek Betutu [steamed duck], soft flesh infused with the many flavours of those Balinese spices, is served with a duck egg [cooked inside the duck] and rice. Both of these Balinese specials have been prepared at a special farm in Mas, where they have been doing it the same way for generations.
Many standard Indonesian dishes have been adopted over the years as a part of the normal daily life of the Balinese. Soto Ayam [chicken soup with glass noodles] is one but Bali Pesto also offer the version from Madura with boiled egg, chilli sambal and lemon added. Fried rice and noodles, Rendang from Sumatra and the Indonesian Chinese Chicken Curry in coconut milk are just but a few of them.
The Italian style menu is quite varied, and very interesting. There are three soups to choose from including an excellent fusion version of that old standard. Pumpkin Soup, this one combined with ginger, lemongrass and coconut milk. Over the years many diners have returned to Bali Pesto just for this pumpkin soup, it is a perfect combination of flavours.
A Vietnamese style entrée is the Fresh Cold Spring Rolls. They comprise shredded chicken and vegetables rolled in rice paper, and served with a lime and chilli sauce. Great on the palate, clean and fresh! They are a refreshing snack to have as an appetizer on a hot day.
The Beef Escallops Pesto Style is served with garlic roasted potatoes and rucolla. This is a dish that I have enjoyed on many occasions over the years . Large thin scallops of beef in a tangy sauce draped over many quartered potatoes and topped with rucolla leaves that have been tossed in a vinaigrette with a bit of a bite to it.
Chicken and Ravioli is unusual, the sautéed chicken is with mushrooms and eggplant ravioli with garlic mash. Lemon Chicken is wok-fried with vegetables, cashew nuts and a lemon and ginger sauce.
There is also a small separate BBQ menu at Bali Pesto. Varying every day but usually comprising 4-5 fresh offerings such as a Tuna Kebab [on skewers, fresh tuna alternating with green peppers and onion], Chicken Legs and sates. That wonderful Balinese Sate Lilit is always available as is the BBQ Spring Chicken. Check the specials board, for each day?s BBQ list.
For pasta you can order a Fettuccine with a Balinese touch, pasta with prawns, chicken and spinach in a coconut milk, ginger and chilli sauce, or traditional Spaghetti Carbonara, Bolgnese or with pesto. There is a Vegetarian Lasagna, with mixed vegetables, oven roasted with tomato, olive and butter sauce, and the Eggplant Ravioli, sachets stuffed with roasted eggplant and served with basil pesto and Parmesan cheese.
But it was a Pizza that I first ate at Bali Pesto, and that kept me coming back again, and again. They are exactly the way I prefer them; light and crispy, almost burnt, but laden with toppings. But they will make them thicker as well, if that is the way you like them. The Quatro Stagioni [Four Seasons] is a combination of ham, mushrooms, pieces of black olive, capers, tomato and mozzarella cheese. There are 13 different Pizzas to select from, including Pizza alla Romana [anchovies, capers, onion, sun-dried tomatoes, oregano, tomato paste and mozzarella cheese]. The top of the range is a Pizza Gamberi, tomato, onions, prawns, sun-dried tomatoes, chilli, green peppers and mozzarella cheese. You can even concoct your own, as long as they have the ingredients.
For dessert that Balinese favourite, Bubur Injin, black sticky rice with coconut milk and ice cream. There is also a very western Apple Pie and the usual ice creams and pastries.
Wine is sold by the glass, and the list is very moderate in its pricing!
The service is always friendly but surprisingly professional for such a budget priced establishment.
Bali Pesto is excellent value for money, it was a great discovery, and the new version is even better!