Locavore is my favorite restaurant on earth. The great news is that I've been many times. The not so great news is that it's in the hills an hour and a half from the nearest airport more than a day of flying from where I live. It's hidden away up in the mountains of Ubud, Bali. My introduction to Locavore comes from a list of recommendations generously gifted to me by a hotel manager that had spent a few years living in Bali. The note said, Locavore comes highly recommended, but I haven't been yet. I was not in Ubud town proper except one afternoon this trip. Just long enough to meet a couple of new ex-pat friends for lunch when they happened to be in Ubud the same day.
We were wandering the streets looking for one of three spots I had pulled from the list for lunch. Brigitte looks up and says "Wait isn't that the spot you mentioned?" It's two o'clock and Locavore isn't a restaurant you just walk into and get a table. Not because it is too fancy because it is too good, it's too small, and it just doesn't happen. I'm really happy I didn't know that. They were through a good portion of the lunch service, and there were open tables. Maybe it was my American enthusiasm or my addiction to the role that serendipity plays in this adventure that has become my life. Either way I went for it and the gentle and soulful manager who I will come to know as Adi welcomed us to a late lunch seating for what was a life changing meal.
Some clarity on that meal. We didn't have the tasting menu; we only ordered vegetable dishes, and we decided to share. All things you don't do if you know what you're in for and what you'll be missing. None of this mattered. The wine pairings are perfection. The extra courses, pallet cleansers, bread and much more mean that with one dish or ten you are in for a meal where there will be more "oohs" and "oh my god's" than actual conversation. We were all high and floating from the amazing, unexpected experience as we wound down the meal with the three courses of dessert that come when you pass on the idea altogether. I just couldn't walk out the door without getting the story of Locavore. As any food drunk new superfan would I found Adi and inquired. He told me that Eelke and Ray were the chef's and that the three of them were partners in the business. They had all worked together funny enough at the hotel I was staying at where they were given freedom in partnership with the general manager at the time to explore their passion. Local ingredients, European technique and getting to play. Once I hear this, it explains the quality of the food at the hotel. The Alila Ubud. While it is not the same level as Locavore, it is some of the best hotel food I have ever had. They respectfully continue the story that Eelke, Ray and Adi started.
I have a few more stories about Locavore underway. Lots and lots of photos of beautiful food and drink to come but this tale is actually about a special experience I got to have earlier this year during my return visit to Ubud. This time, I was in town for a month. I had been corresponding with Eelke since I left about seeing them when I returned so I could tell their story in a bigger way. About a week before I am leaving to return home I get to spend a very special afternoon and evening with Eelke, Ray, Adi and the entire family at Locavore.
Eelke invited me to have family meal with the staff; they do this every day. Sometimes it is the sous chefs who prepare, sometimes it is Adi's mom, sometimes it is the chefs. Today it's the sous chefs. I arrive just after the end of lunch service as the crew is breaking down the kitchen which they completely turn over every day between lunch and dinner services. It is a bit like a kooky symphony. Eelke introduces me to the general manager who was their long ago collaborator at The Alila Ubud. He happened to be visiting at the same time I was. I learn that he is Dutch and doesn't live in Bali anymore but Oman and that an unfortunate accident and his recovery had unexpectedly delayed his departure by a few days. There goes that serendipity again. We walk with Eelke to the cafe and expanded kitchen they are just weeks away from opening up the street. They need more room to prep the main kitchens needs and want to explore easier access to their food, range of sauces, and new ideas. I want to cry because it won't be open before I head home, and I won't get to take back massive quantities of the green sauce given to you with the bread. When you go, and you have it, you will know what I mean. You'll be willing to eat a second loaf just for the sauce. You will not even think about watching how much bread you eat as it does not matter when this sauce is involved.
We make our way back to Locavore and family meal is almost ready. We all sit-down, we eat our way through elevated complex versions of more traditional Indonesian fare. It's divine. It is like no food I will have during the rest of my time in Bali. Traditional dishes, local produce, spices and proteins that are new and changed and informed by the risk taking and technique that Eelke and Ray have taught their crew. We drink great wine. They breath before service and I take way to many photos. It is a meal I will always remember.
Just as the pre-service family meal is winding down the most wonderful Japanese couple walk in the door. Eelke gets up and greets them as everyone else is still seated and eating. The couple is very polite as they are inquiring about the possibility of a table. The couple is lucky. They are early, and there is time for them to sit immediately and be done before they need the table for a later reservation. The woman squeals in the most delicate way. I know exactly how she feels. I was that lucky once.
Reserve. I'm not encouraging you to bum rush the restaurant because that will lead to disappointment. With their growing popularity, I doubt that this is even possible anymore. Don't risk it. More about Locavore very soon.