COCONUTS CRITIC’S TABLE — The last thing Seminyak (let alone the Oberoi area) needs is another mid-market restaurant. This stretch of Bali is already beginning to resemble the slick high streets of Europe.
What need is there, then, for Kiwi chef Jethro Vincent to add another arrow to his 8 Degree Projects Seminyak quiver of Sisterfields, Expat Roasters and Bo$$ MAN? Mercifully, there’s no concept to bludgeon the menu. The closest thing to a mission statement is a “rediscovery of shared plate dining” – equivalent to pledging to sustain flocks of pigeons in central London.
Even the name is absent from the restaurant’s signage. Instead, “You look hot in a bikini” stands bright pink and vacuous above the entrance.
Below, the tinkle of martinis, the murmur of small talk, and the iPhone shutter-effects of selfies being snapped by bloggers, rises and falls. The crowd is an international mix of expats and holidaymakers. All barking for mouthfuls of a menu that’s split into the following categories: raw, mouthfuls, cured, garden, land and sea.
But it’s really the interior that first seizes the attention. Seminyak is not short on great designers, yet Bikini takes home all the medals. From the dripping fuchsia wall (commissioned from Australian Ash Keating, who used paint-filled fire extinguishers) to the Star-Trek-ish banquettes, there’s an air of New York warehouse meets Nordic art gallery about the place – which should jar, but weirdly works.
Opting for the tasting menu to best gauge what these ‘rediscovered’ shared plates are all about, the first dishes to arrive are by far the best. Favorites include the foie gras parfait cigar (though the ‘bread and butter ash’ tastes of nothing) and the prawn and scallops of the raw section. Covered in sweet hints of lime juice and tarty kicks of ice plant, the soft seafood is in bed with the right ingredients. Sadly, other plates fail to stay abreast of the same standard. Disappointments include sobrasada bruschetta which comes laden with enough smoky romesco sauce to capsize a small galleon, as well as carrots, which, dipped in cumin, quinoa and yoghurt on are akin to listening to an orchestra reduced to playing themes on a single chord.
The effect is to question whether Bikini lets presentation wrestle its its bigger ideas into submission; especially in the garden section where cucumber salad is – for all the cuteness of the miniature cucumbers – easily reducible to the humble legume. This approach benefits from its simplicity but also feels dated. Food balancing on stones, above plumes of steaming dry ice, is the sort of facile food theater one might have encountered in London a decade ago. There’s an identity-crisis behind it all. What does Bikini want to be: a mid-end eatery or an ersatz, high-volume, Michelin joint?
Taking my mind off such questions are Arey Barker’s cocktails. Easily one of the world’s big hitters behind a bar, there’s no cloying sweetness to the Dragon by Night, and the fact the drinks menu contains a pale ale is impressive enough to an expat in Bali. And each is delivered with superlative service. Conversation flows, advice is given and each dish is delivered with flawless exposition. Bikini has the sort of staff that would make the rest of the island blush in embarrassment.
Waft pass the leggy lasses at the bar and you’ll soon be rewarded with a garden area complete with ‘living walls’ and an alfresco dining set-up that the restaurant shares with Sisterfields. Book in advance, however, because this is almost the most popular part of the operation. It’s pipped at the post by the toilets. No joke. Ascending the rather nondescript staircase few suspect much. Yet the corridor at the top consists almost entirely of mirrors and strips of neon – think 21st century Versailles and you get the picture.
The result is ultimately a tension. Head to Expat Roasters for a morning Americano, a dirty burger for lunch at Sisterfields and then Bikini for dinner, sure. But how to dress in the latter? Does Bikini seek those who want the “VIP” life or relaxed, flip-flopped strays? It seems to be a question on many lips as ladies in strappy dresses jostle with those in casual pantsuits. The competition, from Ku De Ta (aspirational people) to Potato Head (party-folk), from Metis (chichi folk) to Sardines (traditional types) have settled their existential questions and, as a consequence, have become so much more than the sum of their parts. Can Bikini say the same?
Coconuts Critic’s Table reviews are written based on unannounced visits by our writers and paid for by Coconuts Media.
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