Estate space is precious on a plate. It’s why the spotlight is usually cast on that slab of marbled wagyu, or a fleshy Canadian lobster.Aperitif in Ubud is a refreshing change. The restaurant isn’t wanting for lobsters or prime meats; you’ll find these easily on the menu. But the crowning glory here are the sauces.
Holding court at the Viceroy Bali, whose 25 villas offer a view of Ubud’s lush greenery, Aperitif is the resort’s first fine-dining outfit. Owner Anthony Syrowatka has dressed it up prettily. The walls are a cool slate-grey. The black-and-white floor tiles are so smooth, you hear every click of a heel. The rococo chandeliers that twinkle high above — ah, these are like a fine piece of jewellery.
Belgian executive chef Nic Vanderbeeken has lived in Bali for the last six years. Once a stranger to the nuances of Asian spices, he’s now a master. You’ll see this exemplified in the sauces that accompany his food at Aperitif. Case in point: a Sumatran-inspired dry rendang.
“The first time we made this, the sauce was not strong enough. It didn’t have enough flavour. It was too creamy, and had too much coconut,” says Vanderbeeken. Doubling the ingredients made the sauce too overpowering. Using dried coconut made it too watery. “It was a long process to get it right,” he says.
A dollop of this rendang sauce goes over a slice of venison wellington, which is wheeled out on a trolley and carved table-side. It’s a decadent combination of game, foie gras and flaky pastry. And it’s the rich sauce that makes this dish the pièce de résistance of Aperitif. The dish should be savoured with a Shiraz-Viognier blend from Barossa Valley.
Besides harvesting from the old Spice Islands, Vanderbeeken is also a master of building flavour with fermented ingredients. His ‘tasty paste’, for instance, is a combination of miso, kombucha, and trimmings from fermented vegetables. It’s an umami spice sauce that amps up the flavours of a traditional duck magret. Chase it with a cup of intense duck consomme.
“If I ever go back to my country, I’ll know my cooking has definitely changed. I’m not happy anymore with just a sauce,” says Vanderbeeken.
“It has to be something more; it has to be interesting.”