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Sunny-side up for palate cleanser? Cuca Bali has it.

Muthi Achadiat Kautsar
Muthi Achadiat Kautsar

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Mon, December 16, 2019  /  01:04 pm
  • The well-known 'Bali Breakfast' from Cuca restaurant.

    The well-known 'Bali Breakfast' from Cuca restaurant. OF JP/Muthi Kautsar

    The well-known 'Bali Breakfast' from Cuca restaurant.

  • Sambal lolli, a dish created by Cuca Bali, comprises salted fish, toasted rice and onion jam.

    Sambal lolli, a dish created by Cuca Bali, comprises salted fish, toasted rice and onion jam. OF JP/Muthi Kautsar

    Sambal lolli, a dish created by Cuca Bali, comprises salted fish, toasted rice and onion jam.

  • A restaurant server offers 'chili chicken satay' for diners during Cuca Bali takeover at The Hermitage Jakarta in December 2019.

    A restaurant server offers 'chili chicken satay' for diners during Cuca Bali takeover at The Hermitage Jakarta in December 2019. OF JP/Muthi Kautsar

    A restaurant server offers 'chili chicken satay' for diners during Cuca Bali takeover at The Hermitage Jakarta in December 2019.

  • Cuca Bali's ricotta gnocchi is cheese dumplings with roasted watermelon and sun-dried tomato pesto.

    Cuca Bali's ricotta gnocchi is cheese dumplings with roasted watermelon and sun-dried tomato pesto. OF JP/Muthi Kautsar

    Cuca Bali's ricotta gnocchi is cheese dumplings with roasted watermelon and sun-dried tomato pesto.

  • Cinnamon French toast (left), peanut butter cookie (center) and iced M&Ms served at Cuca Bali takeover at The Hermitage Jakarta,

    Cinnamon French toast (left), peanut butter cookie (center) and iced M&Ms served at Cuca Bali takeover at The Hermitage Jakarta, OF JP/Muthi Kautsar

    Cinnamon French toast (left), peanut butter cookie (center) and iced M&Ms served at Cuca Bali takeover at The Hermitage Jakarta,

OF

Those who are into culinary adventure in Bali may have heard of Cuca, a restaurant that serves tapas, cocktails and dessert in the Jimbaran area.

Back in Cuca’s early days after its opening in 2013, the restaurant was a must-visit, as its founder chef Kevin Cherkas created experimental dishes made with locally sourced ingredients.

Cherkas’ previous experiences in Michelin-starred restaurants in Spain, from Arzak in San Sebastian to El Bulli in Roses, are detectable in the way he presents his food, which he said is always consistent in taste.

As a dining destination, Cuca will delight those who appreciate roomy spaces to dine, as well as spacious alfresco areas surrounded by well-kept gardens. Cherkas is also so hospitable that he often invites his guests to have a look at his kitchen and have a chat with him. He and his team make everyone feel well taken care of.

Diners, however, might not eat Cuca’s food as often as they eat nasi campur, for instance, but the idea of returning to the restaurant often brings excitement.

Jakartans who have missed eating at Cuca, as well as those who have been curious about this restaurant, were in for a treat earlier in December, as the restaurant took over the kitchen and dining outlets at The Hermitage Jakarta.

As I had experience dining in Cuca Bali and attending one of Cuca’s previous pop-up dinners in Jakarta, I honestly did not go to The Hermitage for dinner that night with a high expectations.

I read the menu card and immediately spotted “Bali Breakfast”, which I had eaten during my two previous experiences. I wondered if Cuca would offer something really new and different this time, especially as I remembered Cherkas saying that his food is always consistent, that if you like one certain dish you will always like it, but if you hate one certain dish you will always hate it. As I was seated on one of the tables at The Hermitage’s L’Avenue, I remembered how the tropical-styled Cuca Bali is very different from the colonial-style setting of the hotel.

The first dish served was called sambal lolli, taking the form of a sizable lollipop made of toasted rice with salted fish, onion jam, basil leaves and chilies. I thought I had eaten this before, but the spiciness in some bites still took me by surprise. Not bad for an amuse bouche, I thought, and I was glad that the experience went uphill following the lollipop.

Known as an experimental restaurant, Cuca is likely to serve diners food from a tray covered in soil and fat raw potatoes or shiny plump chilies. “Hot potatoes” featuring keluak (black nuts) gravy, charred spring onions and black pepper looked as if it was covered in soil. Turned out it was as soft as mashed potatoes, with a sweet and savory taste one is likely to find in Indonesian black soup rawon, where keluak is the main seasoning.

The “chili chicken satay” served afterward was provocative looking as it was wrapped inside a shiny red chili and the flavor, its spices and seasoning strong but not overwhelming, was just as provocative.

Come main courses, the trio of BBQ octopus, black squid risotto and ricotta gnocchi presented the unusual but refreshing combination of octopus with crisp, tart apple and fragrant coriander, followed with a risotto filling that gives the taste of the ocean, and finally the richness of cheese with the juiciness of watermelon and sun-dried tomato pesto.

Read also: Ubud Food Festival 2019 to promote Indonesia's culinary identity

The well-known Bali Breakfast came afterward and I thought, here comes the first dessert, but – spoiler alert – it surprisingly served as a great palate cleanser, with its mix of mango, passion fruit and coconut. Don’t let its sunny-side-up form fool you.

Starting to feel full after the trio of main courses, the idea of three dessert to taste was rather overwhelming. Fortunately, they all came in sizes easy to hold with just two fingers and while I thought I knew all desserts Cuca has ever made, these three desserts were completely new to me: a cinnamon French toast that has apple custard, salted caramel and creamy yogurt that tasted right for a festive season, a peanut butter cookie rather too rich for my taste and finally iced M&Ms that I didn’t expect to be that delightful.

The next time I go to Bali, there should be no hesitation to pay Cuca a visit.

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