* One of the most rewarding things about having a blog is the steady flow of emails I receive from my readers, whether it be to recommend a favourite restaurant, ask for recommendations, or – my favourite kind of email – one from a restaurateur who would love me to try their restaurant. Just as I was planning a trip to Bali for a half marathon, in pops an email from a yet-to-open Bali-based restaurant called Cuca.
Everything was set to be finished prior to our visit to Bali, so plans were in place to visit Cuca the night after the race for the perfect celebration. However, as Cuca’s owners Kevin and Virginia have learnt, you can’t believe deadlines that construction workers on a tropical island promise you! Instead of going to the restaurant, we were therefore kindly invited to Kevin and Virginia’s beautiful home to taste the dishes that will be on the menu.
Kevin Cherkas, who has previously worked at Daniel, El Bulli and other high-end restaurants, including ones at various Shangri-La hotels, wanted to move away from fine dining to a more casual concept, whilst still ensuring the intensity, attention to detail and of course flavour of a fine dining establishment. Cuca’s menu is therefore kept very simple, split into cocktails, tapas and desserts. Although the dishes are more western than Indonesian, every dish and every cocktail is made using only ingredients that can be found in Indonesia; if the ingredient is imported, they simply will not use it. The same applies to wine, meaning the wine list is very small; after all it doesn’t exactly fit under the ‘cocktails, tapas, desserts’ concept!
We began our evening with a ‘Sun-gria’ (as opposed to a ‘Moon-gria’, their white wine version), which immediately impressed us. Rather than using ice cubes and chopped fruit as in a regular sangria, the ice cubes are in fact made of fresh fruit juice. As the ice begins to melt, you will therefore begin to notice a stronger hint of watermelon or pineapple, for example, exploding through the fruity, summery drink.
Once at the table, our meal began with a bowl of warm edamame, sprinkled with Bali sea salt (there’s even a touching story about how they source that!), Szechuan pepper, citrus zest and chilli flakes. I love edamame at the best of times and these certainly did not disappoint.
Alongside these, came pan con tomate, a plate of crisp, thinly sliced, rustic bread served with aioli and tomato chutney. Both dips were delicious and homely, setting the scene for what was to come.
A beautifully presented chilled watermelon salad followed this. With juicy, fresh watermelon, crisp radish, seaweed, sesame and coriander, each bite delivered the perfect combination of varying textures and flavours to create a healthy yet deliciously moreish dish.
One of my favourite dishes of the night was the BBQ octopus, served with Asian gazpacho, sliced apple, caramelised cauliflower and sweet corn. Having been par-boiled before barbecuing, the octopus was incredibly tender, far from the rubbery texture so often associated with grilled octopus. The accompanying flavours worked well together to enhance the taste of the wonderful seafood.
A plate of gambas a la plancha came next. This was a very simple dish of grilled tiger prawns sprinkled in Bali sea salt; they were so utterly delicious and fresh that they needed nothing else.
The last of the tapas was crispy fried chicken. Taking inspiration from the super unhealthy fried chicken we all know and love, Kevin has created his very own version that tastes just as good (if not better) yet doesn’t feel greasy or unhealthy in the slightest. The lightly battered chicken, coated in black sesame seeds, has the perfect level of crunch and is served alongside red cabbage, sesame dust and lemon basil leaves, which somehow combine on the palate to resemble fresh coleslaw.
Our dessert of the night, the Cocoa 8, was inspired by one of my favourite chocolates – the After Eight. Warm dark chocolate mousse provided a bed for homemade fresh mint ice cream and cocoa croutons, creating a perfect balance of textures and comforting flavours; close your eyes and it is indeed as if you are eating an After Eight. Apparently to create the croutons, a chocolate cake is baked, cut into cubes and then dehydrated – who’d have thought of that!
Cuca doesn’t stop at merely a restaurant; Kevin also offers ‘tasting classes’ to teach excited foodies which flavours go together and why. They also sell their Cuca Salts, each meddled with different herbs and spices to create the perfect seasoning for all kinds of meats and vegetables.
Although we didn’t have the pleasure of seeing the beautiful finished restaurant described to us, we were honoured to be able to be Cuca’s first customers and taste the delicious, creative and exquisite cocktails, tapas and desserts that will soon be served. All being well, Cuca is set to open on 23rd July; I’m already trying to think of a valid reason to go back as soon as possible to see the finished product!
Jalan Yoga Perkanthi
Tel: +62 821 8999 1977
* Having not seen the restaurant nor experienced the service, I wasn’t able to give Cuca a rating. Based on the food and beverages that we tasted however, all I can say is that there is so far nothing at all that I could fault; if service and ambiance at Cuca is consistent with this, then there is no reason why I wouldn’t give it a perfect ‘oooooh’ rating!