Merah Putih isn’t just one of the best restaurants on Bali. The stunner in Seminyak is one of the most eco-friendly and architecturally striking restaurants anywhere.
Chef-owner Kieran Morland gives a gourmet spin to traditional Indonesian dishes with modern cooking techniques and the highest-quality local ingredients, elegantly presented. But it’s hard to keep your eyes off the glamorous setting. A lush interior garden, flooded with natural light during the day thanks to solar-filtered glass walls that keep the tropical heat and rain at bay, is dramatically illuminated at night. Twelve translucent columns conserve rainwater, allowing it to flow from the roof to a filtration system below the floor. Kitchen waste water is recycled, to save on precious ground water.
A native of Melbourne, Australia, Morland formerly worked at Momofuku Ssam Bar (David Chang’s Asian eatery in New York’s East Village), 10 Greek Street in London and Syracuse in Melbourne before moving to Bali in 2009. He’d already visited Bali after his sister moved to Java. But the executive chef of beachfront Seminyak restaurant Ku De Ta, fellow Aussie Benjamin Cross, invited him for a free month’s lodging in exchange for working in its kitchen for a trial run. He passed with flying colours and became its head chef.
At Merah Putih, which he opened in 2013 with two partners from Ku De Ta, Morland enjoys inventing new flavour combinations and exploring the rich culinary diversity of Indonesia, a vast archipelago of over 17,000 islands. At least twice a year, he makes food trips around the country, from Sulawesi (where his wife is from) to Sumatra. Local buttery-tasting almonds called Kenari nuts, sour-sweet round Boni berries and smoky-almond-flavoured nuts named kluwek are just a few unusual local ingredients he loves to use.
His restaurant is exactly what he would want to experience if he came to Bali for vacation, he says: delicious food, stylish decor, world-class cocktails with exotic local ingredients (like lychee hibiscus martinis and coconut water mojitos), and a wine cellar with something for everyone, no matter how deep their pockets. “It’s a venue worthy of this beautiful island,” he says. “I believe we’re like no other restaurant in Asia.” Merah Putih means red and white, the colours of the national flag: how suitable for a standard-bearer of fine dining on Bali.
Top Dishes to Try
Normally, this is a beef satay on skewers marinated in a sweet thick soy sauce, coriander seeds and chilli paste. But here, it’s elevated with Tokusen Wagyu short ribs marinated in spices for 48 hours and wood-roasted. Then it’s sliced, served with Wagyu beef tongue, smoked shallots, bitter greens, puffed tendon, classic maranggi sauce, and a sambal (Indonesia’s signature chile paste) made with tomatoes, shallots and vinegar.
Manadonese Suckling Pig
Bali is crazy about spit-roasted pig stuffed with spices, called Babi Guling. Here, it’s brined, roasted and served with fermented turmeric-spiced sausages, eggplant, local peppercorns and banana-leaf wraps known as tum. It’s great for sharing; each serving is a quarter of an animal.
This is usually a chicken dish spiced with turmeric, chilli, pandan leaves, Kaffir lime and a local basil called kemangi. Morland upscales it with quail, which is deboned, rolled, roasted and sliced. It’s served with turmeric sauce, an eggplant sambal, baby leeks and fern tips.
Classic local sweets range from ice cream made from coconut milk, a colourfully-striped layered rice flour and coconut milk pudding-like snack (kue lapis), a chocolate spongy cake made from tapioca flour and coconut milk (bika ambon), to a Dutch-influenced coconut cake (klapertart).