Bali, Indonesia has been a popular vacation destination for decades. Indeed, the very word "Bali" conjures visions of tropical paradise. Yet once you leave the airport, much of your experience of food and amenities will depend almost entirely on the environment at your hotel.
There are countless beachfront resorts rimming the island, and the Oberoi Hotel, Bali is the leader among them. It has held a consistent ranking since it opened in 1997 as one of the top resorts in all of Asia. You cannot go wrong at this well-run property. It has a magical atmosphere, excellent service, and world-class food that showcases many Asian specialties. Each meal I had during five days was on a par with any three-star restaurant I frequent in New York. Bravo to the executive chef, Enrico Wahl.
The Oberoi showcases 15 acres of tropical gardens, a large beachside swimming pool, villas with walled court yards (many with their own pools), a small amphitheater for cultural events, open air massage pavilions, a spa, beauty salon, gym and tennis court, with frontage on the wide, beautiful Seminyak Beach on the Indian Ocean. The atmosphere is tranquil and fragrant, thanks to many blooming frangipani trees around the property. The well-dressed guests come from around the world, with the highest percentage hailing from the United Kingdom. We had lovely poolside encounters with guests from Switzerland, Germany, and Australia.
There are two restaurants. The Frangipani Cafe has a magnificent view of the Balinese coastline, and offers relaxed alfresco breakfasts and lunches. My favorite among the breakfast dishes offered was fried noodles with chicken satays and peanut sauce, topped with a sunny-side-up egg. It is served with an array of exotic fruit, including dragon fruit, which was new to me and was in season when we arrived.
Chef Wahl's menus are vast. A small sample of the lunch choices we enjoyed at Frangipani included smoked Tasmanian salmon; a savory three melon and feta salad; son tum, which is Thai papaya salad with dry shrimp and cashew nuts; tuna and fennel salad with tangerine; a fantastic chilled avocado soup with house smoked tuna tartar and cressini; a fish burger; and various quesadillas. There is a full page of Indonesian selections; unique among them was aseman udang, or prawns in spicy tomato sauce, star fruit, coconut milk, and lime juice. The atmosphere is intoxicating, and a few of the local Bali Hai beers only add to the pleasure of an ultra-long lunch, enjoyed before reviving yourself in the pool. A late afternoon poolside nap, or a return to rest in your air-conditioned villa, sets the tone for the pure relaxation that the resort fosters.
Fruit abounds on the island, with some of the more intriguing offerings being salak (snake fruit), jambu air (water apple), srikaya (custard apple), and sawo (sapodilla), which is grown all over Bali and looks like a small brown potato. Spa services also abound — they include a hot lava shell massage, a lime and ginger exfoliation, and a lemon, basil and grape fruit slimming wrap. The last option may come in handy before dinner, which is served at the Kura Kura, a brilliant restaurant and destination dining spot for many visitors from other hotels.
The Kura Kura Restaurant (named for a local turtle) is a breezy, thatched pavilion bordered by lotus ponds in a setting that has an intriguing mystique. You'll need ample time to peruse the menu and its offerings of Indonesian, Asian, and Continental cuisines and fine wines, including many Australian classics. Chef Wahl and his team truly demonstrate a mastery of styles. I consider his goat cheese, walnut-crusted salad one of the best dishes I've had in a long time. It's an appetizer, and I ordered it for three consecutive evenings.
I was very impressed with the excellent service all over the resort. The young staff is genuinely delighted to serve you, and at each encounter they offer the calming palms-together "Namaste" greeting. The general manager, John Halpin, stressed that it is within the very nature of the Balinese to please. Indeed, in my brief tour around the island, I found evidence of love and friendliness flowing from the people and their mostly Hindu culture. Peace and contentment is my daily goal, and I surely found it — and some world class food — at the Oberoi Hotel in Bali.
Bali Hai called. I answered, and the only problem was I didn't want to hang up and go home.