There seems to be an Indonesian food craze that is sweeping the city at the moment. From Ayam Penyet to Gado-Gado, Indonesian cuisine is beginning to pop up in menus all the way from Kingfisher to Tanjung Aru. Last night we tried Bali Bali Gardens (near the old train station towards Tanjung Aru), and here’s our report.
For first impressions, we were quite pleasantly surprised at the ‘look and feel’ of the restaurant. Bali-Bali is a converted bungalow, with the restaurant occupying two floors with an outdoor area.
It did have the hallmark of contemporary Balinese design, and the entertainment from this trio was lovely as five friends met to catch up on lost times.
That said, we were enjoying the atmosphere so much (in spite of the occasional traffic hum from the main road), that we found the lack of service falling short of what one would expect in Bali.
Maybe they were understaffed, maybe they’re just being typical Sabahan, but no matter how many degrees we turned our heads there just wasn’t a waiter in sight to tend to our additional requests. Thank god for the good ambiance, which made that slightly more tolerable.
Nothing really to complain about the ambiance, though there is a noticeable traffic hum from the main road if you’re not engaged in conversation. Not a deal breaker though.
Alright. Let me make one thing clear. I’m not really a big fan of rustic-ethnic foods in general and when it comes to Indonesian food, I tend to lean toward the more sophisticated Javanese cuisine. But I can tell between good Balinese food and bad Balinese food, because I’ve eaten a lot in Bali over two weeks rather recently. So that qualifies me to talk about their munchies.
Gado-Gado – RM9.00
This starter is a salad consisting of peanut sauce and boiled vegetables, endearingly called gado-gado. Was it out of this world? No. Was it acceptable? Yes, except for the fried tofu and tempeh. This goes for all the dishes that have the tofu and tempeh on the side. They were disappointingly too thin and so dry it could compete with meat jerky.
Saying that, please don’t wage war against them just because they fried their soybean pieces two minutes too long. It’s very common to have teething problems in the beginning. Go there and tell them that you read on a blog that their tofu and tempeh was too dry and that you wouldn’t like that. We’re sure they’ll comply and improve on the spot since that’s one of the few things they need help with!
Ulam and Sambal – RM9.00
I know Malays are basically descendants from Palembang and the nusantara (now political Indonesia), but the sambal was just kind of the everyday stuff you eat with your nasi campur melayu at Wisma Merdeka. Was it uniquely Indonesian enough for us Sabahans? I don’t think so.
Did the other 4 people like it? Not much was being said about it. Where’s the Bali sambal bawang guys?
Pasembor – RM9.00
Ayam Betutu – RM16.00
Firstly, I’m impressed with the work that goes into it, but when I got this served to me, I can’t help but wish it wasn’t as dry as it was. It was not rock solid, but it was dry. The sauce was tasty, but the chicken was flirting with flossy. I wonder why all the Indonesian-style chicken dishes I’ve had in Sabah are all so dry.
Moreover, though the sambal was sufficiently spicy, to be honest it tasted more like Nyonya Sambal than it did Indonesian sambal. For one there was raw belachan in there, which made it a little fishy, and for seconds it had no tomatoes in it. So I’m not sure if I can give this a stamp of authenticity. But if you ask me if this is edible, it’s edible. It could be better though.
Sup Ekor – RM9.00
When this came, the fragrance of the rempah from the soup was intense and lovely. It was not too bad, but I can’t say it’s any different from the stuff you get at the mamak stall, so I can see Taufik 2 loyalists wanting to compare portion size to cost.
Should you order this? Well you won’t spit it out so why not? They’re not going for the Gourmand awards here.
Nasi Goreng Lilit Bali – RM9.00
I personally found this acceptable, but my crabby counterpart felt that saltless, Yang Chow fried rice from the kopitiam is better any day. Not really sure if that’s a fair assessment, since this was the first to be finished, but I did want more garlic in there.
Is this acceptable for the price and ambiance? Let’s be fair. More than acceptable. You should try this and let me know what you think.
Chicken Briyani – RM16.00
I didn’t get a chance to try it because Mr. Green T-shirt was too busy concentrating on avoiding anything spicy, hence, hogging over his plate of briyani like a mother hawk. How ironic that he chose to have briyani!!
This is obviously Indian. Note that half of the menu consists of Malaysian food, and Bali Bali postures itself as an Asian Restaurant in a Balinese-style Garden.
Finally, I’d like to say that we don’t bother reviewing places that we don’t think has the potential to improve, so we hope that Bali-Bali Gardens takes note of the details we highlighted because we want it to succeed. Also note that all the stuff I highlighted are actually easily rectified.
But while the food is edible, I can’t sing its culinary praises when they fall short of recreating the real Balinese taste for me. The real attraction of this place is the ambiance, and looking at the pricing strategy they are not really intending to please food critics like me, so don’t take my review too seriously because they’re not expensive enough to be made a big fuss out of.
It’s a down-to-earth, dressed-down, lovely hangout location to eat simple foods and get drinks if all you want is a nice spot to get together for some Malaysian-style bonding. Go check it out, we really enjoyed the place. We are bitchy about the food probably because we watched one too many episodes of Masterchef!
How To Get There
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Directions: Take a left turn on Jalan Seteshen right after the Petronas station, before the turning into Jalan Kepayan that heads to the airport. Then take another left turn (first turning) into the housing lane, and Bali-Bali is in the middle of the lane.
Bali Bali Gardens Restaurant
No. 145, Lorong Bunga Telur,
Jalan Mat Salleh, 88300 Kota Kinabalu,
Tel: 088-319 933 Fax: 088-272 101