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Bali’s newest design-led dining spots give a modern update to traditions

A new wave of dining establishments has been hitting the shores of Bali lately. Unlike the beach clubs and restaurants of yesteryear, which sought inspiration from the bustling laneways of Australia or beachfront resorts in Ibiza, the new design-led openings are seeing a greater emphasis on Balinese culture, elements, and its breathtaking natural landscapes.


bali restaurants
Manarai Beach House.

New dining establishments in Bali

One of which is Manarai Beach House, helmed by Jakarta-based Ismaya Group on the beautiful, sandy shores of Nusa Dua.
“We started out with the intention to create a design of “our time,” a structure that is modern yet is deeply rooted to the natural landscapes and local culture of Bali,” said Christian Rijanto, founder of Ismaya Group.

This is apparent in the architecture and interior of the dining establishment, which is largely inspired by traditional Balinese architecture, made up of small structures composed together with the landscape to create seamless indoor and outdoor living spaces. “We added removable glass walls between the indoor restaurant and the outdoor area so guests are able to enjoy the beach from all the main areas on the site,” Rijanto said. “We also incorporated all-around Balinese accents. The Manarai Beach House complex is flanked by Balinese brick walls. We looked at local materials and worked with local craftmanship to add more genuine local touch to the modern design of the beach house. We used locally made tiles and fabrics to accentuate the unique Balinese artistic touch.”

M. Development Group, a property development and investment company behind some of Bali’s award-winning restaurants and villas, including Ulu Cliffhouse and Kiln in Seminyak, has the same ethos. “A hundred per cent of our furniture and materials come from Indonesian stores, and all are sustainable,” explained Ben Jones, the group’s CEO and co-founder. “We only work with factories with sustainability credentials, which is actually quite a challenge in Indonesia — if you follow the UN guidelines. Most of it is locally-sourced, and everything we do is custom designed.”

Bali restaurants
Ulu Cliffhouse.

The group’s biggest project, Ulu Cliffhouse, was one of Bali’s most anticipated openings last year. Just months after it opened its doors amongst the rugged landscape of Bukit Peninsula, it was applauded as “The Coolest Beachclub” and one of the “World’s Most Beautiful Restaurants”. The 45,000 sq ft beach club boasts a pool, restaurant, boutique, music studios, and bar built on the rocks below, offering direct water access for surfers.

“We first started with a blank piece of paper. We thought to ourselves, were in this haven for surf and we wanted to be loyal to that. After all, that’s the whole vibe and culture of Uluwatu,” Jones told us. “However, we didn’t want to be just another cliche surf-themed place surrounded by Balinese wicker and surfboards on the roof. We took what’s relevant and gracious to the surf culture, but also kept it fresh from a design perspective. That’s when we came up with the mid-century 1950s California, which eventually evolved to include some Palm Springs components. Palm trees are contrasted with straight lines and use of things like breeze blocks. It is then executed in a way that there is a nod towards some Balinese references, such as materials, ceramics and touches.”

Bali restaurants
Ulu Cliffhouse.

What is the Bali design aesthetic?

“Bali is quite unique in Asia in that it has its own genre of design. You can be in Europe or Miami and see a house described as ‘Balinese-style’. Bali has its own design genre and it’s very rare that you get somewhere in the world. However, I do think that it’s been done to death. You know, villas with another outdoor bathroom and big Buddhist statues. On the other hand, some places in Bali are on the opposite end of the spectrum — in which they are fairly design-forward yet have zero Indonesian influences,” Jones told us.

“Some places, like The Lawn in Canggu, sits in the middle. It has a chic, modern vibe that is clearly Balinese, with its palm trees, traditional umbrellas, and bamboo furniture. It sits together in a really nice and balanced way, and that’s exciting,” he added.”We work with some really great design studios, such as Design Assembly, Studio Eko Nugroho and James Brown. The new Tropicola dreamt up by James Brown, for example, is incredibly designed. It’s a nice middle ground you can play in, and people are increasingly conscious of it. I’m a strong believer that if you get the design right to the point where the consumer enjoys it, the longevity of your business model is extended hugely.”

Bali restaurants.

Indeed, Tropicola, sister establishment of the world-renowned Motel Mexicola, is reminiscent of a retro, 1980s Palm Springs meets Miami, right on Seminyak’s prestigious Golden Mile stretch. “Tropicola transports visitors to a time and place you’ve heard of but never really got to experience,” Brown told us.”When you’re there, it feels like a private party in a big mansion that we’ve glimpsed at in movies or photo.”

The term ‘cola’ in both names allude to colour; whether it’s colourful food, drinks, staff or customers. Mexicola was born from the frustration of too much beige architecture, Brown explained. “I walked into a bar in Barcelona called Oviso, which the owners had handpainted with Romanesque mural all over. My life changed from that moment,” he mused. “Mexicola is inspired by that; it is chaos, pattern and colour. Tropicola, on the other hand, is a clean and vibrant colour palette of reds, bright yellows, electric blues, turquoise, olive pinks, palm green, and shades of white — it’s definitely a bit snazzier.”

Bali restaurants

Bali’s natural landscapes
All the new establishments, whether it’s Tropicola, Manarai Beach House, or Ulu Cliffhouse, draws on the beauty of Bali’s natural landscape, instead of distracting from it. Jones agrees: “Everything at Ulu is about the view, so the flow of the business, the moment you walked into the front door, as you flow through the journey, everything is focused on the outlook. There’s no way you can be on the site that you can’t see the view. That is a very conscious thing.”

bali restaurants
Ulu Cliffhouse.

“When you arrive, you are greeted by a relatively sophisticated with beautiful touches of artwork and brass fittings. But as you wander further into the upper and middle decks, restaurant, you see more terracotta and fabrics. The atmosphere gets increasingly more rustic towards the ocean deck, adorned with alang alang, recycled woods, and local materials. We peel off layers and as you explore further, you feel closer to the ocean,” he added.

Similarly, the Willis Kusama-designed Manarai Beach House, is nestled on the calm shores of the relatively untouched Nusa Dua, boasting access to crystal clear waters. “The nature within the location was a big inspiration for us. Many colours of the earth are also present on our bricks and woodwork, and Nusa Dua’s blue turquoise waters are reflected on our tiled walls. We then tie everything together with neutral light grey and indigo blue present in our furniture, as well as the fabrics used in our uniform,” Rijanto said.

bali restaurants
Manarai Beach House.

Is this just the beginning?
Although the island is home to many established, world-renowned restaurants and bars, Bali still has a lot of potential for growth, especially in lesser-known areas away from tourist-driven areas — namely Uluwatu and Bali’s surrounding islands (such as Nusa Penida and Nusa Lembongan). The latter will be home to Jones’ latest venture under the Mandala House’s satellite of independent luxury villas.

“There’s definitely a new wave and we’re hopefully going to be a big part of that,” Jones hinted. “We have a couple of new design-led projects we’re working on; so that’s the next stage for us.”

Dewi Nurjuwita
Senior Writer
Dewi Nurjuwita is a travel and design writer who can be found exploring the streets of foreign cities with passport in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other.
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