There’s a waft of frangipani in the late afternoon air along with a smack of fried red chillies as we dice, chop and pound the ingredients for the perfect Balinese sambal. We’re cooking beneath the steep pitched roof of a traditional “joglo” at Canggu Villa and Cooking Retreat.

“This used to be my house,” says renowned Scottish chef Will Meyrick as he pours us a glass of chilled sauvignon blanc. While we put some good old-fashioned elbow grease into our sambal, other guests relax on balconies adorned with Portuguese tiles or cool off in the communal pool. Geckos chirp in the rafters and chickens peck around the veggie garden.

We’re learning some of the secrets of Meyrick’s signature dishes, from the menus of his Sarong, Mamasan, Billy Ho and Hujan Locale restaurants. Our 11-year-old daughter Ella and her friend Erin are wielding alarmingly large knives (under close supervision) at their individual cooking stations as Meyrick’s business partner Kadek and Hujan Locale chef Novi show us how to finely slice shallots, lemongrass and chillies. “You’ve done this before haven’t you?” Kedek asks Ella, noting her knife skills. She nods in the affirmative, chopping at a sweat-inducing rate.

Known as the “street food chef”, Meyrick came to Bali via Australia and continues to delve into the culinary landscape of Asia, taking inspiration from the unique food culture of each destination. You’ll find him at street stalls, markets, in neighbourhood kitchens and backyards, getting off the beaten track to get to the heart of dishes and track down original recipes handed down through generations.

Today’s cooking class reflects his philosophy of introducing local produce to a wider audience, giving travellers like us an insight into authentic Balinese cuisine. During our visit to his urban organic farmstay, we learn how to cook regional Indonesian cuisine and experience an eye-opening street food tour with him – all of which is less than 10 minutes’ drive from bustling Canggu, and an hour from Bali’s cultural and artistic heart, Ubud.

With its rolling surf breaks and rice paddies, Canggu is the base for the first half of our family holiday. We’ve opted to stay in villas rather than resorts and apart from Meyrick’s own villa, we’re trying out one of Stayz new Bali listings. Part of the Expedia Group, Stayz recently launched in Bali meaning Australians can now book one of 12,000 villas and holiday homes on The Island of the Gods with services such as daily housekeeping, in-villa chefs, private jacuzzi and pools. Arriving in the middle of the night, the girls spy an oversized inflatable watermelon, floating invitingly in our private pool as we usher them to bed.

Our minimalistic villa is in Umalas, just outside Canggu, down a quiet jalan – or street – flanked by other villas and overlooking a small rice field. Canggu’s fabulous restaurants, bars and beach clubs are within easy reach via GoJek or Blue Bird taxi. We wake to swifts flitting, the smell of incense and the heady perfume of frangipani flowers fallen on a manicured lawn. All the smells that let you know you’ve arrived in Bali.

Our days are spent hopping between Canggu’s incredible beach clubs and new café and restaurant openings – bookended by pool time back at the villa. First stop is the new Café del Mar, this iconic Ibiza brand’s 13th beach club and its first Indonesian outlet. Known for its dazzling sunsets and euphonic music sessions, Café del Mar’s largest-ever beach club looks right at home in Batu Belig on the celebrated Canggu shoreline with front-row seats to Bali’s own famed sunsets.

Sunset drinks morph into a poolside dinner of crispy tuna sushi, ceviche and golden fries at the glamorous beach club with its Spanish arches, cabanas, luxury pool booths, swim up bars, restaurant and gelato bar. The girls love the “Golden Gaytime” dessert, Café del Mar’s take on the iconic Streets ice cream, and the 700 square-metre infinity pool. Reclining on crisp blue and white daybeds drinking cocktails from gold goblets, we watch the girls in the pool while revellers take a million selfies and dance to cool tunes from the DJ on the vast stage. 

Another night, after wearing ourselves out at Splash Water Park at Finns (another popular Canggu beach club), we head for Will Meyrick’s latest pan-Asian fusion restaurant, Billy Ho. The striking interior with colourful sirap wood clad walls, black bamboo ceiling and tattoo-inspired mural, by local artist Ogud, is almost as cool as Will and chef Tim Bartholomew’s take on Hong Kong, Japanese and South Korean comfort food. 

Offering respite from Canggu’s bustling streets, Billy Ho offers a communal dining table and a seven-metre bar that sits before Canggu’s first “beer wall”, showcasing hand-crafted beer and classic cocktails with a twist. Think starters of tuna sashimi with smoked chilli ginger flower and black tabiko, finger lickin’ Korean style crispy chicken wings and twice cooked short rib beef served with fiery nam prik gupi. 

Before farewelling Canggu for the second half of our Bali holiday we enjoy one last leisurely brunch at achingly hip The Slow Kitchen and Bar where Aussie executive chef Daniel Medcalf (ex-Icebergs) is putting his own stamp on the current slow-food fare, introducing a slew of new dishes in keeping with his fresh, clean and fuss-free philosophy. We try everything from the moreish tuna tataki, to lamb tacos and delicate zucchini flowers teamed with kick-ass Mangga Negronis. It’s a Sunday after all.

We depart with full bellies and hearts, making our way to Uluwatu where the three-bedroom Bahamas, part of the luxurious Hidden Hills Villas, awaits. Here attention to detail is reflected in each of the seven beautiful villas which offer a fully-serviced villa resort experience. 

From our chic villa we set out each day and explore the Uluwatu coastline with its laidback surf culture, famous sea temple Pura Luhur, nightly Kecak fire dance and scores of cool eateries and warungs. Padang Padang Beach, made famous by its appearance in Eat Pray Love, is nearby while smaller waves are found at Bingin Beach.

Hidden Hills Villas offers free transport to surrounding hot spots and we make the most of it. Our driver drops us off for yoga and a Buddha bowl at Cashew Tree one day; breakfast and great coffee at new boutique hotel The Elementum another.

Our last day is spent lapping up what Bali does best: beach clubs. The swoon-worthy Ulu Cliffhouse perched atop a cliff along the Bukit escarpment is our final destination and as soon as we take a seat on the blue-and-white striped banquettes, I long to delay our flight home. Before us is nothing but the shimmering blue Indian Ocean stretching to the horizon, occasionally interrupted by a passing fishing boat. Tables of families tuck into lunch, guests sprawl on stylish daybeds while others cool off in the pool at this clifftop playground. I order another cocktail, the Cucumber Number – a concoction of vodka, elderflower, cucumber, thyme, cloudy apple and soda – and savour one last Bali sunset. Till next time.

Where to Stay

When travelling with family to Bali, villas are a great option. Ideally you’ll want a pool, air-conditioning and wi-fi (Netflix is desirable) for when you want to escape the tropical heat. Book a villa with easy access to restaurants, bars, beach clubs and shops if you want to avoid spending too much time getting around.

Villa Casabianca

This spacious four-bedroom villa offers king-size beds, a 10-metre private pool, kitchen, home theatre system and housekeeping staff. There’s a rooftop terrace for sundowners or yoga. Because of the bedroom layout, this villa is not suitable for families with young children. Select Stayz Bali listings have virtual tours to enable travellers a 360-degree walk through of the property before booking. From $447 per night. See stayz.com.au

Canggu Villa and Cooking Retreat

Will Meyrick’s urban farm villa offers six individual rooms, with private ensuites, and includes wi-fi, simple breakfast and communal pool. Book two adjoining rooms on the ground floor if travelling as a family. On offer are authentic cooking classes and a fascinating street food tour of Denpasar with Meyrick or one of his chefs, including a visit to iconic local warungs and Bali’s oldest coffee shop. From $53 per night. See canggucookingretreat.com

Hidden Hills Villas

Hidden Hills Villas’ newly renovated Bahamas is a luxurious three-bedroom, three-bathroom villa with private lap pool, panoramic ocean vistas, private butler service and alfresco tub overlooking the ocean. Flat screen LED Smart TVs feature in the living room and bedrooms while there’s also a fully-equipped open-plan kitchen and king-size beds with 400-thread-count sheets. One-bedroom villas from $553 per night. See hiddenhillsvillas.com

Take me there

Fly: Virgin Australia, Jetstar, Qantas and other airlines fly daily to Bali from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, with connections from most other Australian ports from $229 one way. If the budget extends, Qantas business class is the most luxurious option on the Sydney-Denpasar route or return via Brisbane with Virgin and Jetstar and avoid the dreaded red-eye home.

Drive: Download handy apps including GoJek, Grab and the official Bluebird Taxis (Uber’s south-east Asia operations have been sold to Grab) for getting around.

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