The opening of Nasi Bali was a big deal for husband-and-wife owners, Dewi and Made (pronounced mah-deh) Arsana. For five years, the couple had been privately cooking Balinese food for homesick friends and neighbours fiending for the flavours of Bali (Dewi is from the area of Tabanan in Bali’s west; Made, the chef, is from Jimbaran in the island’s south). When a shop close to home became available, they jumped at the chance to take over, eager to create somewhere their buddies and the Balinese community could come together.
Nasi Bali isn’t what you’d call a big restaurant. Depending on how its dozen-or-so tables are configured, you could probably fit around 22 people here. A basin in the corner is available for guests to wash their hands pre- or post-meal, and an ornate shrine sits behind the counter, holding the day’s banten: the daily offering made by Balinese Hindus. It’s a plain, simple aesthetic that chimes with Nasi Bali’s warung – the Indonesian word for a small, family-run shop or business – aspirations.
The cooking, however, is neither plain or simple. Nor is it meek or bland. Balinese food – like most Indonesian cooking – bangs with flavour, and Made’s high-definition dishes will trigger instant flashbacks among those who’ve eaten their way around Bali. The pleasurable sting of the sambal matah, Bali’s famous chilli, lemongrass and shallot relish. The richness of the Bali-style rendang, spicier and wetter than the drier Padang-style rendang found throughout Indonesia. Most impressive of all is the nasi babi guling: the roast suckling pig rice.
Traditionally served at major Balinese ceremonies and celebrations, the Anthony Bourdain-endorsed babi guling has become one of Bali’s signature dishes, with enthusiasts eagerly debating who does the island’s best version. (Ibu Oka, Pak Malem and Chandra are the big three usually name-checked in the discussion). The Nasi Bali version stands up to the best of them. The well-spiced uratan (pork sausage) is house-made, as is the tum (steamed pork). The roast pork belly is juicy and its skin nicely lacquered, while turmeric and ginger are a warming, constant presence in both the lawar (mixed vegetables with shredded coconut) and soup. It’s porky, certainly, but not overwhelming.
The compact menu includes many of the island’s other favourite dishes, including betutu bebek (braised duck) and sate manis (pork skewers) served with a sweet and spicy sambal.