Saturday 16 July 2011

Mozaic: From a privy in Bray to paradise in Bali

I first read about Mozaic whilst sat in the gents in The Fat Duck. On my way in I noticed a neat stack of small hard backed blue books, the latest edition of the guide to some of the finest restaurants in the world ‘Les Grandes Tables du Monde.’

I flipped open the book and found myself looking at the entry for Jean Georges in New York - I have fond memories of this classy three star restaurant and of the stroll through Central Park that my wife and I enjoyed so very much after one of the best meals of our lives. I flipped again; this time, the book fell open on the page for Mozaic.

The picture showed an open air dining room set in a verdant oasis. Casting my eyes down to the accompanying text, a quick scan revealed keys words and phrases, such as: ‘exotic’ ‘exquisite spices’ and ‘Indonesian summer’. I remember returning to my dining companions and saying, “The toilets were nice… Oh, and I know where we are going on our next holiday!”

Bali is a beautiful, tropical island destination – as well as the rich Balinese culture; fabulous flora and fauna; sandy beaches and spectacular surf, there are some superb places to eat and drink: from local ‘warungs’ to sleek, slick and chic Ku De Ta, Potato Head, Sardine and Sarong. As wonderful as these places are, for me (and for the people who hand out awards) the best place to eat on the island is undoubtedly Mozaic.

As well as being listed (since 2004) in Traditions et Qualité’s aforementioned ‘blue guide’, Mozaic has been honoured with rankings in the S.Pellegrino list of the Best 100 Restaurants in the World and fifth and (currently) sixth place in the Meile Guide of Asia’s best. The Wine Spectator Award of Excellence can also be added to the impressive assembly of accolades. To my mind, it’s shame that Michelin does not publish a guide for the region because a chef of Christopher Salans’ skill deserves a star or two!

Born to a French mother and American father, Chef/proprietor Salans honed his skills working in three star kitchens in France and for David Bouley and Thomas Keller in the USA. He then, due to a love of the cuisine (and I’m sure, his wife), opened Mozaic in his wife’s native country, Indonesia. A former meditation centre, surrounded by rice paddies, in the artistic and culturally resplendent town of Ubud being the paradisiacal location for his ‘culinary temple.’

Mozaic Lounge
On arrival, guests are greeted with the typical Balinese añjali mudrā, of hands clasped a praying position and a short respectful bow, then led through the ornately carved, golden gateway to the swanky Mozaic Lounge. The lounge, which also serves Asian inspired ‘tapas’ dishes, is the perfect setting for a pre or post dinner cocktail – the live pianist and jazz singer (reminiscent of Jane Monheit) created the perfect mood for us to enjoy a bottle of champagne and the intensely flavoured amuse bouche: Gougères, stuffed with Black Truffle Cream.

The blue guide from Heston’s loo promised ‘Indonesian summer’ and ‘exotic’ - as we were elegantly and courteously led to our table by a member of the excellent front of house team, we were not disappointed - the fresh humid aroma of lush tropical vegetation and the reassuring cicada song invaded our senses and elevated the ambience to something beyond what is achievable in a ‘normal’ dining room. The exoticism was further enhanced by the colourful sculptures and local works of art; and in the finest of details, right down to the beautiful batik napkins. Overhead, the crowning glory, the sensitively lit canopy of palm trees stirred by the gentle tropical breeze, swayed softly to unswathe the star studded sky.

The inventive menu presents four exquisitely creative and inspired options: Chef’s Tasting, Vegetarian Tasting, Discovery Menu and the Chef’s Surprise Menu; each could be accompanied by a wine or ‘premium’ wine pairing.

Crispy Seared Foie Gras, Plum Sorbet, Plum Gastrique and Candies Rosemary - Chef's Tasting Menu
The Discovery Menu, which showcased ‘fresh seasonal Indonesian ingredients and flavours’, was my choice. My dining companions all opted for the ‘Chef’s Tasting’ which mixed fresh local fare with imported premium ingredients; such as Sydney Rock Oysters, Victoria Lamb and Spanish Ham.

Discovery Menu 'flavour journey'

A wonderful addition to the Discovery Menu is the ‘flavour journey’, highlighting key ingredients from each course that guests are presented with to finger and nose. These stimulate conversation; add a great sense of anticipation to each dish and most certainly whet the appetite. Mine featured such delights as a beautiful cross section of a ginger flower (kecicang); fresh curry leaves and tamarind (buah asam), kaffir lime (jeruk parut) and sapodilla fruits.

Basa Gede
One reason for travelling 12,000km, was the promise of ‘exquisite spices’ – and the first dish Basa GedeFresh Tiger Prawn Tartare, Basa Gede Crème Fraiche and Bumbu Emulsion was a celebration of the local spice combinations Basa Gede and Bumbu that are the base of most Balinese cuisine. In one review I read, the Chef was criticised for, “an overuse of emulsion” - but I feel, in this type of cuisine, the foams are the perfect way of introducing some of the local flavours in a clever way, especially when making considerations for the western palate. This was unquestionably the case here; due to the use of this technique, the potentially strong flavours of the Basa Gede and Bumbu were subtle enough to complement, yet still allow the flavour of the fresh tiger prawn tartare to delight.

The next dish on the journey was KecicangTempe Crusted Sea Bass Fillet, Kintamani Grape Reduction, Corn Ragout and Balinese Ginger Flower Relish. Despite my love of most soybean products, I am not usually a fan of tempeh (tempe in Indonesia) but here, the imaginative use in a crust for the perfectly cooked, white flaky sea bass was a stroke of culinary genius.

Buah Asam
The tour of Indonesian flavours continued (including a quick layover for some Spanish saffron) with the next dish, Buah AsamDuck Confit and Foie Gras Pastilla, Balinese Rujak Sauce, Spanish Saffron and Apple Marmalade. The fruity rujak sauce being an agreeable travelling companion to partner the duck. 

Jeruk Purut
The peregrination progressed with pork and the citrussy kick of kaffir lime, Jeruk PurutPork Prepared in Two Styles, Spiced Almond, Green Mango, Cucumber and Lemon Basil in Kaffir Lime Dressing. More excellent cooking and exciting flavour combinations.

Next to explore, SawoBalinese Sapodilla Fruit Sorbet, Fresh Coconut Milk, Tapioca and Wild Ginger. A refreshing exotically flavoured dessert featuring the sweet, brown sugar and pear like Sapodilla fruit.

Duan Korokeling
The final destination on the Discovery menu, Duan KorokelingFrozen Macadamia Nut Parfait, Semi Dried Malanag Pineapple and Curry Leaf Coulis. A hint of spicy curry in a sweet course is often pleasant, especially with pineapple. The variety of textures in this dish made it even more enjoyable.

Petit fours - Chocolate truffles
Completing the journey, some delicious Truffle Chocolates were served with the tea and coffee.

As a whole experience, Mozaic was truly magnificent. All I can add is that I am thankful I picked up that copy of Les Grandes Tables du Monde when in The Fat Duck. Continuing the theme, the toilets of Mozaic provided inspiration for the possible destination for my next foodie trip, thanks to the framed menu from Michel Bras… watch this space.
Bras - The next stop?

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