The beauty that is Merah Putih, its excellent food and warm service, left us completely blissed out and floored. Suffice to say that it is THE best meal I have had in a long time, one that sits so well on the palette and the soul, that I dream of it day after day, two months on since we travelled to Bali for our family vacation. The last time I felt this grand about a meal, was after being taken through the most whimsical, molecular gastronomical treat at The Fat Duck. And that IS saying something because we dined at Merah Putih with our toddler in tow; any parent would know that dining with children tends to take away the luxury of eating in peace, and that often means that mastication of food doesn’t take place long enough for us to appreciate the nuances of flavours in even the most delightful mouthfuls. Long story short, we tend to shove food down as quickly as we can before the kid insists that LUNCH IS OVER, MAMA, and the truth is, we would be thankful to simply finish our main course, let alone fully appreciate what we eat because meals are often over in a jiffy. It is with a tiny stroke of luck and stunningly good food that kept our toddler, and us, glued to the table for the entire meal.
Merah Putih is located in a surprisingly quiet stretch along the long and winding Jalan Petitenget, segments of which are home to popular bars, restaurants, luxury hotels and chic boutiques. We took a cab straight to the restaurant after a mid-morning coffee break at Revolver Espresso (more to come on this hidden gem of a café), after realising that unit numbers don’t run in order for addresses in Bali. It was a wise decision because we would have gotten completely lost on foot, and it helps that Bluebird taxis are pretty safe to go with and fares are very, VERY easy on the pocket.
Chargrilled Squid & Octopus
Banana blossom, chilli, tamarind, peanuts
Walking up the flight of stairs to the entrance of Merah Putih and into the bar, I cursed under my breath as I took in the swanky interiors; I was in a shabby tank top that has seen better days a decade ago, shorts and sandals and we were definitely under-dressed. I had expected some snooty wait staff to throw us glances of disapproval but there was absolutely none of that, and all we received were ooohs and aaaahs generously doled out to Faith, the littlest patron in the restaurant that afternoon. *phew* As we were led through the dark corridor to our table, both M and I let out gasps of delight at the gorgeous interiors. It was as if we had emerged from under layers and layers of foliage into a clearing. With lush greenery, fish ‘ponds’ skirting the perimeter and ample light coming through windows and the glass canopy above, it felt like we were walking into the most beautiful greenhouse (for all you annoying people, like me, who love to keep people from digging in by taking photos of the food, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more beautiful, naturally lit, restaurant to photograph your subjects). The only downside was the restaurant doesn’t provide high chairs for children, so we had to fashion a booster seat out of cushions that the staff provided and secured F to the chair with the buckle of our baby carrier.
Fried soft shell crab salad, chilli, pickles
Merah Putih offers set lunches for only S$10 per person, but we ditched that and shared a few dishes over the signature Red (merah) & White (putih) Rice instead. Each course was about S$6-10, and the bill came up to about S$45+ for a very sumptuous lunch, including two mocktails (about S$3 each) and three individual servings of desserts (about S$4 each). Now, this may be rather expensive as compared to other meals we have had in Bali, but the quality of the food is unsurpassed, whether in Bali or other parts of the world.
To start off, we were served two complimentary portions of Soto Ayam; the warm, savoury broth was packed full of flavour from the chicken, shallots and herbs, and went perfectly with the fragrant Red & White rice. This was such a hit with Faith that we grudgingly gave up our portions for her. The waitress very thoughtfully gave us another on seeing this and Faith was much too happy to have an extra serving!
Tahu Isi Jamur
Vegetable filled organic tofu fritters, oyster mushrooms
The Chargrilled Squid & Octopus proved to be one of the best versions I have ever had (the other stunner was an unforgettable octopus stew that our friend’s father whipped up when we visited them in Porto). The morsels were superbly tender, far from the chewy, rubbery nonsense that many others have served up, and boasted big flavours that were perfectly balanced – the dish was tangy, savoury and ever so slightly spicy for that tropical kick. It was absolutely mouthwatering, literally, in the best way possible!
Even though it was our least favourite dish in the repertoire that afternoon, Jangkang, the fried soft shell crab salad, was delightfully crispy and it came in very generous servings. This meant that M and I did not have to fight to the death for the last piece of crunchy goodness!
Iga Sapi Bakar
Chargrilled beef shortribs, lalapan, sambal hijau
An underdog that made our hearts flutter, Tahu Isi Jamur, which consists of vegetable filled organic tofu fritters served with oyster mushrooms, was recommended to us by the waitress. We thought nothing of it when we first saw it on the menu and were not even close to ordering it as it didn’t sound all that interesting, but boy, were we glad to have trusted the waitress on this one. The perfectly deep-fried slivers of tofu, crispy, and quiveringly tender on the inside, were stuffed with well-seasoned sautéed oyster mushrooms, which tasted almost like chunks of very juicy and flavoursome meat!
My favourite dish has got to be Iga Sapi Bakar, which is a meltingly soft slab of chargrilled beef short rib that has just about lost all of its integrity, in terms of texture and morality because it made me gasp much too audibly. It was shockingly tender, I was most definitely too loud when I exclaimed, ‘OH-EM-GEE, THIS FEELS LIKE TOFU!’ when I cut into it with a fork, with nary a Newton exerted. Thankfully, the restaurant was rather empty and I only drew an embarrassed glance from the husband. Or maybe two glances, because I rolled my eyes and went, ‘OH MY…..’ after I popped a generous chunk of shortrib that was smothered in the rich peanut gravy (not unlike the best satay sauce you would have had) into my mouth. The shortrib came with a green sambal, which delivered the perfect spicy hit to cut the richness, almost unctuousness of the meat. I was annoyed when M took the last bite (‘I KNOW I SAID IT’S OKAY BUT NO, IT’S NOT OKAY’).
Dessert board with our three picks
We were stuffed at this point but given the merits of the dishes before, we couldn’t leave without having some sweets. After all, we don’t know when we would be back in Bali again (although I have sworn the husband to making this an annual family pilgrimage…we have been to Bali four times and love it more and more each time we visit). M and I often talk about how meals are never quite perfect, with the starters and mains impressing us, and desserts letting us down, or vice versa, so we were very eager to test this theory out with Merah Putih, especially when it is touted to be one of the rising stars in Bali.
Spiced chocolate tart, hibiscus jelly, cashew praline, vanilla ice cream
We were more than happy to have our theory proven wrong. The spiced chocolate tart was rich, lusciously smooth and subtly laced with cinnamon (I believe), and it went swimmingly well with the slightly tart, yet sweet, hibiscus jelly and crunchy, sweet praline. Of course, good quality vanilla ice cream couldn’t hurt!
Young coconut pannacotta, mango, palm sugar crumble
The coconut pannacotta was such a refreshing change from the usual English renditions I’ve had. It had the perfect wobble, and the mildly sweet coconut flavour was the perfect backdrop for the rich, smooth and tangy mango puree. The palm sugar crumble lent good crunch for a well-balanced contrast in textures.
M didn’t enjoy the Kue Lapis as much. To be fair, he has never liked the spiced layer cake. But I thought the spices in the cubes of kueh lapis went really well with the calamansi lime brulee. It’s a surprisingly good combination that works! My only complaint was the cream in the brulee has somewhat masked the tangy and citrusy fragrance of calamansi lime a little too much. Nonethless, I’d be happy to pay for this again!
You can probably tell by now that we had a whole lot of food and spent a fair bit of time at Merah Putih. We were pleasantly surprised by how amazing the food was, and we could eat in peace only because Faith thoroughly enjoyed the food too. Whenever she got impatient, waiting for the food to arrive or for the check to be signed, we took her to the sides to peer at the fishes in the ‘ponds’ and she was thrilled! The staff obviously love children too, so it made the lunch, which was tops to begin with, even better. Both M and I utterly regretted not having dinner at Merah Putih on our last day in Bali – we wound up at this tourist trap known as Warung Taulan, no thanks to touters, and had the worst food we have ever sank our teeth into in Bali. Well, there is only one thing left to do…I shall count down to our next trip to Bali and this time, I’d be sure to head to Merah Putih again. And I think you should too.
Merah Putih is located at:
Jl.Petitenget No.100x, Kerobokan
Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia 80361
Tel: (0361) 8465950