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Golden Lotus Restaurant (South Kuta, Bali, Indonesia)
|(62-361) 752403 ext. 8501
||Dewi Sartika PO Box 2047,|
South Kuta, Bali
Reviewed by: Dianne Jacob
Spring Volume: 2004 Issue: 11(1) page: 11 and 12
Last fall, the sun-drenched island of Bali commemorated its first anniversary of the terrorist nightclub bombing that rocked the small island and sent its tourism industry into a tailspin. Already suffering from a drop in travel since September 11 and the recent SARS outbreak in Asia, Bali was wide open when we arrived. Hotel occupancy averaged fifty percent and below. There was no difficulty getting in to the biggest and best restaurants, including the Golden Lotus. Balinese street merchants hovered wherever we went, asking if we needed a ride, trying to sell us watches, sarongs, handicrafts, and massages.
Now, tourism is edging up slowly. Bali's biggest tourist populations are from Australia and Japan. Second are other Asians, Europeans are third. Americans are a distant fifth. Is this because Bali is part of Indonesia, an Asia not well known to Americans and because it is so far away? A flight from San Francisco, with stops in Hong Kong and Singapore, took twenty-four hours from our door in Oakland to the hotel.
The only part of Indonesia that is not Muslim is Bali. It is Hindu and believes in the spirit world, and islanders make offerings each day to appease the gods. They do this in the street, at restaurants, in shops, in homes, and at temples.
Village homes are like compounds, with extended families living within a high wall, to keep evil spirits out. They are a series of thatched-roof buildings with no windows and often, no walls. Traditionally, meals for the day are prepared in the morning and set out. Family members snack when they are hungry. There is no tradition of assembling the family around the table. There is also no running water. The Balinese get their water from irrigation canals that run through the island. They are there and used for many purposes. People go to them to wash and cut up their food.
On the road, the Balinese buy snacks from street carts that serve mostly Chinese-influenced food, particularly soup with noodles, fried rice, and fried noodles, here called nasi goreng. Tourists are advised not to eat from these street carts because of the reputed lack of cleanliness and possibility of parasites.
GOLDEN LOTUS RESTAURANT in Julan Kartika on Kartika Street in Tuban, Bali; phone: 0361 752-403 is miles away on every level, except perhaps taste. There are many tourist restaurants, more lavish than most island people can afford. They have big menus that hope to please every taste, and serve a combination of European, American and Balinese food. We sought out this best Chinese restaurant on the island. While it is in the main tourist city of Kuta where one sees many sights--particularly the bombing area which is a very tourist attraction with commemorations and wreaths of flowers, the restaurant was in the Bali Dynasty Hotel just minutes from the beach and in the Bali Dynasty Resort. A local magazine and a hotel concierge had recommended it.
Huge and formal with lavish wood paneling, deep pile carpet, and starched white tablecloths, the Golden Lotus seats around two hundred diners. It was probably packed in good times, but during our evening visit, three of the tables on the ballroom-sized floor were occupied. We could see one business party of men in suits in a side room separated by a screen. It was lonely and quiet, with such a wide swath of empty chairs, and sadder still to think of what people were missing, once we tasted the food.
The restaurant's chef, Lim Hing Fatt, has won many medals and awards, mostly from the World Chinese Chefs Cooking Association. He brings a level of sophistication and artistry to the dishes, many surpassing much of the restaurant food consumed in North America and China.
An extensive menu of a hundred items is divided by hot and cold delicacies, barbecued and roast meats, dishes made with shark's fin, soup, abalone and sea cucumber, live fish and lobster, frog’s legs, and only then, the usual categories of seafood, beef, chicken, pork, vegetarian and rice and noodle dishes. A choice of live fish means selecting from nine preparations, including steamed with yellow bean sauce or deep fried and served with, of all things, mixed fruit salad. Lobster comes six ways.
The most intriguing thing about the menu is that we could order dishes in one of three sizes. Although there were four of us, we ordered all small dishes so we could taste as many as possible. The smallest size was described as big enough for up to three persons. Portions were typical of serving sizes found in the United States.
We were welcomed to our table by the maitre d' and our waiter. The meal began with complimentary small plates of peanuts and pickled vegetables. A generous, juicy portion of Barbecued Honey Pork Slices was not as sweet as preparations we are used to. Our guests, another couple from California we had befriended at our hotel, approached our next dish with trepidation, having never tasted squid. Bite-sized, soft pieces were sautéed with grilled red and green peppers and onion. After a few bites, it became the favorite dish of the evening for one of them.
Ma Po Tofu containes the usual velvety cubes of tofu, but swimming in a peppery sea of chopped shiitake mushrooms, ground pork and black beans. Its presentation elevated its humbleness, and like many other dishes, it was presented on a raised silver serving tray.
My favorite dish was the Roast Duck with Noodles. A waiter brought the entree to the table, then expertly piled individual bowls with the noodles, bright green gailan, slivered duck, shiitake mushrooms, and red pepper strips. He drenched each bowl in a gingery brown sauce redolent of roasted duck juices. It was necessary that I force myself to stop so I could enjoy the dishes to come.
Perhaps, as a result of all the peppery and well-seasoned sauces, I am initially disappointed with the blandness of the Hainanese Chicken with Sautéed Bean Sprouts. A cut boiled chicken, ringed with half moons of alternating cucumber and tomato slices and crowned with minced raw garlic, float in a simple sauce of ginger-infused soy. It comes with a side dish of quickly pan-fried bean sprouts topped with bits of deep fried garlic. I pick at a few pieces of the chicken but can not taste much. Later I come back to the dish after giving my palate a rest, and am surprised by the complexity of the sauce and the tenderness of the chicken.
The name Stewed Mixed Vegetables with Japanese Bean Curd does not do our next dish justice. We order it mostly because one of our guests is a vegetarian and we want another tofu dish. What a surprise when the dish arrives. It is a colorful tangle of expertly cut sticks of bamboo shoots, green onion, red pepper, pickled Japanese cucumber and fungus. All are showered over a block of tofu and drenched in a vinegary sauce.
Our last dish seems more Vietnamese than Chinese. A stir-fry of button mushrooms, green beans, carrots, garlic and baby corn fills an edible basket made of woven deep-fried potato slices. The vegetables are tossed in a mild sauce thickened with cornstarch. Atop the dish is a crown of toasted almond shards. The concoction is too bland for me, but I do enjoy the freshness of the vegetables.
The restaurant's menu ends with nine desserts, from the traditional Deep fried Banana Fritter with Ice Cream, Mango Pudding, and fresh fruit, to the lesser-known Sweetened Water Chestnut with Orange Juice and Egg, and the house special, Sweetened Bird's Nest with Rock Sugar and White Fungus. We are too full, however, to taste a single bite.
Service here is quick and unobtrusive, as it should be at a dining establishment of this quality. Empty plates are removed promptly, and tea and water glasses kept filled. The seven dishes, two cocktails, rice, tea and tip, comee to just a mite more that fifty dollars American. We pay far more for much less at home.
Flavor and Fortune readers may want to know that this restaurant serves buffet dim sum on Sunday mornings. Unfortunately we do not have time to partake.
Dianne Jacob travels when she can and has contributed other tastes of Chinese food worldwide. She is an editor and a writer, and she runs an annual food writing conference. In addition, she coaches people on how to write book proposals that excite agents and editors.