A Night at Teatro Gastroteque Bali

Set in the side of busy Laksmana street of Seminyak, Bali, tucked in between more eye catching shops, Teatro Gastroteque is easily missed. In my case at least, having passed this place like four or five times that night, without even realizing it's right there. And no thanks to the faulty GPS either.

However, after such drama of trying to locate this place, once you come close, the open kitchen and its full window fa├žade quickly gives glance of what kind of theatre exist inside: one that aims to amuse your palate.

Aiming to create a dining experience worth a Michellin star or two, the Papuan born chef Mandif looks tenacious in his medium build posture. Pocketing the title of Best Bali Chef in 2011, chef Mandif's European cooking experience and Indonesian upbringing has grant him a knack for Asian-European fusion cuisine, where Indonesian cooking is part of the offered experience.

As my chef friend suggested me to keep my writings short and simple, since he believes many people nowadays are not avid readers kind, so here's Teatro Gastroteque experience as concise as possible:

First the Rempeyek Teri for starter has caught me by surprise. For you who are not familiar with this dish, rempeyek is a traditional Indonesian crackers commonly found in food shops and homes across Indonesia, and it it never is considered as fancy food. Made with flour, seasoned then deep fried, the mastery of this dish lies in knowing when to stop frying as it's very prone to browning and overcooking.

Rempeyek usually has either peanuts or ikan teri (tiny anchovies) to gave it a distinct flavour. Teatro's version uses the later. While it tasted much like, well... a rempeyek, it wasn't out of place at all. Indeed it gives the impression of "why didn't I think of that," and serves well as an amuse bouche: a starter and a statement. Kudos!

Next came the quail egg done sunny side up on top of a biscuit, which I can only imagine the kind of effort involved in handling something that tiny in such way.  

On the next plate, the black charcoal-like lumps on the left are actually cassava, another very common Indonesian snack, but coated with black powder made from Japanese bamboo. While it might be quite riddling for those unfamiliar with fried cassava or "singkong goreng," I found the triangular shape easily gives away its real identity. The uniformly black pau that follows has soft plumpy skin with savoury duck meat fillings. It was paired with a delicious dipping sauce that works for the cassava too. 

Just as a side note: the discolouration on the cassava is not a lighting effect but instead smeared gold dust, which make it the first time I ever eat gold. Not too much to make me feel like a billionaire though. 

Our host for the dinner mas Fernandito Haka informed days before that Foie Gras is one of Chef Mandif's favourite ingredient to play with, therefore it's quite interesting to find it as our next dish, and witnessing what he's transformed it into. Instead of the usual savoury Foie Gras, Teatro Gastroteque's version was involving jams, and candies.

"It's best to put a little bit of everything in each bite to experience the perfect balance" chef Mandif informed, and so I did. The candied tomato and almond indeed, compliments well the silky smooth, creamy tad salty flavour the Terrine Foie Gras has.

The next dish was quite striking in its look, beautifully combines the fresh colours of its ingredients into an artwork. Chef Mandif explained that it's a mango wrapped around the Papuan crab meat, with drops of lime gel. "I also put some walnut chunks inside to adds a little bit of crunchiness to the dish, therefore balancing the softness of the two other ingredients." He mentioned before disappearing back into the kitchen.

Taste wise the combination of savoury umami slightly metallic taste Papuan crab, the sweet mango and the creamy avocado has made this dish felt like a cheerful dessert-ish starter.

Earlier before this next dish came, Chef Mandif brought to the table what looks like a very finely marbled wagyu, that turned out to be a tuna belly. "It's from the Sulawesi seas where the best specimens like this are usually sold directly to Japan. I was only able to get it after one day finding out that one of the exporters was dining here in Teatro" he smiled.

Barely cooking it to retain its original flavours, the toro was smeared with squid ink then lightly seared on the outside while keeping the inside raw, unleashing the very robust, creamy and umami mouth feel. Combined with the roasted sweet leeks, the tad bitter antanan and the slightly acidic cucumber, it was simply the best tuna I have tasted in a long while.

Our palate cleanser next came to the table in form of a nugget of ice, accompanied by lots of transparent foam. Put inside your mouth, interestingly the foam has a hint of ginger, which adds a little dash of heat into the sour mango Trou Normand.

One of Chef Mandif's crew then brought another chunk of meat into the table; it was rather dull coloured, and it's quite old indeed; three weeks old. That's how long the meat was dry aged to intensifies the flavour, and let the enzyme breaks down the meat tissue, resulting in a tender meat texture.

I chose mine at medium, to get that caramelized flavour on the outside, while leaving the centre moist and raw enough. The aged beef steak are then paired with creamy nutty celeriac mash, eringy mushroom, and the savory sweet a little tart port wine sauce for a rounder taste. The result? As much as I loved my tuna, this aged beef is the definite champion of that night's dinner.

Following that rustic beef, we're taken back to the Asian experience, a very Indonesian one to be exact, in form of Lobster curry with Padang's style Jackfruit curry, seared king scallop, and... perkedel jagung! After the rempeyek and the cassava, this is another cool creation from Chef Mandif that plays around traditional Indonesian food taste. The perkedel itself was of extraordinary sweetness and freshness, and interestingly was made without flour, relying more on special technique to attach the kernels together.

Our 6+ course dinner that night was ended with Chocolate Albinao Valrhona 85% Chocolate cake, speculatostuille, rum raisin ice cream, and that's gold dust smeared on the plate.

There were also some mignardises presented; assorted small desserts, and many kind of bread were put on the table that night in between courses. 

As with the whole experience itself, chef Mandif mentioned that it was orchestrated with moderation in mind. "The dishes presented were in their less than full size, so the guest could consume them through in a convenient pace, and ends up with an almost full stomach so that they don't feel bloated, nor having to visit a food stall afterwards." 

One of the important part missing from my dinner though, according to chef Mandif, that it was created with serious intention for wine-pairing, as the connecting dots between the dishes. That's why glasses of extensive kind of white wines were poured out in between the dishes that night, in its specific type of matching glasses too, much to the delight of my dining companies that night. I myself was quite satisfied with the dishes even though accompanied only by bottles of sparkling Equil. 

And on top of the delicious artworks consumed that night, the conversation between us the diners and chef Mandif itself was very amusing and entertaining. Stories about him amazed his French guests with Rawon and Lawar merah during a chef exchange, the surprising shoplifting behaviour many his classy guests have, unique guests with unique requirements, including less known kitchen stories and restaurant business issues were put on the table that night. The conversation was ended when we realized it was already past midnight, way after Teatro's business hour.

Last, to conclude my dining experience in few words, Teatro Gastroteque is one of the few places in Bali that's able to transform the market's finest ingredients into such a unique and flavourful experience, thanks to the skilful and passionate craftsmanship of Chef Mandif M. Warokka. 

Thank you chef Mandif for the good time, and for sharing your passion with us. (byms)


Unknown said...

Sounded that you had really fun dinner mas Bayu! I've planned for so many times to visit the 'neighbour'. Perhaps end of the month, I will hit the seat of Teatro!

Unknown said...

Well yes indeed Ade, I hope you have the same pleasing experience as well!

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