Friday, July 12, 2013


A breath of French air in Bali at a bargain price

IF there's a global financial crisis in Bali, someone forgot to tell the developers, who continue to expand the urban sprawl of Kuta from the backblocks of Kerobokan to the high cliffs of the Bukit.
And, with Bali still one of the cheapest beach holiday options on offer, whatever massive hotel complexes or chic $2000-a-night spa resorts they build, they seem to fill.
But what if you want really cheap chic, like back in the day when you needed a torch to get from Kuta to Legian and for $10 a night you were living in luxury? Does it still exist?
Short answer, no. But the recently opened Bali Pearl Hotel, a few blocks off the beach in the heart of Seminyak, is a step in the right direction (that is, backwards). Only in price, mind you. About $80 (cash only, thanks) will get you its best suite: spacious, airconditioned and with a huge deck overlooking pool and garden. There are only two of these included in the 10 rooms on offer; the others grade down to about $50 for a smallish affair on the ground floor.


The property used to be the private residence of Ryoshi, one of Bali's leading Japanese restaurateurs of many years' standing, so the gardens are well established and offer a picturesque and quiet retreat from the shopping chaos of Jalan Seminyak. And the trendy strip of sand between Blue Ocean and Double Six is just a five-minute stroll away, if you don't fall down an open drain. (I adore the fact that the Balinese still can't do a footpath after all these years.)
The Pearl is owned and managed by Cyril and Sylvie Blanchet, originally from Provence, who spent 20 years in the Caribbean, building up a clothing retail business in St Martin. Sourcing fabric brought them to Bali in 2004, and they didn't want to leave. In 2007 they shifted paradises, found and bought the property that would become the Pearl in just two days, and after a big extension and renovation job, opened their hotel in September 2008.
It's the kind of low-key but comfortable hotel that feels just about right for Bali. If you want CNN and WiFi, it's all there, but for us it is all about the big, airy deck, the pool shared with only a handful of people, the lovely garden and the restaurant.
Last year the Blanchets' 22-year-old son Jeremy finished his chef's apprenticeship in the Michelin one-star La Petite France in Maussan, under master chef Thierry Maffre-Boge, flew to Bali and directed the creation of his dream restaurant at the Bali Pearl.
The white minimalist space, which opened just a few weeks before our arrival in May this year, comes into its own at night, a daring flash of light in a tropical garden. And, wow, the food. Young Jeremy learned his lessons well, but it is his own creativity that so perfectly blends French traditional concepts of cooking and presentation with tropical produce and sensibilities.
Legian and Seminyak abound with great restaurants, yet in a week's stay at Bali Pearl, we find ourselves drawn back to the dinner-only restaurant three times, and we are never disappointed. Mains range from $10 to $15 but, as is the case everywhere in Indonesia, the sting is in the heavily taxed wine. Nonetheless, we find the Laroche sauvignons cabernet and blanc reasonable value at about $50 and the local Hatten rose is always drinkable when chilled.
Jeremy Blanchet's Balinese staff is even younger than he is and are learning on the job. If they have off nights, we don't get one. Oh, and they do a lovely poolside continental breakfast, included in the tariff.

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