Jungle wonderland Capella and its emersive restaurant Api Jiwa is a sensational addition to Ubud’s resort elite.
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Nestled in the rolling rice paddies and rainforest ravines of Keliki, Capella Ubud, Bali is now open with 23 luxury tented retreats and two distinctive dining concepts that are destinations in themselves. I, for one, couldn’t wait to experience this exotic outpost, so just a month after their grand unveiling I find myself at the intimate dining den of Api Jiwa under the care of award-winning culinary director Matt McCool.
Architecture aficionados will swoon over this five-star property designed by internationally acclaimed resort designer Bill Bensley. Inspired by the first European explorers to settle in Bali in the 1800s, this sprawling property features custom-designed tents with saltwater pools, stone pathways lit at night by old-fashioned camp lanterns, and open-sided dining venues that offer views of lush greenery in every direction.
Mads Lange is the main restaurant and a pretty spectacular spot with huge teak beams, an arched ceiling adorned with scenes from the Ramayana, and a massive deck that overlooks the resort’s infinity pool on the edge of the ravine. The ethos here is home-grown and home-made with contemporary European dishes inspired by the spice trade and colonial recipes. Think premium meats salted, brined and dry-aged in house, fresh local produce, and unique touches like honey from the resort’s own bee colonies!
Follow the winding stone stairs down a level and you reach Api Jiwa, a theatrical Asian BBQ concept that boasts touches of the ancient Japanese robatayaki tradition. Done up in dark wood, this 16-seat restaurant centres around a C-shaped island where diners can watch the chefs assemble and char-grill each morsel. There are no printed menus, rather guests can enjoy tailored omakase menus with an array of courses thoughtfully explained by chef Matt and his team.
As my dining companions and I sit down at the long wooden counter, the servers set us up with cold towels and glasses of sparkling sake. Other drink options include house-made sodas, small-batch craft beers, and boutique wines. Chef Matt is on the other side of the counter and immediately puts us ease with a bit of banter and a brief intro to the menu, which he explains is meat and seafood-driven and centred around seasonal ingredients.
Coming to us by way of Australia, Matt has over 12 years of experience working in acclaimed restaurants including the iconic Quay in Sydney, Gordon Ramsay’s Maze, and Aria in Shanghai. His playful, contemporary approach to incorporating prime Australian ingredients into Asian cooking is his signature, and he brings this flair to Mads Lange and Api Jiwa, but with a focus on local flavours and imaginative creations that tell a story.
Our meal starts with bite-sized canapes representing an array of Asian cuisines. In true Balinese style, crispy pork belly is topped with thin slices of fried garlic and sits atop steamed cassava leaves. Moving onto Japan, we indulge in a creamy chawanmushi egg custard with prawns and soybeans served in a delicate eggshell. And in a nod to Thai street food, skewers of smoky grilled squid are served with a fragrant green curry emulsion and garnished with corn kernels.
As the meal moves forward, the dishes get heartier and the flavours get bolder. A favourite all around is the hamachi marinated in yuzu, rolled in kombu, and served with an umami-packed XO sauce of pork, shrimp, scallops, and chilies. Minced duck satay is topped with kimchi and eaten wrapped up in a cabbage leaf. The chicken wings win the prize for engaging all the senses. Stuffed with chicken mousse and a green spice blend, they come on a bed of herbs that are lit with charcoal to create fragrant curls of smoke.
Even the desserts are unique and rooted to the region. Take for example, a delicate red dome that when cracked open reveals Japanese cheesecake with soy espuma and pineapple chutney. When all the elements are eaten together, we get a slightly spicy kick from the chili-infused candy coating. Then there are edible ‘stones’ filled with creamy yuzu and chocolate infused with black Korean chili paste.
From start to finish, the meal is an interactive adventure. Not only do you get to see every dish prepared in front of you, but you can also chat with chef Matt and his team and ask questions about the dishes and the inspiration behind them. In fact, you may just find that your meal is so engaging that you forget to gaze out at the amazing scenery around you. That is until you tear yourself away from the cosy confines of Api Jiwa and remember that you’re in the midst of the jungle wonderland that is Capella Ubud, Bali.