Stephanie Mee visits an Ubud vegetarian restaurant like no other. Photos: Lucky 8.
When you think vegetarian restaurant, what comes to mind? A no-frills, crunchy granola sort of place serving up spirulina and tofu bowls? Well Dumbo aims to flip that notion on its head with a stylin’ new spot in Sanggingan. You won’t find rough-around-the-edges digs and simple rabbit food here. Instead it’s all about high-end design, innovative Italian gastronomy, and modern mixology.
You may know Dumbo’s owner, former DJ Jono Russell, from other vegetarian venues like Cafe Zucchini in Seminyak, Green Ginger Noodle House in Canggu, or The Elephant, a wildly popular Ubud institution just next door. For the past 10 years, Jono has been striving to create avant garde vegetarian fare that breaks away from the same-old salad drill. Dumbo is his latest venture, and it’s already earning cred with vegetarians and meat-eaters alike.
Jono says, “Ubud has quite a few vegetarian cafes and restaurants, but no upscale sort of spots, so when vegetarians like myself want to have a nice meal with a few glasses of wine, we usually end up going to places where our dining options are limited. With Dumbo I wanted to create a stylish space where people can enjoy a sophisticated dining experience and vibrant food that also happens to be meat-free.”
As soon as you saunter through Dumbo’s elegant glass and wood doors, you can tell you’re in for something special. On the ground floor is a swank bar and lounge where baristas man the La Marzocco espresso machine by day and bartenders whip up craft cocktails by night. Also behind the bar is Jono’s impressive vinyl collection, procured over many years and shipped in from Australia with no small amount of effort.
Head up the staircase made of huge black bamboo pillars, and you reach the main dining room with it’s soaring ceiling and unique stacked brick walls. Tables line the asymmetrical space, and open sides in one corner allow for views of the Campuhan Ridge. At the other side of the room, the open kitchen boasts a towering wood-fired oven.
Don’t be surprised if soon after you sit down, one of the staff rocks up with a rolling drink cart and offers to shake up cocktails right at your table.
We opt for an apple lemongrass margarita that gives a refreshing herbaceous kick, and Dumbo’s twist on the old fashioned with aromatic Indonesian spices, burnt orange, and a smouldering cinnamon stick.
Ibu Metri helms the kitchen and puts out hearty Italian food made with organic ingredients, the majority coming from spring-fed gardens in Bedugul and on the slopes of Mount Batukaru. Jono says, “It’s been such a great experience visiting the gardens with the staff and showing them the source of our produce so they have a real connection with the food.”
“We also aim to create as little waste as possible, so we use as many parts of the vegetables and roots that we can. For example, we use fronds in our sauces and reductions and peels as garnishes in our cocktails. They add unique nuances of flavour that you miss out on if you throw away those bits.”
The menu items are designed to be shared with dynamic small plates to start and bigger plates for mains. We kick off our meal with an antipasto platter packed with light bites like Parmesan crumbed mushrooms, roasted veggies, and wedges of fluffy frittata. Other tempting starters include the cheesy polenta chips with romesco and tempura zucchini flowers with ricotta, lemon, mint and green chilli mayo.
Mains include imaginative pastas like the bon-bon shaped caramelle pasta stuffed with beetroot, spinach and ricotta finished with burnt sage butter, and the creamy mac n’ cheese cooked in the oven until bubbling and crispy on top. Thin-crust pizzas also round out the menu. Our pick is the Bianca Jagger with potato, rocket, rosemary, black olives, roasted garlic and a dusting of dried chilli.
It should be noted that neither my dining companion nor I are vegetarian, but we don’t feel like we’re missing a thing. The space is chic and has an almost urban vibe, the food is moreish and creative, and not a single diner shoots us a holier-than-thou look. We can definitely see ourselves coming back to sample more of the menu and have a cocktail or three.