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El Merkat

El Merkat – the perfect pit stop on the way to Uluwatu. Photos: Lucky 8.

The baby brother of El Kabron is a bright and lively diner where the focus is on food you can enjoy any time. Chef Agustin Baltzer, who is Argentinean by heritage but grew up in Madrid, has created a menu that gives El Merkat a sense of ethnicity that sets it apart from the local diners on the long road to Uluwatu.

The fare is simple yet vibrant and energetic. The café offers both indoor and outdoor seating, sofas for enjoying a chat over coffee, tall tables with bar stools to linger over their house-made sangrias and light wood tables to enjoy a more serious meal.

The staff and the chef gave us their suggestions and we followed them through.

Two salads gave us a measure of what the kitchen can do. A curried hummous was brilliant in a chickpea salad with fresh greens, home-dried tomatoes and crisp pita bread. The hummous was spiced to perfection while the unusual addition of curry didn’t overpower the garlic and sesame notes of the hummous. A large bowl will satisfy the hungry while still being fresh and light, and did I mention the garlic?

The second salad played off colour while also balancing sweet and salty flavours with chunks of grilled haloumi, nuggets of beetroot and mango with fresh, crisp green salad leaves. The dressing was balanced and fresh and not surprisingly the dish is billed as the ‘high contrast salad’.

Beyond the salads, the concise menu has some interesting offerings, including some Catalan specialties. El Merkat has a deli beside it where a range of imported meat from Spain will be sold among their house-made sausages, Spanish cheeses, dips including their home-made hummous, sauces and breads. If you like something on the menu, you can head next door and take some home.

Making their own products is at the heart of El Merkat, and offering genuine Spanish meat and cheese gives El Merkat a difference that shows.

The classic tomato-topped bread much loved by the Spanish comes with different toppings including the manchego cheese we tried. It looks like a pale version of cheese on toast but once you bite into the grilled bread topped with the fresh tomato spread, spiced once again with garlic, with the hard cheese on top, the simplicity and combination of simple flavours makes a lot of sense.

The sangria was ordered before we had even arrived and all that was left to us was to choose our particular poison. A classic red sangria for my friend, a lighter red berry one for me. A white sangria is also on the menu. The Sangria is cool on a hot day and packed a definite punch.

The menu is presented with a hint of humour and lots of Spanish. At heart a café, there are plenty of suggestions for breakfast including “The usual breakfast eggs’, and ‘the unusual all day eggs’.

These include a Catalan scramble with their home-made sausages, garlic (of course) and white beans; or the Iberian sunny side up with home-made chorizo.

The toast, or tartine, comes with toppings that are purely Spanish including Iberico ham, cured manchego or butifarra blanca or negra – black or white pudding sausage on tomato bread.

There are bokatas, which we discover are sandwiches, including a Cuban pulled pork version, the home-made sausages and a “Fantastic” fried chicken version  with sriracha sauce and sautéed mushrooms. Besides there is a menu of starters, soups and salads, a carpaccio selection alongside crudo platters and a small roasted menu offering beef, tuna or salmon.

Desserts are café standards and there are bakery items to choose from including croissants and muffins and plenty of fresh juices.

El Merkat is surely a welcome addition to Bukit residents as it’s different, lively and fresh. The deli beside will thrill local foodies as the pickings up this way are fairly run of the mill. El Merkat offers simple gourmet food at café prices. Ole.S.D.