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Flavours From The Park

Waterbom Bali is as serious about its food as it is about fun in the sun, writes Sarah Douglas. Images: Lucky 8.

The wide-eyed thrill seekers shooting out of Waterbom’s most challenging slide, The Climax, can now stumble into a brand new concept restaurant to get their wits together, and it’s every bit as exciting as the ride itself.

Waterbom does things differently, and always has. As Asia’s premiere water park, it has evolved into so much more than a day out with the family. In fact many of their guests are adults. They come for the thrills and spills, a day out with piped music and swim up bars, to take advantage of the private cabanas for celebrations and gatherings and simply to have fun.

Do they notice the care and skill that has gone into the Food and Beverage outlets, the efforts that have gone into creating a 100% carbon neutral park, the lush gardens and chill out zones that are tended daily with filtered and recycled water? “ Probably not,” explains Chef, food guru and head of M&M catering, Michael Szarata, “but it makes us feel good”.

Waterbom has developed side by side with couture catering group, M&M Concepts. It is surely the only park that is catered by a world-class team of chefs who look after the park by day and cater some of Bali’s most glittering events by night.

Waterbom and M&M have grown up side by side. When Bali Hyatt’s Executive Chef, Michael, decided to hang up his apron and set up a food consulting group, Waterbom had just opened and was his first client. The founders of Waterbom wanted to serve more than the predictable burgers and fries available at most parks. Michael arrived to overhaul the food outlets and took over as General Manager in the early years.

“It wasn’t my passion but it was a great experience for me. I started to build M&M behind the park at the same time and attracted some amazing chefs who would never have been interested in the job if it were only catering for a theme park. Not for long anyway,” he explains.

As the park has grown, and is now run by the innovative and eco-conscious Sayan Gulino, son of the founder, Waterbom has continued to break new ground. With food outlets scattered throughout the park, catering for the youngest to the most sophisticated palettes, it is safe to say that Waterbom’s Food and Beverage offerings rival most five-star resorts.

On my visit, I’m introduced to their latest concept, and a new food consultant in barbecue chef, Aaron Willis. The US-born Willis, aka “the generous chef”, will spend a year at Waterbom developing their new Beach Shack concept, complete with a barbecue pit and a smoking new menu.

Michael’s partner, former London caterer, Fiona Tarini, is in charge of concepts for M&M and is part of the big, happy family behind Waterbom.

“We are creating yet another exciting food destination here at The Beach Shack. We hired the design group behind Motel Mexicola to create a really funky, colourful space, which is adjoined to the new Sugar Shack. It is the hub of our Sol Sessions series, with a regular line-up of DJs, and we’ve gone with a Caribbean-inspired grill menu to take things to the next level,” she explains. The concept also includes a complete overhaul of their cocktail menu. The perfect antidote to the heart-starting Climax.

Michael starts to get “cheffy” describing the menu at The Sugar Shack, waxing lyrical about Ottolenghi-inspired desserts and interactive cookie and soft serve stations, prompting Fiona to interrupt in the way of long-term partners. But I get it straight away. Enthusiasm is the lifeblood of this park, including a genuine passion for serving great food, and it never seems to diminish.
Behind Waterbom is a family of professionals who genuinely love their jobs. You can see it any day you visit. There is usually a team gathering at The Wantilan, the largest food outlet in the park, going over plans and brainstorming new ideas. The Wantilan is also scheduled for an artisanal overhaul next year but for now, shwarma stations, salads and health-conscious meals are offered alongside the burgers and fries that many patrons still love.

It’s entirely possible to spend a day at Waterbom without discovering all there is to see, do and eat. On my recent visit we met for lunch at Thaitalian, a large bamboo restaurant that overlooks the wave rider. The menu here is based on cross-cultural street food – noodles meet pasta, roti meets pizza etc. Behind the scenes, few will notice that the Thai green chili paste is created by hand or that the pizza dough is leavened for 48 hours, all you need to know is that this it tastes much better than the usual theme park fare.

Fiona, a former London caterer and Thai cooking enthusiast, travelled to work with street food sellers to get the recipes as close to the real thing as possible. The menu works perfectly here for those who want to enjoy a restaurant experience in the park.

The kiddie corner is another revelation. The menu is designed to feed hungry kids, fast. With an easy menu of comfort food like pies, sausage rolls, sandwiches, healthy fruit and vegetable salads, and pizzas, everything is prepared daily in the park. A coffee corner is close by to revive parents who can also spike their sugar levels with the famous Waterbom donuts that are made fresh throughout the day with a kaleidoscope of toppings.

The mandate to take care of the planet and create a holiday destination that feeds the daily crowds that cross borders and age ranges is a challenge that Waterbom has mastered. It somehow manages to bridge the gap between a destination that is all about having fun while offering something so seamlessly sophisticated that patrons barely notice. The results are in the numbers. Waterbom sells out often and yet you rarely feel the crowds.

It is also, without doubt, one of the most carefully maintained parks in South East Asia, with international standard safety features, beautiful gardens and spotlessly clean service areas.

While families congregate in the kids’ area and youngsters head for the family friendly slides or chill out on the lazy River, thrill seekers are more than happy to ride the big slides and chill out at the pool bar. Groups can book cabanas or an entire garden area for private events, and everyone has the space to enjoy their own Waterbom experience.

Smart, dedicated, environmentally conscious and delicious fun is all part of a day at this multi-award winning water park, it’s a great reason to get wet and get into the holiday groove.

Stay tuned for upcoming events including movie nights and their Sol Session music day and night packages.