A major travel blog recently crowned Bali as the world’s number one beach resort, and Indonesia (a proxy for Bali) remains among the most popular overseas travel destinations for Australians.
Having lived in Bali now for about 10 months I disagree with the view that Bali is simply a “beach resort”. In my view, Bali is one of the world’s most exotic food, shopping and leisure destinations that happens to be surrounded by the ocean. I place food first on this list of attractions as the number and variety of dining options is absolutely extraordinary, from street stalls to 6 stars, from Balinese to Bulgarian, every taste is catered for, including beef.
When a friend recently asked me where the best steak in Bali could be found, I had to reply that I didn’t know. This lack of knowledge about such an important part of eating needed to be remedied so I began my search through word of mouth, the internet and finally by a visit to a selection of Bali’s most acclaimed beef restaurants.
An initial search of all restaurants selling steak produced well over 100 possible candidates. I then approached a number of long-term resident beef eaters to help me narrow this huge list down to about 20 venues which offered a well regarded steak experience. With a personal tasting of each steak the only way to make a final judgment, I had to narrow the field down even further as tasting 20 steaks was just too daunting even for a keen beef consumer like me. I went back again to more personal recommendations combined with a visit to each of the possible destinations for a view of the restaurant and the menu. A comparison can only fairly be made of the same steak at each place so, with an Australian rib eye as the target steak, a further number were eliminated. I finally selected 7 restaurants to be visited in the course of a week so the comparisons would be fresh in my mind. I then consulted a steak testing expert and modified their recommendations to fit the local situation. My old friend, Angus Adnam, a well-known livestock exporter and food lover joined me for the tasting experience. The results are presented below.
The Butchers Club Steakhouse was the overall winner where their magnificent steak combined with exceptional extras (chips, sauces, salad) to be best eating experience (by a slim margin) as well as being great value for a 300gram, 35 day, dry aged Angus rib eye for AUD$35. And the coldest Bintang beer directly off the ice.
If you like a bit of theatre when your dining out then “Fire” restaurant at the 6 star W hotel on the beach at Legian is the place for you. Prior to ordering you get a viewing of the rare steaks to assist with your choice as well as a selection of 18 different steak knives to chose from. And not bad value at $45 for the steak and the circus.
Bamboo provided an excellent steak in a Kuta family restaurant environment and great value at AUD$28 for a 350 gram rib eye cooked to perfection.
Hard Rock delivered a similar quality steak in a family atmosphere with a 280 gram rib eye for $38. Unfortunately the tap beer was substandard so this put a bit of a dampener on the overall experience.
Boy & Cow was a stand out with an exceptional steak which we marked down a fraction due to the heavy application of seasoning which the US chef explained is a popular American style of presentation. In future (and I will certainly be going back to this one) I will simply ask that this seasoning be excluded. 280 grams of grain fed, dry aged branded angus for $38. Without the seasoning this steak would probably have been close to a dead heat with the Butchers Club.
The only disappointment was Barbacoa, a glorious restaurant environment, where the steak was sliced prior to serving which detracted from its appearance while reducing its juiciness and tenderness although the product almost certainly started as a top steak off the grill. The service at this venue was probably the best of the 7. We should qualify these comments by explaining that there are two Australian rib eye’s on this menu, a “Charcoal Grilled Beef Rib Eye (Australian) 220 gm” for $25 and a “Charcoal Grilled Black Angus Beef Rib Eye (Australian) 450 gm” for $62. Given the amount of beef we were eating for the week, the 450 gram Black Angus just seemed a bit over the top both for our appetites and our budget.
Metis is one of my favourite 5 star restaurants in Bali but you get what you pay for so while the steak was outstanding (as was everything else) so is the price at $51.50 for 300 grams of grain fed rib eye. The steak was very large and thin cut so perhaps a long fed animal.
Australian beef dominates the upper end of the Bali steak offerings with all 7 rib eye steaks on our testing list “originating from Australia” although in quite a few cases the restaurant service staff are not aware of the origin but will happily ask the chef if you are interested. Dry Aging and Black Angus are very popular with Butchers Club and Boy & Cow prominently displaying their dry aging cabinets allowing customers to inspect the beef and the process.
I made some inquiries after our tasting and discovered the specific origins of 4 of the 7 steaks.
Butchers Club : Killara Black Angus supplied by Elders Indonesia.
Boy and Cow : Kimberley Red Blair Angus supplied by Stockyard Distributors
Bamboo : Elders Indonesia Kooyong Brand which is sourced from Australian Brahman X steers fattened in Sumatera and processed in Elders western abattoir in Bogor, Java.
Barbacoa : Elders Indonesia Kooyong as above.
I was unable to discover the origin, apart from the confirmation that it was from Australia, at Fire, Metis and Hard Rock.
While it was not unexpected that the branded angus beef would came out on top, the real surprise for us was the performance of Elders Kooyong which is from Australian Brahmans fattened and slaughtered in Indonesia. For this class of animal to be up there with the best steaks in town is quite an achievement. Some might argue that this is technically not Australian beef having been fattened and processed in Indonesia but I disagree.
I have no argument with anyone who wishes to point out that the exercise above is biased, unrepresentative, unscientific etc. All true, as it was just not possible for me to do a proper technical trial with my resources.
What I can say however, without fear of contradiction, is that Bali is one of the great dining experiences to be found in a relatively tight space anywhere in the world. Come and conduct your own taste test, you won’t regret it regardless of your personal preferences.