There are good surprises and bad surprises, duh. Good: finding 20 clams in the back pocket of your jeans. Bad: sniffing out a blackened banana in the bottom of your bag. Good: your favourite person arranging for your second-favourite singer to serenade you in a park. Bad: your cat not greeting you at the door cause she’s curled up under your bed, asleep forever. Good: presents. Bad: an expired gift card. Good: a whopping bunch of flowers. Bad: gastro.
A trip to Bali is full of surprises, some of them good: a wealth of tasty Mexican joints and cheap massages, some of them bad: humidity so ripe you can’t ever get dry and your hair ascends, unprompted, to the heavens. But apart from the ‘unidentified’ lychee, raspberry and jalapeno mocktail at Motel Mexicola, my best surprise in Bali comes courtesy of Cuca [cook-a]. Hidden in the pristine grounds of Kayumanis Jimabaran, the sharp, boxy building rising from planes of lush green grass and surrounded by skyscraping palms is a surprise in itself. Surrounded by the customary thatched roofs and ornate carvings of local homes and temples, the cool tiled floors, Scandi-style settings and minimal aesthetic make for a jarring, yet overwhelmingly tempting oasis. Lunch comprises share plates of toothsome combinations like chilled watermelon salad with calamansi, pink radish, pandawa seaweed, sesame and cilantro (48 000 rupiah); glazed young carrot salad with whipped avocado, bedugul strawberry, cashew nuts and basil (55 000 rupiah); crispy fried chicken with wild honey, country coleslaw, sesame dust and lemon basil (60 000 rupiah) and marinated pulled pork with a soft boiled egg, cinnamon raisin jam and charred spring onion (65 000 rupiah). Finally, from their dessert menu, Cuca’s “Balinese Breakfast” ( 65 000 rupiah) is Nasi Goreng, but a little bit fucked up. To look at, it’s an egg. A sunnyside egg, all golden yolk on the brink of bursting and snowy opaque albumen. So far, so Nasi. But it’s the too-large shards of shell stabbed into the surface that give your first hint, and the yield of your spoon the second. The definitive reveal comes with a taste: the perfect yolk is a shock of molten mango and the white a delicate whip of coconut meringue. Under the eggless egg, layers of tart sorbet, passionfruit pulp and biscuit crumb replace the heap of savoury fried rice tradition dictates. The deceptive shell is conjured from curls of coconut and as you clamour and clank in the fast-empty bowl, chef Kevin Cherkas’ desire for Cuca’s final course to be ‘fresh, cool and not too sweet’ informs your own desire for some more. From a country that’s mastered peanut sauce, eggs and frying stuff, eating clever, imaginative food in Bali shouldn’t come as a surprise, but sometimes finding it is. Good surprise: Cuca. Bad surprise: my hair.