Indonesian cuisine is a cuisine whose popularity had been growing all over the world in recent years. Unbeknownst to many, Indonesian cuisine has actually influence a lot of dishes in Singapore and Malaysia, specifically Malay style cooking. It is with great pleasure that I was able to discover a true Indonesian restaurant in the heart of Shanghai, at Bali Bistro.
Note that this was an invited tasting, your moment might vary. I have heard complaints of slow service from various sources.
Bali Bistro has been opened for quite a number of years, but had recently gone through a facelift and renewal of management. Since then, reviews from Indonesians have been glowing with praises of authenticity.
The restaurant is located in the Jing’an district of Shanghai, and housed in a cone shaped glass building. At the first floor is their Cafe concept serving various types of Indonesian coffee and snacks, whilst the actual restaurant sits on the 2nd floor.
The restaurant is quite simply furnished, with pale colors and the walls adorned with Indonesian artefacts. The furniture used are quite conservative, comfortable but nothing much to look at. While the restaurant was clean, the decor did felt more like it was a big dining room at a residence, instead of a restaurant. The dining space is big and spacious, making it a good spot for big gatherings or company events. 7.5/10
As with invited reviews, an unbiased score of 7.5/10 is awarded. It was nice to see friendly Indonesian staff and local staff present, greeting customers in Bahasa Indonesia.
Being born and having lived in Singapore for the first 25 years of my life, I am no stranger to Indonesian food. I was definitely pleased to find some of the lesser exported dishes on the menu, and also familiar favourites like beef rendang and satay. That said, the best satay still comes from Singapore.
Balador Terong & Telor
Egg plant and deep-fried hard boiled eggs fried with chilli.
This dish is a very homely dish often featured in Malay households; I myself have had it quite a number of times as a side dish with rice from Malay stalls in Singapore.
However, I have to admit that it is quite an acquired taste for people not accustom to it, because it is quite extremely one dimensional in flavours. Egg plants and hardboiled eggs by default, do not have much of a pronounced flavour, hence the dish is really more about the sambal (chilli) sauce.
The version at Bali Bistro was competently cooked with a decent chilli sauce. However, while I may say this dish is representative of what many Indonesians ate growing up, I might not feel the same way of it representing the nation’s cuisine. 6.5/10
One of the more popular exports of Indonesian cuisine. It is essentially a salad with a rich peanut dressing. In Indonesian, Gado-Gado means ‘mix mix’. At it’s most basic form, it comprises of string beans, bean sprouts, deep-fried tofu, hard boiled eggs and rice cakes known as lontong. A satay-sauce-like dressing is used to season and bind all the raw or boiled ingredients together.
The version at Bali Bistro tasted great. The sauce was spot on with a sweet and savoury peanut flavor, and all the correct components in place. That said, I felt that the hardboiled egg could have used a little less vigorous cooking, as it was very much cooked to death with a gray ring around the yolk.
The biggest pet peeve for me, was the presentation. As you can see above, I feel that the presentation would only appeal to a very small percentage of the market. I wouldn’t have known what lied beneath the sauce, and if the ingredients looked fresh or not.
If it were up to me, I would serve the Gado Gado with its sauce on the side, poured on table side or by the customers themselves. I would have given this a higher score, but the presentation was really off-putting. 8/10
Beef Rendang (¥78)
The beef rendang presented at Bali Bistro belonged to the wetter variety.
Rendang is a type of meat curry where desiccated coconut is used, amongst a ton of other spices. What makes it unique is that rendang is always cooked for a very long time, reducing it down to a very dry curry with little to no gravy remaining. The flavours of the rendang at Bali Bistro was spot on — a good whiff of lemon grass and kaffir lime leaves. It was also only moderately spicy, which isn’t very common in rendangs but will appeal to the non-spicy-eating diners. Texture-wise, the beef that evening was a little bit tough to chew. Like all curries, this is a dish that goes very well with rice. All that said, it is, one of the better rendangs available in Shanghai. 8/10
Ikan Bakar Jimabaran (¥108)
Named after a beach area in Bali, this is a replica of the barbecued fish one would enjoy at one of the beach side seafood restaurants in Bali. The huge weever fish tasted fresh and was well roasted with a mildly spicy sauce smeared all over, however I didn’t find it amazingly tasty like a signature dish. 7.5/10
Ayam Penyet (¥58)
Indonesian fried chicken that is slightly smashed. One of the reasons why they smash the chicken a little bit is so that more area gets in contact with the frying, resulting in more crispy bits. However, this also tends to dry out the chicken. Therefore if you find your Indonesian fried chicken a little dry, don’t be alarmed. It was meant to be that way. The chicken had a good fragrance of turmeric, and was expectedly crispy and dry. Eat every piece of chicken with a dip of their house-made sambal sauce, and you find it a very enjoyable and authentic Indonesian experience. 8/10
Sop Buntut (¥68)
To mix things up a little bit, I also ordered their oxtail soup out of curiousity. It turned out to be a very light beef broth with a slight tang from the tomatoes. This helped to wash down the richness of the other dishes we had been having, but again, was nothing amazing. 7.5/10
Last but not least, we also tried some satay skewers. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that these were charcoal grilled, and turned out to be one of the better satays that I’ve had outside of Singapore. The chicken meat came in large chunks and were nicely charred. Lontong was offered on the side and the satay sauce was sweet and ‘peanuty’. I did wish there was more of the sauce though, and the sauce was a little dry that evening. 8/10
Bali Bistro offers very decent and authentic Indonesian food on a very extensive menu. However, being authentic doesn’t automatically make the food great. I feel that there are still a few kinks and details they need to iron out across the dishes in order to elevate them to Indonesian greatness in Shanghai.