When I heard that chef Mandif Warokka had opened a new restaurant, I couldn’t care less about the details. It was Mandif, so it had to be good. Being a big fan of his work from the Ju-Ma-Na days right up to Teatro Gastroteque, I was looking forward to Blanco par Mandif –located inside Ubud’s famous landmark, the Antonio Blanco Museum. Entering the place is quite a challenge. Narrow staircases, a low-lit hallway, and a path that goes downward– like into a dungeon (an inviting one). Once we reach the dining area, which is shared with an open kitchen, we are greeted by bright lights from large windowpanes overlooking the Campuhan bridge, as well as by the amazing aroma of whatever was cooking on the stoves.
I am privileged to be sitting here today, because seating is limited to 12 persons. Despite being busy in his hectic kitchen, Mandif stops by my counter, explaining why it has been a frantic few weeks for the restaurant. One reason is that he’s been renovating the upper level to provide more space and more seating. “There will only be four seats down here,” he says, referring to the spot I am occupying with its terrific view of the cooks in action. This will be Blanco’s VIP seats. Another reason is that he is hosting a group of culinary school interns, which explains the clamour. But a bustling kitchen means they’re cooking something good.
I’m served five out of 13 dishes from Blanco’s degustation menu. From the first plate that comes out, I get a clear image of what Blanco is about. This is an amuse bouche of pickled Chinese cabbage with an aged Singaraja vinaigrette. It’s amusing indeed, with the crunch of the cabbage and the sweet, sour, and fresh tones of the vinaigrette giving a good balance.
My first course is another mix of flavours, and a capital city staple – Asinan Jakarta. This one packs more surprises than I predicted, with various ingredients – mostly pickled fresh fruits, from slices of starfruit to bits of pomelo – poured on top of a peanut, vinegar, and tamarind sauce. We have to muddle everything together ourselves before we enjoy the dish. And the superb surprises never let up.
Next comes a light corn and crabmeat soup called Binte Biluhuta, hailing from Manado, North Sulawesi. Clean in taste and presentation, the texture is almost creamy, and the extra crabmeat inside the balled-up spinach is a treat. I’m astonished by how pleasantly different it tastes from the one mixed in the soup.
I’m familiar with what comes next, which is Yogyakarta’s signature dish, the legendary Nasi Gudeg. Yet there’s no deconstructing this time. Blanco keeps close to the original, meaning Rice with jack fruit stew, krecek (dried buffalo skin curry), and half a boiled egg. Other than the rice being sticky and the krecek curry broth foamy, the rest is spot-on.
The last dish is Sambiki, a pumpkin-based dessert cooked with coconut milk, and served with pumpkin seeds and lime espuma to balance the rich sweetness. I’ve eaten my share of Manadonese food, but this dish (and the Binte soup) has widened my palate’s vocabulary. It delicately closed my lunch date with Blanco. But not before my server pours me the Blanco Aged Negroni. This one is made a different way to the mixed-on-the-spot negroni. We’re talking Tanqueray gin, Campari, homemade vermouth, and homemade orange bitter, aged for two months in barrels previously used to store bourbon. Sounds complex, but it sure offers more depth and profound sweetness than the classic.
“I’ve always wanted to open a restaurant in Ubud. The crowd here is different from any other place in Bali, especially Seminyak. The guests are more mature. They respect the craft. When they come and eat, they know that they will get dishes that they can fully appreciate, not just ones to enjoy before going for a drink at a beach club,” Mandif says.
The food comes first with Mandif, and the business second. It’s easy to figure out what Blanco’s concept is all about: Indonesian food that’s classic, elevated, or deconstructed. But why Indonesia? Mandif has the perfect answer for that. “This restaurant should serve as a lesson for the local market, which doesn’t take enough pride in Indonesian food. I believe that Indonesian people should appreciate their food more. That’s the message.”
Chef Mandif’s Top Ten Tips
Blanco par Mandif
Jl. Raya Tjampuhan
Museum Blanco Complex, Ubud
T: +62 361 479 2284