Balinese banquet

The Chinese tea master is pouring me a glass of double happiness. His face a picture of sublime deliberation, he twirls the copper teapot behind his back, swings it around his waist and tucks it beneath his arm in an ancient, mysterious ritual. He lifts the teapot and aims its elongated spout towards a glass that sits in the centre of the table.  Inside the glass is a tight ball of dried chrysanthemums, jasmine, ratna (a Balinese wildflower) and green tea.

The Chinese tea master takes careful aim and lifts the teapot so that a stream of scalding water shoots from its spout, arcs through the air and lands directly in my tea glass. Resurrected by the scorching liquid, the ball of dried flowers begins to slowly unfurl, releasing the evocative perfume trapped within.

“If I pour like this, the tea leaf dances and the aroma comes out like this,” the tea master says, unfolding his own fingers to evoke the release of the tonic’s powerful fragrance. “This tea is named Shuang Xi, which means double happiness.”

I may be in Bali, Indonesia, but the luxury Mulia Resort & Villas at which I’m staying is an abridgment of all things Asian: the new Chinese restaurant Table8, where the tea master has just demonstrated skills drawn from an ancient practice in which an outrageously long teapot spout kept the lowly kitchen servant at a distance from the king while he poured his tea; the Japanese restaurant Edogin at which just a few nights earlier I had repeatedly returned to the grill with its infinite selection of teppanyaki offerings; and the dessert bar jostling with such delectables as pastel-coloured mochi balls and pots of green tea brûlée. At Soleil, whose eclectic Pan-Asian and Mediterranean menu is nonetheless mindful of the country in which it sits,  I am able to order one day at brunch a sumptuous platter of Indonesia’s signature dish, nasi goreng.

But there’s no escaping the knowledge that here at Mulia one is indeed ensconced amid that scattering of islands that lies just off Indonesia’s mainland, Java. Discreet Balinese staff press their hands together in greeting as I wander the expansive property, whose entrance is built high above the ocean so as to capture its effusive, salty breeze. I float from pool to beach beneath the shade of frangipani and heliconia plantations that appear decades old, yet which have only been planted in recent years. Bali’s warmth and humidity is quickly absorbed and digested by the flora so that it grows at the speed of light.

A little way up the hill at the Mulia Spa I reap the fruits of this profusion in a cup of pre-treatment iced tea made with the red ginger and lemongrass that grow abundantly hereabouts. But this practice – which feels mindful and healthy – is somewhat undone later that day when I consume an Indonesian high tea at ZJ’s Bar and Lounge. The venue tumbles out from the main building onto a patio which skirts a vast decorative pool and sits adjacent to the resort’s glass-walled wedding chapel.

ZJs serves English high tea for those who prefer to stick with tradition, but why go all the way to Indonesia only to eat the very thing you can have at home? Besides, the local variety is a delightful revelation of flavour-popping, sweet-and-savoury miniatures: tiny banana leaf parcels stuffed with sticky rice and chicken; fermented cassava piled into pyramids and wrapped with a ribbon of banana leaf; banana fritters and jajan pasar, an assortment of tidbits including tiny battered beef balls and samosas; and, crowning the high tea platter, sweet treats like dragon fruit tartlets and a tiny, iced thousand-layer cake.

With such a wide choice of eateries at my fingertips, I could easily maroon myself within the Mulia’s palm-fringed boundaries. But I’m lured along Nusa Dua’s western coast to the temple of Uluwatu, where I take a sunset stroll through the monkey forest. I’ve been warned by staff at the Mulia that these creatures like to claim visitors’ belongings as their own, and feel somewhat sheepish, therefore, when my sunglasses are snatched off my head by a mother as I photograph her baby. A local woman negotiates long and hard with the villain, exchanging food with her in return for my Ted Bakers, which are duly returned with just a small nick in one of the arms.

Later, I wander up to Uluwatu’s new amphitheatre for a rendition of the famous Kecak Ramayana and fire dance. Built on the cliffside, the space is designed so that the audience faces west towards the ocean. It’s a mesmerising end to the day: traditional dancers unleash their rhythmic, hypnotic chants while behind them the sun sinks seawards, a blazing ball doused by the vast cerulean water.


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