Japan and Peru rendezvous at Above Eleven in Bali.
As you navigate your way along the labyrinth leading to the bar on the upper reaches of the Mövenpick Resort & Spa in Bali’s Samasta Lifestyle Village, turn your gaze toward the vast open space that is the ocean, speckled with ships anchored in the distance. Breathe in the sea air, bask in the radiance of the setting sun as it streaks the skies over Jimbaran Bay at the end of another pristine day and lose yourself in the warm, tranquil embrace of a space that combines the beauty of Bali with the classic elegance of New York.
This is Above Eleven, a rooftop sky bar, restaurant and entertainment venue. An offshoot of its Bangkok counterpart conceptualised by Soho Hospitality and inspired by Manhattan’s Gramercy Park, it lures guests to indulge in the co-existing binaries of contemporary Japanese-Peruvian cuisine in a space designed to recreate a refreshing urban vibe.
One of the latest cuisines to make waves in culinary circles, Nikkei, as it’s called, is a delightful blend that is best described as the love child of Japan and Peru. It has its origins in 1889 when Japanese workers immigrated to Peru. Over the years, the confluence of the “Orient” into the “Occident” has yielded a brilliant cuisine that transforms local dishes using Japanese flavours and techniques, resulting in its own personality and identity under a distinct Peruvian lens.
Take a seat at the open bar as you ponder the extensive menu while you sip on the classic Peruvian Pisco Sour. Native to Peru, Pisco, the amber coloured brandy, is mixed vigourously with simple syrup, ice, a healthy squeeze of lime, a few drops of Angostura bitters and topped with egg white foam. Allow the refreshing cocktail to permeate your taste buds as the waning sun transforms the surrounding bay into a dark canvas studded with gems.
It takes some people a while to choose a dish from a menu. It takes chefs a longer time to curate one that is fully representative of a cuisine’s riches. Chef Renzo Vacchelli has been at it for years. Following stints in Europe and Peru he brings his native experience to Bali delighting diners with creative and coluorful dishes filled with texture and robust flavors that take one’s senses on an exciting adventure.
Cebiche Tuna Nikkei is the perfect start. Bite-sized chunks of tuna are mixed with avocado, a combination that results in a subtle similarity in texture and mouth feel. Cured with that standby of Peruvian cuisine, citrus marinade, or leche de tigre, and chilli sauce, the dish arrives at the table with a small mount of freshly sliced red onion. Immediately warming the palate with its balance of flavours, it sets the tone for the meal ahead. Take your time with this one and seek out the layers of flavour. If first impressions last longest, you will be hankering for a second serve – while longingly running your spoon along the bowl to clean up every last bit.
Fusion is one of those terms in the culinary lexicon that is best avoided, especially when describing the marriage of two disparate cuisines. Still there appears to be a bit of friendly cross-border theatrics when it comes to the tiradito. Native to Nikkei cuisine, there have some whispers from neighbouring Ecuador with regard to its origins. This stepchild of ceviche and sashimi, fish (in this case Snapper) is sliced thinly and served with red chilli, truffle oil and ponzu sauce. Identity politics notwithstanding, this is certainly a dish that hits all the right notes.
As the evening wears on, get gutsier with your order. And what better way to honour the traditions of this rich culinary marriage than that quintessentially Peruivan dish, Anticuchos. Considered the ultimate leveller (available both on the streets of Peru and in high-end establishments) this dish is a properly grilled piece of bovine heart (here, it’s beef. In Peru one is likely to be served ox). Chef Vacchelli serves this with a surf component by way of a grilled octopus as well. Each is served with a trio of Peruvian sauces that match well and create a satisfying course.
If there’s one ingredient that unites East and West it is rice. Here Chef Vichelli delivers. Short grain rice speckled with corriander is served with duck leg confit, seasonal vegetables, salsa criolla and red huancaina sauce. The meaty duck is especially delicious when combined with the sauces, and with the heft of the starch, is instantly evocative and serves as a confirmation—of sorts—that this marriage of flavour is one truly worthy of highest praise.
The delicious array of treats laid out throughout the meal is cause for celebration but one whose finish is just as delectable as the start. After all, a smooth, sweet finish is ideal. There’s churros, those wickedly comforting rolls of fried dough paired with vanilla ice cream and topped with the requisite chocolate sauce but there’s also the Alfajor, a soft butter cookie sandwich with dulce de leche which arrives at the table with quenelles of ice cream. Indeed if a meal here is an operatic concerto, the finale calls for an encore. There are very few restaurants that inspire and allow one to indulge in culinary adventure. Above Eleven is one of them and will certainly have you continuing to look out at Jimbaran Bay longing for that transcontinental catapult to Peru.