Seminyak, the cosmopolitan resort town on Bali’s southwest shore, is working hard to distance itself from the saccharine satay and singlet tans many associate with neighbouring provinces.
A recent spate of restaurant and hotel openings helmed largely by Australia’s seemingly omnipotent expat community has injected serious epicurean appeal into the area, resulting in a dining destination that strikes a fine balance between haute spots with design credentials and a nascent café culture on the brink of a boom – all of which can be experienced in one fell swoop if you know where to look.
With a level of panache befitting its name, Bikini is a seemingly radical new proposition for the local dining scene. It is, according to founder and 8 Degrees Projects entrepreneur Adam McAsey, “A venue that the market demands, and one that I would dine in.”
Though recently opened, Bikini – named with the defying of expectations in mind – came with built-in signatures (and highly Instagram friendly) flourishes that feel at once familiar and yet are totally unexpected. A former art gallery, the redevelopment was designed with an open invitation to its many passersby in mind. A street-facing bar and patio makes a strong case for after hours people-watching; the curvaceous banquettes that snake the perimeter were kept at a low level to invite conversation between groups.
The brief, McAsey says, was to recreate a piece of Miami in a New York loft style warehouse. “The girls wanna be her, the boys wanna see her,” he says of the desired vibe. “Bikini is cheeky, fun. She likes to party but also likes quality food” and, perhaps most importantly, “isn’t afraid to laugh at herself.”
And while lashings of hot pink guarantee as much, there’s a great deal more about Bikini that will turn heads. A floating private dining room that hangs from the ceiling presides over the main dining room is a feat of engineering in itself as it traverses two buildings at different ceiling heights. A double height feature wall dripping with white and fuchsia paint gives an impression not unlike a zealously frosted cake. Coquettish neon affirmations greet visitors on arrival (“U look hot in a Bikini”, says the sign above the entrance, the ‘a’ flickering in and out of darkness) and in the bathrooms (“People don’t understand the pressure on me to look perfect”, embedded appropriately enough into a mirror made for bathroom break selfies).
Then, of course, there are the exquisite small plates that more closely resemble the works of art that once lined the walls than the kind of cocktail-friendly cuisine Bikini is hoping will make the restaurant a holiday destination within its own right.
McAsey extends the ‘you are where you eat’ aphorism toward his entire business model with 8 Degrees Projects, which has now grown to include four venues all located within arms reach. Everything about the way each venue within the stable has been designed, staffed and served echoes a globally inspired, locally minded and community-empowering ethos. A concern for positive social and cultural impact permeates training practices, and success is measured as much in synergy between venues as it is customers and community.
Take, for example, the honey used in the cocktail Berries by Day, Dragon by Night (Tanqueray, dragon fruit, goji and raspberries, citrus and single origin honey). It’s locally sourced strawberry blossom honey from a farmer in nearby Ubud, whose bees pollinate on the coffee plants whose beans are used to create the coffee that’s then sold wholesale through McAsey’s Expat Roasters espresso bar. McAsey says it remains his intention to provide an education as much to the market as to his baristas and customers. A training centre, a second hole in the wall espresso bar at the nearby roastery and a cupping room will follow soon to help spread a message the local community is eager to hear.
Before Bikini, McAsey says he spent years working in hospitality before emigrating to Bali to work in its singular villas, but the call to return would prove impossible to ignore. Three years ago, he opened Sisterfields, a nexus of Seminyak café culture that’s as much a space for holidaymakers as it is for locals. At the end of 2016, McAsey and Shae Macnamara opened Expat to meet the demand for an Australian standard of speciality coffee that they say the local market is crying out for (Macnamara says that Indonesia’s uptake in coffee growing is increasing by 70% year on year). Prior to that, they opened BO$$MAN, a neighbouring burger joint with serious braggadocio and the buns to back it up.
Around the same time that Sisterfields made her debut, McAsey drew up plans to link the venue with the adjoining gallery (the two venues today share a courtyard). The seed for Bikini was planted, and McAsey set about assembling a team to help it grow. He recruited the Melbourne design firm Travis Walton Architecture (Bikini and Expat Roasters were recently shortlisted in this years Australian Interior Design Awards, announced in June) for the interiors. Ryan Guppy from 21-19 was charged with the (admittedly very strong) visual branding, and award-winning Melbourne-based Mixologist Max Hart was brought on board for the restaurant’s cocktail menu (try the cold brew negroni and the salted caramel espresso martini, concocted to “redeem” the reputation of the cocktail).
Of course, then there’s also the mural by the Melbourne-based artist, Ash Keating, who used paint-filled fire extinguishers strategically sprayed from floor to ceiling to create the scene-stealing installation and preserve the space’s artistic legacy. And then there’s the all-important food. Those honours befell Creative Culinary Director Jethro Vincent and Chef Kevin Chung, both of whom were enlisted with formulating the crucial food offering.
Bikini’s menu skews as much seasonally and it is predicated on trends and what Vincent loves to cook at any given moment across the menu’s five themes (Mouthfuls, Raw, Cured, Garden, Land and Sea). Oyster crackers with oyster cream and black garlic is a multi-sensory experience; prawn and scallop ceviche with avocado mousse and fascinating ice plant sprigs is a surprising melange of textures; and miniaturised corn on a stake doubles down on the charm of its flavour with more intense popcorn, manchego and chipotle coated on top. Snapper and squid with tomato sambal is topped with adorable Mexican cucumbers and a quenelle of zesty sorbet to cut through a lingering heat it shares with the restaurant and surrounding climes.
All fermenting, pickling, baking, dehydrating and curing is done in-house, and an open kitchen allows for at-bar dining with access-most-areas credentials. There’s a strong sense of whimsy at play in almost every dish, particularly in a signature dish of foie gras and chicken liver parfait cigars served with quince in an ash tray full of a surprisingly verisimilar edible ash that, much like the restaurant itself, throws out the rule book on how things can and should be done.
There is, however, one proviso to bear in mind when you visit: ditch the two piece before you arrive. Bikini have you covered.
Tile and cover image: Supplied
GRAZIA travelled to Indonesia as a guest of 8 Degree Projects. For more information about Bikini, visit their website.