Thu, 10 Jul 2003

Heaven hidden away in rice fields

Josh Kreger, Contributor, Ubud, Bali

Hidden away from beaches and surfers, the point between sunrise and sunset is the town of Ubud. Surrounding it are dozens of townships: Mas, Peliatan, Tegallantang and more.

If one were to look behind the rows of houses and furniture, amid what appears to be a chaotic cluster of woodcarving shops, temples and galleries, one could see the rice paddies. Locals raking and collecting the rice, mending the terraces, palm trees and blue sky. And a big white building smack in the middle of it. Behold, Stiff Chili restaurant.

I stumbled upon this by mistake while trying to be adventurous and "get lost" in Bali on a motorbike.

A small sign reads "Stiff Chili 100 meters" over the entrance to what attempts to be a lane off the main road. What the hell, I thought, nothing to lose. So I proceed to signal (waste of time) and turn into the cobblestone alley, to the delight of the honking drivers behind me (who were not sympathetic to my "casual touring" pace). The little road goes on and on and just when I thought I might be lost for real, it appeared before me like a mirage. Pure white, crystal sky above, lush green surroundings. Fantastic. Stiff Chili is an Italian restaurant and more.

Located in the heart of the Ubud rice paddies, it beams of esthetic taste, style and relaxation. Mellow music greets you and a breeze can be seen playing with the white drapes, hanging within the tiers.

A quick tour with our host/bartender reveals the following: The place is seven months old (brave attempt for a new business), beautiful, and provides good food, service and atmosphere -- all anyone has to know.

A look at the menu reveals surprisingly low prices for a place so stunning -- around Rp 10,000 to Rp 20,000 for starters, and Rp 25,000 to Rp 35,000 for mains, vegetarian and meat dishes available.

Italian rural cooking, but with modern class and style, and (most importantly as far as I'm concerned) well-sized portions.

One thing that ruins a meal for me is the empty, white space between the two mushrooms you get on your huge plate at many, so- called, upscale Jakarta restaurants. Fresh juice and shakes, ice- cold beer and white wine, freshly squeezed, homegrown lemon tea and juice. Spectacular.

It took me about 20 minutes to sit down due to my amazement at the place. We chose the upstairs seating (the middle level is surrounded by a white bar and booth-like tables) and as we arrive at the top, yet another mirage formulates before my eyes: Following the scenic terraces and paddies, my eyes rest on a lightning-blue swimming pool. On the lower ground level, a beautiful pool exists for the guests of the restaurant, or simply swimmers or loungers who want to hang out at the pool. In the middle of the rice paddies!

It is not so big you think it ruins the environment and surroundings, not so small you say: "what were they thinking of?" Simply and elegantly done like the rest of the restaurant, with shaded areas, lounge chairs and pool beds.

If you fancy a quick dip or long lounge before or after your meal, you are welcome; included are free towels, soft drinks, tea or coffee. If you just want to swim and not eat, you can pay Rp 12,000/6,000 per adult/child, towels and drinks included. This whole place keeps on getting better.

The food -- very, very good. Mixed brochettes, veggie salad and pumpkin soup for starters, with pasta and chicken salad for mains. I would tell you about the drinks but it was such a ridiculous amount of juices and cold teas, I simply can't remember it all. All delicious, all simply presented.

Price -- very reasonable. The whole affair cost under Rp 150,000 for two. But we ate enough for three. Crowd -- mix of people who were lost (as we), searching and curious souls, laid- back expats and a couple of locals. There were 10 people there, including us at the time. The place is still yet to be discovered, luckily. Free parking, great service. Might as well be heaven.

The only downside is, I tried to explain to six people how to get there, with a success rate of only one of the six, and even he found it only because he rented a motorbike specifically for that, and it still took him a couple of hours of wandering around Ubud.

So it's still a secret (except to the expats living in Bali and the "in-the-know" people). Go there while it lasts, heaven knows there will be tests, whether financial hardships in these difficult times for Bali, or mass discovery and backpacker takeover. Better hurry!


Stiff Chili is located on a cobblestone alley off the main road between Ubud and Mas. From the Mas-Ubud-Gianyar intersection about 500 meters north towards Ubud is the alley, turning East. It can be reached by car, taxi, motorbike or foot.