The whole sprawling Kuta-Seminyak-Kerobokan-Canggu conurbation forms an urban corridor – more or less a de facto city- devoted to pleasure. I was taken aback by its sophistication. Of course the beery Aussie bars are still there, the dispiriting fast food joints and Quicksilver outlets still dominate Kuta, but around Seminyak a new locus of sophistication has been blossoming, and at its best it gives any other city in Asia a run for its money for its own brand of breezy but confident island chic. Further north in Canggu, the tangled roads present an intriguing cityscape of hipster restaurants and boutiques sprinkled among local shops and rice fields. There is also a proliferation of charming street art, bright and whimsical outline drawings, which appear on walls and cover the whole sides of some houses.
Slickly designed Australian-owned cafes have proliferated with good coffee, food ranging from tasty to outstanding, and chic interiors.
The Junction, at the heart of Seminyak, is one such establishment, stylishly constructed out of weathered faux-driftwood, with a scattering of other stylish cafes a stone’s throw away.
Sea Circus around the corner also employs a similar sun filtering facade to great effect.
Betelnut, further out in Canggu, has a hippyish vibe and a great breakfast menu – I had the scrambled tofu with tabasco and this delicious dragon fruit puree with toasted coconut. There were many others we didn’t have time to sample also: Revolver, Hungry Bird, Sisterfields, Grind and Grocer…
My favourite shopping spot was undoubtedly, Skull, a chic and quirky gallery space and clothing store devoted entirely to representations of the human cranium. Yes. It stocks all kinds of embellished disco skulls, shell skulls and other skill ornaments, skull-related paintings and skull-shaped furniture. Truly awe-inspiring.
For eating out we also had a clear favourite. The (again Australian-owned) and pan-Asian inspired Mamasan was so superb that we went there twice. In an elegant loungy environment in a brick warehouse-style conversion, it serves superlative versions of many Asian favourites – the roti chanai was a knockout, and braised pork was sensational. After sampling the menu twice we were yet to stumble on a poor option.
Seminyak’s nightlife scene centres around its famous beachfront bars of Ku De Ta (recently franchised to Bangkok, Hong Kong and Singapore and involved in a legal wrangle over naming rights), and the oddly-monikered Potato Head. There is also the surfer bar/ vintage store/bookshop/music venue Deus Ex Machina, the strikingly designed bar-as-amphitheatre Char Char (you have to see it), Dead Celeb and La Favela, where tourists from the first world enjoy opulent drinks in a stylishly-designed den named after a third world slum. Despite the meta-nature of this, and the questionable taste level, it is apparently great – but we didn’t go.
I did however drop into the venue that embodies Bali’s newfound style, albeit during the day. Motel Mexicola is a stunning tequila bar/restaurant with lounges, terraces and dancefloors, decorated in the style of Baz Luhrman’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Think: Luis Barragan colours, Frida Kahlo-style naive art, neon crucifixes, coloured candles and a framed portrait of Carmen Miranda at the entrance.