A holiday with the kids turns into an Asian culinary adventure for Sheriden Rhodes.
There's a waft of frangipani in the late afternoon air along with a smack of fried red chillies as we dice, chop and pound the ingredients for the perfect Balinese sambal. We're cooking beneath the steep pitched roof of a traditional joglo at Canggu Villa and Cooking Retreat.
"This used to be my house," says renowned Scottish chef Will Meyrick as he pours me a glass of chilled sauvignon blanc. While we work on our sambal, other guests relax on balconies or cool off in the pool. Geckos chirp in the rafters and chickens peck around the veggie garden.
We're learning the secrets behind some of the signature dishes at Meyrick's Bali restaurants Sarong, Mama San, Billy Ho and Hujan Locale.
Our 11-year-old daughter Ella and her friend Erin are wielding alarmingly large knives (under close supervision) at their cooking stations as Sarong Group manager Kadek Miharjaya shows us how to finely slice shallots, lemongrass and chillies.
"You've done this before haven't you?" Kadek asks Ella, noting her knife skills. She nods in the affirmative, chopping at a sweat-inducing rate.
Known as the "street food chef", Meyrick came to Bali via Australia and continues to delve into the culinary landscape of Asia, taking inspiration from the unique food culture of each destination. You'll find him at street stalls, markets, in neighbourhood kitchens and backyards, getting off the beaten track to get to the heart of dishes and track down original recipes handed down through generations.
Today's cooking class reflects his philosophy of introducing local produce to a wider audience, giving travellers like us an insight into authentic Balinese cuisine. During our visit to his urban organic farmstay, we learn how to cook regional Indonesian cuisine and experience an eye-opening street food tour with him - all of which is less than 10 minutes' drive from bustling Canggu, and an hour from Bali's cultural and artistic heart, Ubud.
With its rolling surf breaks and rice paddies, Canggu is the base for the first half of our family holiday. We've opted to stay in villas rather than resorts and apart from Meyrick's own villa, we're trying out one of Stayz new Bali listings. Part of the Expedia Group, Stayz recently launched in Bali meaning Australians can now book one of 12,000 villas and holiday homes on The Island of the Gods with services such as daily housekeeping, in-villa chefs, private jacuzzi and pools. Arriving in the middle of the night, the girls spy an oversized inflatable watermelon, floating invitingly in our private pool as we usher them to bed.
Our minimalistic villa is in Umalas, just outside Canggu, down a quiet jalan - or street - flanked by other villas and overlooking a small rice field. Canggu's fabulous restaurants, bars and beach clubs are within easy reach via GoJek or Blue Bird taxi. We wake to swifts flitting, the smell of incense and the heady perfume of frangipani flowers fallen on a manicured lawn. All the smells that let you know you've arrived in Bali.
Our days are spent hopping between Canggu's incredible beach clubs and its many new restaurants - bookended by pool time back at the villa. First stop is the new Café del Mar, this iconic Ibiza brand's first Indonesian outlet. Known for its dazzling sunsets and euphonic music sessions, the beach club looks right at home in Batu Belig on the celebrated Canggu shoreline.
Sunset drinks morph into a poolside dinner of crispy tuna sushi, ceviche and golden fries at the glamorous beach club with its Spanish arches, cabanas, luxury pool booths, swim up bars, restaurant and gelato bar. The girls love the "golden gaytime" dessert, Café del Mar's take on the iconic Streets ice cream, and the 700-square-metre infinity pool. Reclining on daybeds drinking cocktails from gold goblets, we watch the girls in the pool while revellers take a million selfies and dance to cool tunes from the DJ on the vast stage.
Another night, after wearing ourselves out at Splash Water Park at Finns (another popular Canggu beach club), we head for Meyrick's latest pan-Asian fusion restaurant, Billy Ho. The striking interior with colourful sirap wood clad walls, black bamboo ceiling and tattoo-inspired mural is almost as cool as Will and chef Tim Bartholomew's take on Hong Kong, Japanese and South Korean comfort food.
Offering respite from Canggu's bustling streets, Billy Ho has a communal dining table and a seven-metre bar that sits before Canggu's first "beer wall" which showcases hand-crafted beer and classic cocktails with a twist. Think starters of tuna sashimi with smoked chilli ginger flower and black tabiko, finger lickin' Korean-style crispy chicken wings and twice-cooked short rib beef served with fiery nam prik gupi.
Before farewelling Canggu for the second half of our Bali holiday we enjoy one last leisurely brunch at achingly hip The Slow Kitchen and Bar where Aussie executive chef Daniel Medcalf (ex-Icebergs) is putting his own stamp on the current slow-food fare, introducing a slew of new dishes in keeping with his fresh, clean and fuss-free philosophy. We try everything from the moreish tuna tataki, to lamb tacos and delicate zucchini flowers teamed with kick-ass Mangga Negronis. It's a Sunday after all.
We depart with full bellies and hearts, making our way to Uluwatu where the three-bedroom Bahamas, part of the luxurious Hidden Hills Villas, awaits. Here, attention to detail is reflected in each of the seven beautiful villas which offer a full-serviced resort experience.
From our chic villa we set out each day to explore the Uluwatu coastline with its laidback surf culture, famous sea temple Pura Luhur, nightly kecak fire dance and cool eateries and warungs. Padang Padang Beach, made famous by its appearance in Eat Pray Love, is nearby, while smaller waves are found at Bingin Beach.
Hidden Hills Villas offers free transport to surrounding hotspots and we make the most of it. Our driver drops us off for yoga and a Buddha bowl at The Cashew Tree one day; breakfast and great coffee at new boutique hotel The Elementum another.
Our last day is spent lapping up what Bali does best: beach clubs. The swoon-worthy Ulu Cliffhouse perched atop a cliff along the Bukit escarpment is our final destination and as soon as we take a seat on the blue-and-white striped banquettes, I long to delay our flight home. Before us is nothing but the shimmering blue Indian Ocean stretching to the horizon, occasionally interrupted by a passing fishing boat.
Tables of families tuck into lunch, guests sprawl on stylish daybeds while others cool off in the pool at this clifftop playground. I order another cocktail, the Cucumber Number - a concoction of vodka, elderflower, cucumber, thyme, cloudy apple and soda - and savour one last Bali sunset. Till next time.
Where to stay
When travelling with family to Bali, villas are a great option. Ideally you'll want a pool, air-conditioning and wi-fi (Netflix is desirable) for when you want to escape the tropical heat. Book a villa with easy access to restaurants, bars, beach clubs and shops if you want to avoid spending too much time getting around.
This spacious four-bedroom villa offers king-size beds, a 10-metre private pool, kitchen, home-theatre system and housekeeping staff. There's a rooftop terrace for sundowners or yoga. Because of the bedroom layout, this villa is not suitable for families with young children. Select Stayz Bali listings have virtual tours to enable travellers a 360-degree walkthrough of the property before booking. From $447 per night. Explore more: stayz.com.au
Canggu Villa and Cooking Retreat
Will Meyrick's urban farm villa offers six individual rooms, and includes simple breakfast and a communal pool. Book two adjoining rooms on the ground floor if travelling as a family. On offer are authentic cooking classes and fascinating street food tours of Denpasar with Meyrick or one of his chefs, including a visit to Bali's oldest coffee shop. From $53 per night. Explore more: canggucookingretreat.com
Hidden Hills Villas
The newly renovated Bahamas at Hidden Hills Villas is a luxurious three-bedroom, three-bathroom villa with panoramic ocean vistas, private butler service, its own lap pool and an alfresco tub overlooking the ocean. There's a fully equipped open-plan kitchen and flat-screen LED smart TVs in the living room and bedrooms, where the king-size beds sport 400-thread-count sheets. One-bedroom villas from $553 per night. Explore more: hiddenhillsvillas.com
What to eat
Chef Will Meyrick is on a non-stop global search for street food and homespun recipes to recreate and put on plates at his Bali restaurants and their outposts in Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur. Born in Portugal, raised in Scotland and a long-time resident of Bali, Meyrick creates menus that not only reflect his globally eclectic offerings but the tastes of locals and visitors alike.
Meyrick combines his extensive travel with finding home-style recipes to come up with elegant dishes served at this restaurant in the centre of Ubud. The menu features Indonesian and Balinese dishes such as Sundanese fish dumplings with a chilli, peanut sauce or 48-hour beef short ribs with bone marrow and black nut sauce or a Manadonese dish of prawn woku with coconut and green shallot. Explore more: hujanlocale.com
Mama San is a retro offering in North Kuta that reflects colonial Britain in Shanghai during the 1920s with its marble-topped mahjong tables and tan leather chesterelds. Upstairs there is interactive dining where Meyrick's chefs prepare dishes from the eclectic menu, including a starter of spicy tuna hand roll and a main of crispy lemongrass chicken served with green mango and papaya som tum and sweet chilli sauce. Explore more: mamasanbali.com
Book well in advance to get into Sarong, Meyrick's original restaurant which remains one of Seminyak's best and most popular. The interior comprises two open-sided Balinese-style pavilions surrounded by lush tropical gardens. Signature dishes include crispy pork belly with Sichuan chilli salt and the Kampung Snickers, a peanut-butter parfait with honeycomb, butterscotch caramel and Balinese dark-chocolate praline. There are also gluten-free and vegetarian options. Explore more: sarongbali.com
Take me there
Fly: Virgin Australia, Jetstar, Qantas and other airlines fly daily to Bali from Sydney and Melbourne, with connections from most other Australian capital cites. Prices start at $229 one way. If the budget extends, Qantas business class is the most luxurious option on the Sydney-Denpasar route or return via Brisbane with Virgin and Jetstar and avoid the dreaded red-eye home.
Drive: Download handy apps including GoJek, Grab and the official Bluebird Taxis (Uber's Southeast Asia operations have been sold to Grab) for getting around.