Said Alem sits behind a desk at the nerve centre of the new Métis Restaurant and Gallery, but it doesn’t look like a pose he strikes very often: He’s tall, fit, casually clad in a T-shirt and bursting with an energy that can’t possibly allow him to remain immobile for long.
This energy, no doubt, has been tapped into repeatedly as he and his business partner have worked relocating their old restaurant, the Bali institution of Kafe Warisan, to spacious, modern Metis. Perched on the paddies of Jalan Petitenget, it’s poised to become another must-visit restaurant on the ever-shifting island scene.
Outside the office doors, workers scurry to put finishing touches to areas of the new restaurant, a stylish U-shaped building with an Indonesian-inspired roof soaring overhead. It’s all sumptuous browns and beiges, golds and bronzes, the decor understated yet exuberant.
Along one side of the 160-seat restaurant is a hip lounge-bar, with sleek wooden tables and chairs and geometrically inspired cushions. The feel is ever so slightly Mad Men-esque – vodka gimlet, anyone?
But Said has not even heard of the US series, set in a New York City advertising agency in the 1960s, joking as to whether I’m asking if he’s a mad man when I inquire whether it was perhaps a source of visual inspiration.
Perhaps it’s a question he’s been asked many times, business being what it is in Bali, but Said is apparently quite sane. The chef came to the island some 17 years ago after earlier starting a cocktail bar at a ski resort in France from scratch, so entrepreneur is a hat he’s often worn with his chef’s toque.
Said worked as a chef at the Bali Bird Park when it opened back in the day, before helping others start a few restaurants, and finally took over Kafe Warisan with his business partner Nicolas “Doudou” Tourneville. They ran Warisan for almost 13 years, its clever marrying of fine French cuisine with classic Balinese paddy views becoming legendary.
Warisan’s lease, however, was up in October last year and though they could have stayed, the deal offered “was not very interesting for us,” Said says. Renovations were required on the too-small kitchen, which on top of four or five years’ rent in advance, made starting from scratch somewhere else financially appealing.
They found Métis’ new 85 are location about two years ago, negotiating to lease two pieces of land with – of course – paddy views, some of which they pay farmers to continue using. The pair did not own the Warisan name – the old restaurant is being renovated and will reopen under the same name in 2010 – nor did they own the gallery at the old Warisan, itself a well-known antiques store. So they decided on a new name, and to open a gallery themselves, along with a patisserie, currently stocked with delicate pastel-coloured macaroons and glistening chocolates, as well as a jewellery store, with the works of five or six designers on display.
The concept, in a nutshell, of this ambitious development? Similar to Warisan but more modern?
“Exactly!” Said exclaims. “We wanted to keep the U-shape because it really worked – the terrace, people really liked it. And we wanted a nice bar/lounge, so we wanted to expand it and have a chill out space with sofas, because that’s what people are looking for now.”
Métis also has a private function room upstairs – it’s being prepped for a glamorous looking event tonight – which is something Warisan did not have, making it awkward sometimes when trying to mix a large group into the restaurant.
“I’m very happy with the look,” Said says, which he describes as “Warisan, updated.”
Food-wise, things are mostly staying the same.
“We have some items we couldn’t take out – like the escargots, the fois gras, the duck confit,” he says. For the opening, about 40 percent of the items have changed, with more alterations on the agenda for early 2010. The fois gras menu has been extended, while a completely new menu has been devised for the lounge which Said says is more like a tapas menu – think freshly shucked oysters or a cheese plate. Dessertarians take note: All the desserts have been changed because a French pastry chef is now on board.
Still, Métis is a work in progress, Said says. The entire Warisan team of 70 moved here and the overall team now numbers at around 110, but more staff still need to be hired. There’s a larger bar, a different floor configuration and larger tables, which all conspire to leave the staff running around a lot more, so more runners are what’s particularly needed. An upstairs terrace area is yet to be opened, waiting for more staff to be on hand.
Any dishes one should try? “All of them!” Said says. “We have a nice selection of fois gras – so our fois gras dishes. The meat too especially is really good quality — of beef, of lamb.” Bali is seeing more fabulous restaurants opening, so why should people come here?
“Good food. And we are working hard to have good service – we are not there yet – and of course the atmosphere, the paddy field views – there are many things!”
The 250-square metre kitchen – six times larger than Warisan’s old facility – is just as impressive as the restaurant patrons are meant to see. The kitchen, infused with the sweet scent of roasting capsicums when I peek in, is air-conditioned. The wine cellar is a similar size to what Warisan’s was but Said says he wants to double it.
“I want to have one of the best wine cellars in Bali – and I will,” he pledges.
Said seems like the right person one wanting to head into the restaurant trade in Bali should ask for advice. What would he say?
“Have a strong character and passion… I like what I do, first of all. I’ve always been in the restaurant business, I mean as a chef before, but I really like what I do. I’m having fun. And I love working in Bali with the Balinese people.”