Situated within super-luxe Bvlgari Resort Bali, IL RISTORANTE – LUCA FANTIN delights Carolyn McKay with an intimate dining experience showcasing creative interpretations of classic Italian fare
Since chef Luca Fantin collaborated a decade ago with timeless Italian luxury brand Bvlgari to open Il Ristorante – Luca Fantin in Tokyo, the chic Michelin-starred Italian eatery, occupying the top four floors of Bvlgari Ginza Tower, has won countless accolades and been lauded as one of the finest dining experiences in the Japanese capital. At the restaurant’s heart is Fantin’s drive and passion for producing refined Italian classics with a playful twist, married with the style and classical elegance of Bvlgari.
Uniquely perched atop dramatic cliffs on Bukit Peninsula, at the island’s southern-most tip, Bvlgari Resort Bali boasts unrivalled vistas across the Indian Ocean. Throughout the property, sophisticated, contemporary design, blending traditional Balinese influences with bespoke Italian style, highlights the locale’s breathtaking natural beauty. Naturally, this sophistication extends to the resort’s premiere restaurant.
Following the immense success of his Tokyo Fantin flagship, two years ago, the eponymous chef opened a second Il Ristorante at Bvlgari’s deluxe Balinese resort. The restaurant debuted in 2017 to much fanfare. Today, it is often name-checked as the best the popular Indonesian island has to offer in terms of fine dining.
The intimate 36-seat dinner-only restaurant is helmed by resident head chef Fabrizio Crocetta, who brings to the table a wealth of experience from various Michelin-starred restaurants in Italy and Asia. With consistency as its key and under the careful tutelage of Fantin, Crocetta inventively recreates traditional Italian fare utilising local ingredients.
Befitting a premium dining experience, the service is warm and personal as I am swiftly seated within one of two open-air pavilions which are flawless in their simplicity. A warm breeze, tinted with the scent of frangipani, drifts through the air. Lanterns cast delicate, abstract shadows. Clean lines and a monochromatic black colour scheme dominate throughout. Chic framed portraits, retrieved from Bvlgari’s archives, grace the back wall. Understated floral arrangements adorn fine linen-clad tables in readiness for the chef’s creations to take centre stage. The overall effect is one of simple elegance, expertly executed with the high level of panache that only a historic Italian brand knows how.
The menu is a celebration of the contemporary without forsaking authenticity. This is definitely not a fusion of Italian and Balinese cuisine, rather a seductive Italian dining experience making the best possible use of the finest quality local and organic produce available. Traditional Balinese staples – including mango, kaffir lime, coconut, tuna, squid and suckling pig – complement Fantin’s desire to showcase natural and refreshing flavours in this tropical idyll.
An affable and polite server explains the menu. The à la carte options thoughtfully include a range of well-known dishes as well as some more modern culinary creations. Three tasting menus are offered – I opt for 6-courses priced at IDR 1,900k (USD 135) excluding wine pairing.
As one would expect of a restaurant of this calibre, its cellar is well stocked with an extensive variety of vintages, mainly Italian and numbering over 200, which is huge for Bali where such a range of fine wines is rare.
Having been furnished with a glass of champagne to kick-off with, the meal is preceded by a selection of irresistible amuse-bouche. Exquisitely presented and bursting with flavours, these divine mouthfuls of food heaven prepare my palate for what is to come and provide a tantalising insight into the gastronomic delights ahead.
A dish of tagliatelle with scallops, corn and caviar creates a pleasantly unexpected combination of flavours and textures in my mouth – the sweet crunch of the corn with the scallop, delicate and buttery, surprisingly balanced by the saltiness of the caviar. The dish is perfectly balanced and served with a glass of Pol Roger Brut Réserve.
While Fantin’s signature dish of cold squid ink spaghetti is not on the menu, an alternative of cold spaghetti with smoked eel is most welcome on a warm evening. The pasta is faultless – its delicate sauce harmoniously singing a chorus of flavours, together conjuring images of an Italian summer’s day by the sea. The paired Gaja Rossj-Bass Chardonnay and Sauvignon blend, from Langhe in Italy, is spot-on for the pasta dish, gently echoing its slightly zesty sauce with a cool and crisp nose of flowers and succulent tropical fruit on the palate.
An impeccable dish of Ravioli ai Crostacei, delicately topped with a small pile of fresh crab meat, provides divine bursts of intense flavours in every mouthful. The paired Trabacchetto Percorino, from the Abruzzo region of central Italy, is medium-bodied yet crisp and light and marries well with the velvety ravioli.
Although petite in size, the next dish of Pesce al Pomodoro is noticeably more rich, especially the glorious concentrated tomato and caramelised onion sauce. Somewhat surprisingly it is paired with a light French Burgundy, Le Clos de L’Abbaye from Domaine Anne Gros. Obviously a carefully considered choice to serve with seafood, the Pinot Noir grape is the perfect match, the wine’s berry notes and smooth, supple tannins contrasting nicely with the acidity of the tomato sauce and the meatier texture of the fish.
Vitello alla Milanese, served with a moreish spinach and saffron sauce, is the evening’s standout plate, garnished with lightly fried baby spinach leaves. As I take my first bite, the veal melts and an unexpected crunch of spinach leaves adds a welcome textural contrast. The dish is an all-round gastronomic triumph and the pairing – with a Gaja Sito Moresco blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Nebbiolo grapes – lifts the ensemble to another culinary plane.
The meal is closed by a citrus granite served with homemade almond ice cream, served with a glass of superb Riesling dessert wine from the Dr. Loosen estate on Germany’s Mosel River.
To serve such refined and intensely flavoursome cuisine in a major world city, where ingredients are more easily obtained, would be worthy of commendation. But to serve these dishes on an Indonesian island in a sub-tropical climate is deserving of far higher praise.
Every dish presented was carefully considered, lovingly assembled and pure entertainment for my taste buds, their careful preparation not only reflected in the exquisite flavours but also their impressive visual execution. Eating at the Balinese outpost of Il Ristorante – Luca Fantin is nothing short of contemporary al fresco fine dining at its tropical, Italian designer best.