Working full-time as a Hotelier and surrounded by food enthusiasts on and off the island, I rarely encountered anyone who hasn’t heard the name ‘Cuca’. Situated in Jimbaran, the southern part of Bali, the area is widely known as the island’s ‘seafood capital’, thanks to the Kedonganan Fish Market and the stretch of seafood cafes by the beach, and also home to some of the most luxurious hotels and villas. Cuca strikes the equation with their venture a few years back and Jimbaran may not be about grilled squid or even smokes from the burnt charcoal anymore.
The chef/owner Kevin Cherkas needs no introduction. He is as humble and talented as he is and with his lovely wife, Cuca started out on baby steps. Well that baby surely grows fast and it no longer needs a stroller.
It was my second visit that night with a good friend. Upon entering the premises just after sun down, Chef Kevin and the team were getting prepared for what looked like a busy evening. We were seated at the Kitchen Bar (read: the MOST exciting section to sit at Cuca), turns out there was a mixed reservation and another group of customers already booked the whole long table. This occurred after our fourth tapas and drinks, so having been fed so well, we did not mind giving up the seats to the other guy. It was packed.
On to the goods, I personally can’t think of a better way to start your Cuca journey. We were welcomed by the refreshing Sun-gria and Moon-gria (each Rp 110k by bottle; more like a jug for share). These are Cuca’s smart twist of the regular sangria. One sip and we’re totally in the Cuca zone.
Order anything from the tapas menu, and the waiter would serve you this one first, Betutu Cotton. Being a proud kitchen of 100% local stuff, Chef Kevin definitely put this into the experience from the very first start. Think sugar candy cotton’s texture touching your lips and tongue softly, then linger on the betutu (Balinese way of cooking; heavily seasoned and spiced dish, commonly on chicken) flavor. The umami after-taste surely told me that it’s going to be a great evening.
Chef Kevin passionately checked on our table like every 10 minutes, making sure that we’re in good hands. Oh we are! Cuca’s menu is extensive and is for everybody, categorized by harvested, hooked and farmed. Worry not, if you visit Cuca and don’t know what to order, safer bet is: run through the items I tried, or, go for the ‘Chef Tasting Meal’ sharing menu. He knows how to take care of you. For our table, Chef recommended some of the tapas menus, with an additional personal favorite of mine.
*smiling ear to ear me*
Here we go.
From Harvested, we had the Croquettes (IDR 55k when ordered individually). Served on artificial grass, the dish is actually pickled mushroom, roasted garlic and tempe cream. Was surprised to see how the dish is presented, the mushrooms on the greens were as surprising. It’s like telling us that the rest of the dishes would be like this, sensationally cured, beautifully plated.
We were prepared for the next dish on the table. Chef and his team were playing around with palates and texture oh so smartly. I knew it when this came. Honey-baked pumpkin salad (IDR 80k) with the sweet coconut granola. It was a bit too sweet for starters for me, but again, I was cautiously watching what Chef Kevin was preparing next. We wanted more at this stage of the dinner.
My father was born in Kalimantan (Borneo to some of you), I don’t know what’s with the people of Kalimantan and baby corn, but he loves eating it very much. I wasn’t a fan of it honestly. But then this came. You can smell the parmesan dashing through the corns when grilled and a hint of lime (IDR 50k). The dish may have changed my views on baby corn. It may have.
Behold, hands down for my personal favorite. Ever. I had fallen in love with this since my first impromptu visit, and I couldn’t skip a visit to Cuca without ordering this. Not in a million stars. Cuca’s BBQ Octopus (IDR 100k) is a star dish for me, for strikingly delicious reasons. The gazpacho is like a secret weapon unleashed, the feeling is like the first ten seconds of the sun coming out on a rainy gloomy day. It is that good! Hint of lime on the so-called Asian Gazpacho, sides of fresh apple, caramelized cauliflower on the octopus. Perfect tapas! I’m hooked!
From his Farmed menu, Chef was joking about KFC and how he would refine the crispy chicken himself. Then this came. The best way to eat it is to mash things around. Mix the coleslaw in with the sesame dust (yummy) and the chicken (IDR 75k), it’s definitely not the Colonel’s creation. Slight whiff of grease on the chicken, which, towards the end of our dinner that evening, may not be a favorite. The sesame dust is finger-lickin’ good tho! The Smoked Shaved Bacon (IDR 80k) is another proof of talent in the kitchen. Bacon is cured, smartly sits next to candied beetroot and toasted almond. Cauliflower came again this time after the unforgettable gazpacho, which is a nice reminder of how good the dish was.
Being Jimbaran’s #1 restaurant according to TripAdvisor is an awesome achievement. This means Cuca successfully outshines the likes of five-star resorts’ dining scenes, presumably the ones with extensive kitchen and excellent culinary team. Chef Kevin and Virginia his wife are no braggers, though. He salutes the talents in the team, consistently challenges them to grow, some from no cooking background.
And those talented cooks presented this. Refreshing berry cream meets pandan gelato, with a slice of the sponge cake (IDR 80k). I was full at the time but could not resist a spoonful after another. Then came the infamous Bali Breakfast (IDR 90k). The look of it tells you it’s a sunny side up on a bowl. Dig in and you’ll find love right away. The sweet runny mango from the ‘yolk’ is amazing. The ‘egg white’ is actually the whipped coconut, so balanced, so so good.
Chef Kevin and Virginia, you made my evening. Thank you for being so honest, so candid with us at times, and for the beautiful dining experience from 100% local ingredients. I always want to come back during the day and sit on the outdoors, which I believe will present a different Cuca feel. Įhasta luego!
Cuca | Jalan Yoga Perkanthi, Jimbaran, Bali | p: +62 361 708066 | $$$$$