By Catriona Mitchell
On Monday evening, bridges celebrated its third birthday with a sit-down dinner for a selection of guests – the island’s hotel GMs, media, and food and wine suppliers, around two thirds of whom, I was happy to see, were Indonesian (enough with the expat events already!) – on its beautiful wooden deck overlooking the night-river.
There was a seating plan for each of the six tables, and any couples were separated to enforce a maximum degree of shoulder-rubbing with strangers. Name cards were placed around the tables to indicate the seating plan, each with a number hidden inside, the purpose of which would be revealed later. We were encouraged to introduce ourselves and our line of work; to exchange business cards as the entrees were served.
The menu was playful, sophisticated, adventurous; the dishes delivered to each table by a group of impeccably uniformed staff who descended the staircase with dramatic flair – a process that one man at my table described as “rajalaya”. Each guest’s meal was served with a hushed professionalism, without the staff needing the slightest reminder of who had asked for what. The three courses came with matching wines, sponsored by Indowines (whose lively representative, Chichi, was seated near me and kept offering to share her food, excited that we’d ordered differently).
“The pleasure is all mine,” said another guest at my table, as we shook hands. The Indonesian GM of a chain of hotels soon to open a five-star property here in Ubud, he told me that his company will not cut down a single tree when creating the new hotel: the plan is to build around all the existing vegetation on the land. He spoke English with the kind of charming, old-fashioned vocabulary one rarely hears nowadays; it smacked of genuine courtesy every time he opened his mouth, as if he’d acquired it through the reading of genteel Victorian novels. When his entrée arrived (baked apple filled with rosemary duck ragu) he lamented having to “deflower” it, it was so beautifully presented; he declared his main dish “utterly splendid”; then he apologised for having to “skedaddle” so rudely before dessert.
Chatting with him was part of the point of the occasion. Other than the obvious birthday celebration, the evening’s aim was to give the guests a taste of the ‘bridging table dinner’ held every Saturday evening at the restaurant. The concept is that strangers (‘world travellers’) get together around a table to get to know one another and swap stories, with a host present – often bridges’ founder Claude Chouinard. The invitation is open to couples or solitary travellers, and is part of the restaurant’s vision, built into its name: to create bridges between people, to forge friends from strangers over the sharing of (excellent) food.
So between the entrée and the main (seared eggplant dumplings with red curry spices; grilled salmon and tiger prawns in a carrot veloute, served with orange slices, shavings of cucumber, crispy bacon and nasturtium blossom), Claude made a request. We were to go in a circle around the table, each person announcing three things about themselves in rapid succession, one of which had to be a lie. The other guests would have to guess which one was fiction.
For some reason all the lies around my table revolved around bicycles. (What was that about? Does the modern Indonesian have some kind of inherent aversion to the humble two-wheeled freedom machine?) Laughter could be heard from all the tables; this exercise between strangers was definitely breaking ice, even if we sat dabbing our foreheads with starched white linen napkins at the unexpectedly humid evening.
Claude, our cheerful host for the evening, made enthused thanks between courses to all those who’ve been a support to bridges over the years, and doled out prizes via a lucky draw: invitations to ‘divine Friday’, the weekly wine-tasting event held at the restaurant, and bottles of wine from the divine wine bar’s cellar… It seemed my number wasn’t going to come up. But at the last minute a final draw was announced: for tickets to the next ‘bridging table dinner’.
I’ll be heading there next Saturday, to dine with a bunch of random strangers, and see what conversation ensues from Claude’s slightly mischievous encouragements. What’s for sure is the wine and food will be first class. Maybe I’ll even meet a gentleman who speaks with archaic 19th century gallantry, to befit the romantic fine-dining setting….
bridges is a “casual fine dining” restaurant located on Jalan Raya Campuhan. Tel +62 (0) 361 970095, or see www.bridgesbali.com