Join Us On A Culinary Journey To Sri Lanka With Sarong’s Chef Will Meyrick
Bali’s Chef Will Meyrick is a renaissance man. Passionate traveler, writer, photographer and creative genius in the kitchen, his sultry award-winning Sarong restaurant is located in one of the most fashionable enclaves on the island where over 2,000 dining enthusiasts walk through the hand-carved Balinese doors every week for dinner. What’s his secret? One could say his devotion to Asian cuisine and a dedication to learning by doing; never relying on past success even though his loyal patrons beg for him not to change a thing.
It’s somewhat of a blessing and a curse when you have a chef who is addicted to exploring every nook and cranny of Asia; committed to uncovering the most traditional street food delicacies passed down through generations, yet doesn’t want to disappoint the throng of loyal foodies who flock to Sarong each evening expecting to see their longstanding favorites on the menu. Wait a minute. Did I say street food? Yes, you heard that correctly. Sure, Sarong is a swish restaurant; known far and wide as one of the most romantic venues on an island that knows a thing or two about romance. Tables glisten with Austrian Riedel glassware perfectly positioned alongside whimsical floral arrangements overflowing with shell pink torch ginger blossoms. Not to mention a coveted Top 20 spot in the annual Miele Guide featuring Asia’s crème de la crème.
Chef Will Meyrick is a self-described ‘Street Food Chef’ and spends many hours working alongside the real ibu ibu whose grandmothers and great-grandmothers taught them all they know. Once he perfects a dish as best he can, he takes it back to Bali and puts the Meyrick twist on it; refining and tweaking into higher-end versions of themselves while maintaining the allure and edge of the real deal.
But what does a guy do with all of this extra creative energy and limitless menu offerings when patrons just want to eat the same dishes over and over again? Why, he mixes things up and puts together something fun like his intimate Kitchen Sessions; the public’s very own chance to enter Will’s world; share in his most recent travel adventures and embark upon personal culinary journeys of their very own. What can one expect from attending a Kitchen Session? For starters, we are warmly greeted by Sarong’s lovely staff, with ice-cold mango & pomegranate mojitos served over crushed ice in an oversized mint julep-esque stainless steel cup and garnished with a stalk of juicy sugar cane. So far, so good.
Little by little, Meyrick introduces our small group of fourteen to Sri Lanka; where he recently spent a bit of reconnaissance sniffing out a possible spot to open yet another fabulous restaurant, saying the island reminds him of Singapore in the 1960’s, with great roads and architecture and pockets of unexpected stunning natural beauty. I admit I am a little hesitant about spending an evening indulging in Sri Lankan cuisine, one that I’m completely unfamiliar with and that’s exactly the point. With a goal of introducing people to things they normally wouldn’t eat, a Kitchen Session allows Meyrick to take risks that he normally wouldn’t be able to take as Executive Chef of his own restaurants.
As Sri Lanka tends to lean toward its Indian and Indonesian neighbors when it comes to spice, real Sri Lankan street food might be way too much for your average innocent bystander, like myself. So, he treats us with soft kid gloves, shaping the experience in a pleasurable way, that is also very eye and palate opening. With baited breath, and a glass of Undurraga Sparkling Brut Supreme from Maipo Valley, Chile, the first dish arrives; ‘Kirri Houdi with Crabmeat’ – a luscious soup that tastes more like a French seafood bisque than a scary Sri Lankan stew. We ask the restaurant manager to book one-way tickets to Bandaranaike International Airport.
For three hours, we are treated to one spectacular taste sensation after another. Slow braised curries softened around the edge and enhanced with whole curry leaves instead of the dry roasted curry base found in most traditional Sri Lankan recipes. Some of our favorites? Chargrilled coconut cakes and red bean dahl served in a small copper bucket, whisper thin slices of sautéed “bitter gourd” perfectly seasoned with sea salt, and sweet potato with dried maldive fish, onion and curry leaf. Dried maldive fish doesn’t sound too hot when you’re reading it on a menu, but in person it offers just the right hint of sea-salt goodness and produces an involuntary round of ‘oohs and aahs’ around the table.
With his first book, ‘Inspirations of Sarong’ recently launched at the Jakarta Culinary Festival, readers will rejoice in many of Meyrick’s signature dishes as well as a personal account of his extensive treks throughout Southeast Asia that culminate in the opening and success of Sarong. What’s next on his bucket list? Expect the unexpected.