Having opened a mere few months ago, Kwee Zeen at Sofitel Bali Nusa Dua Beach Resort is the youngest restaurant to make it into our Gourmand’s Guide. The hawker-style eatery takes the best bits from Asia’s legendary food markets (the buzzing atmospheres, the myriad of fiery flavours and the crackle of woks, barbecues and teppans) then serves it all up in an architecturally stunning space, lavished in five-star luxury.
For anyone who has ever dined at a traditional hawker market, most likely your memories are fond ones, filled with the authentic flavours of Asia’s best delicacies. However, these marketplaces can sometimes be stuffy and dusty – quite the contrast to the comforts of a clean and cool air-conditioned restaurant. So that’s where Kwee Zeen steps in. The Pan-Asian restaurant at Sofitel Nusa Dua brings together the authentic tastes and energetic bustle of Asia’s traditional street food markets, yet it offers it all up in a stylish, classy environment.
Located right below the hotel’s circular lobby, the layout of Zeen is quite a spectacle. It is a huge open space made up of horizontal and vertical wooden beams, separated by glass partitions, crude brick accents and unpolished stone. Then within this rustic maze, hawker-style atelier stalls dot the interactive expanse, cooking up over 70 different traditional dishes from across Asia, made fresh in front of every guest. And without walls confining diners to the inside of the hotel, the restaurant captures that al fresco feel of a traditional market.
Headed up by Sofitel Bali Nusa Dua’s own Executive Chef Daine Gilbert, the spread of different cuisines at every corner of the restaurant is impressive to say the least. I start off at the appetiser atelier where fresh slices of sashimi are carved right before my eyes. Colourful sushi is skilfully rolled with Norwegian salmon, local tuna and giant king prawns, while a whopping glass orb holds countless green lip mussels and mud crabs resting on ice.
The sizzling of freshly fried tempura draws me toward the Japanese hot dishes, serving up lobster, scallops and salmon tempura beside the crackle of seared Wagyu beef on the teppan. At the robata grill, fresh seafood and prime meats are skewered and lightly charred over smouldering charcoal, adding a whiff of smokiness to each succulent bite.
Subtle barbecue flavours continue at the Chinese grill, where whole peking ducks are slowly cooked until the crispy, sweet skin is glistening and golden. Sticky spare ribs are packed with glazed, gooey meat, so tender it effortlessly falls from the bone. Behind, a whole lamb turns on an open spit, ready to be freshly carved.
Kwee Zeen serves up more than 70 different dishes across eight different atelier stations, and each day they alter the selections and add new signatures. The chefs also offer up a la carte options for guests who prefer to order their favourite dishes from a menu, with each one made fresh by the chefs and served as traditional courses.
Heading south, the spicy aromas of turmeric, cumin and garam masala lead me towards the Indian atelier, where pans of beef curry, rogan josh and mutton biryani bellow with wafts of aromatic steam. Authentic Indian cuisine is rather hard to come by in Bali, but the rogan josh here is as genuine as they come. Each mouthful of the thick sauce is full bodied and fragrant, dousing tender chunks of lamb with spiced paprika, cloves and cumin. You can tell the lamb has been braised in this delicious marinade for multiple hours, the giveaway being the moist, fall-apart texture.
Another standout is the Dal Palak, bringing with it an impressively spicy kick that is cooled down by a few swirls of fresh cream. The chef makes the dish extra smooth by soaking the lentils in hot water overnight, then once they’re perfectly saturated, he simmers them in a coconut gravy seasoned with garlic, cumin, turmeric and a handful of fresh herbs.
After so many hearty, spiced dishes, the dessert room serving up international sweets is a welcomed sight, and it looks like it’s been taken right out of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Platter upon platter of sugary treats line the walls, together with rainbow-like displays of cakes, mousses, homemade ice creams and refreshing sorbets. Tall shelves hold oversized jars of gummy bears, marshmallows and colourful meringues, while the energetic team of pastry chefs are busy moulding the shells of freshly-set macarons.
As I come to the end of my culinary journey, I get the chance to speak to Executive Chef Daine himself. I ask him how Kwee Zeen manages to serve up such authentic dishes, and his answer is quite simple: “We don’t settle for second best – we make use of the best ingredients both near and far, whether that be imported Australian Wagyu or Bali’s local tuna. Then we put it all together in the right way, the traditional way”.
OUR FAVOURITE DISHES:
– Beef Thai Salad tossed with fresh veggies, coriander and a mango dressing
– Chinese Peking Duck smothered in a sticky plum sauce
– Indian Rogan Josh with chunks of juicy lamb
– Indonesian Ikan Bakar sprinkled with sambal matah
– Japanese lobster tempura