The inside track on Ubud's best restaurants and culture spots

Bali-based foodie and founder of the Ubud Writers' Festival Janet De Neefe shows us around her adopted home Ubud - from the best restaurants to must-visit cultural destinations.

Ubud's Royal Palace
  • Rachel Gray
  • January 2020

Although she was born in Melbourne, for most of her life Janet DeNeefe has lived in the town of Ubud in the uplands of Bali. An accomplished businesswoman, Janet has a finger in many pies – she runs the Casa Luna and Indus restaurants and the Honeymoon Guesthouse with her husband Ketut Suardana, has written two cookbooks and is also the creator of the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival. Here, she gives us a taste of her hometown.

What’s a typical day like for you?

We tend to wake up early in Bali so I’m up about 6am. I do yoga or go to the gym, check my email, then hang out in my Honeymoon Bakery where I supervise the croissants coming out of the oven and ideally eat one!

Why did you move from Melbourne to Ubud?

For love. I met my husband Ketut on a holiday in Ubud in 1984, we opened our first restaurant here in 1987 and married two years later.

Janet DeNeefe
Janet DeNeefe loves her adopted home in Bali.

Describe your Bali hometown.

There’s something for everyone. You can stay on the edge of the rice fields or in the middle of town, hang out in a bar or try one of the little eateries. It’s a charming, picturesque place but the main street can be busy.

What is the best thing about living there?

The focus on community and family life. I love the values I see around me – helping each other and sharing is a way of life. It’s a total contrast to Australia where a lot of people prefer living on their own these days.

Where would you send a first-time visitor to Ubud?

The Monkey Forest – it’s full of monkeys in their natural habitat – and the Royal Palace (Puri Saren Agung) where the royal family still live. Also the 1.5-kilometre Campuhan Ridge Walk has dramatic views of the valley.

Janet always recommends Ubud's Monkey Forest to new visitors.

Why is Ubud known as the “cultural capital” of Bali?

Maybe because it has lots of beautiful palaces. Whenever we have ceremonies in Ubud they’re extremely lavish and opulent.

Where are the best places in Ubud to eat?

Try the betutu ayam (slow-roasted chicken) with urab (vegetables with roasted coconut) at Warung Mek Juel. On the edge of Ubud, in Sayan village, it’s a truly authentic Balinese eating experience. Then there’s Warung Ibu Oka. Once visited by the late Anthony Bourdain, this Ubud institution is famous for babi guling (suckling pig). It’s the perfect pit stop after a visit to the Palace, which is just across the road. And also there’s Pica South American Kitchen, a cute eatery which serves delicious Peruvian food. Their ceviche is perfect for Ubud’s tropical climate. You’ll find it on bustling Jalan Dewi Sita in the centre of town.

What are the three top Balinese flavours according to you?

Chilli, turmeric and lemongrass.

Name one traditional dish everyone must try.

Suckling pig cooked on a spit over coffee wood that burns slowly and adds a light fragrance. It’s basted with turmeric oil to make the crackling golden and crisp. The meat is tender and drop-dead delicious.

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