A half-hour’s drive from Ubud, Hoshinoya Bali balances local craftsmanship with a sleek Japanese style. James Louie revisits the boutique resort.
Sundown. The sound of flowing water accompanies me as I tread an illuminated wooden footpath through the gardens at Hoshinoya Bali. Stepping into the breezy restaurant, I hear the mating call of a tokay gecko and watch the skies darken over a tableau of giant tree ferns, soaring coconut palms, and jackfruit trees with mottled bark. It’s not my first time here — I came soon after the property opened in 2017 as the first international outpost of Japan’s century-old Hoshino Resorts (which has since expanded to Taiwan). What I recall most fondly from that brief sojourn was an elegant kaiseki dinner that united the culinary traditions of Bali and Nippon.
Created by executive chef Mitsuaki Senoo, the 10-course set dinner I’m about to enjoy takes a slightly different approach, combining Mediterranean and Japanese flavours with a light Balinese touch. Over the next two hours or so, a parade of small, artfully plated dishes arrives at the table: lime-and-ginger infused gazpacho, sautéed bigfin reef squid with basil sauce and finely diced shallot, then slow-cooked salmon and briny ikura on a refreshing cucumber paste. One course includes three kinds of sushi: snapper with tangy salt flakes, maguro, and salmon brushed with gochujang and sesame. The waitress eventually returns and lifts a smoking dome to reveal a tartare of locally caught tuna, before pouring a creamy mustard sauce onto the plate.
What follows next is the palate-cleansing shiraae of sapodilla (a.k.a. sawo) and a nutty tofu-and-sesame paste. This serves as the prelude for a melt-in-the-mouth beef steak with mashed potato, curry powder, deep-fried burdock root, and crispy fried spinach leaves — not to mention dipping bowls of kecap manis, curry sauce, plus a punchy sambal ijo. I barely have room for dessert, of which there are two. The first is a “coconut delight” with contrasting textures and temperatures, conceived as a modern bubur sumsum featuring jackfruit pieces and palm sugar syrup. Aside from the main pudding, the coconut is used in everything from the ice cream and the paper-thin tuile to a sugary, crispy crumble. Finally, the server presents a chilled coupe glass of Awayuki cheese mousse and finely cubed fruit, in a sauce of cranberry and mango juice mixed with cherry brandy, shaken tableside. I don’t know how I will manage breakfast the next morning.
But first, a solo swim at sunrise. All 30 villas here enjoy direct access to one of three canal-like pools inspired by Bali’s ubak irrigation channels; the inviting waters branch off into semi-private nooks where you can float and frolic out of view of other guests, then recline inside a thatched bale with a daybed. When no one else is about, a flock of little birds with black-tipped grey wings and white bellies throws a miniature pool party, zooming through the air and making small splashes as they skim the surface. I observe the action from the living room of my Jalak villa, whose sliding screen doors open onto a wraparound deck. Inside, Zen-like minimalism meets Indonesian artistry: expect to see batik box lamps, high ceilings of woven rattan, futon-style platform beds, and an intricate woodcarving wall depicting a riot of foliage, birds, and flowers. These reliefs are the work of artisans from Jepara and come backlit for dramatic effect.
Beyond the villas, Hoshinoya Bali’s lush grounds are a joy to wander: landscape architect Hiroki Hasegawa worked with, not against, the natural topography, planting native species and retaining an ancient subak channel. I savour quiet moments like standing on the terrace outside the Library — a cosy marble-floored reading room stocked with Bali- and travel-focused books — and listening to the morning birdsong. Through the trees, the Pakerisan River is clearly audible as it gushes over a rocky bed toward the Indian Ocean. The most sought-after spot for lounging is Café Gazebo, whose stilted pavilions were built directly over the steep hillside. Most come with daybeds, and after checking in there’s no better place for a welcome bowl of matcha prepared by a member of staff, who froths the unsweetened drink using a traditional bamboo whisk. Between sips, I nibble at dorayaki while looking out over the forested valley.
Those not content with pure relaxation can join complimentary guest activities both within and outside the resort’s walls. Hoshinoya Bali runs two walking tours, one through the local banjar (neighbourhood) that takes in five different temples and offers insights into Balinese culture. Another is a 45-minute morning stroll down village roads and pathways between nearby rice paddies. For the latter, a Singaporean couple and I are guided by Putu Semadi, who returned to his native Bali after working on cruise vessels around Europe and North America for five years. He greets a farmer leading a flock of ducks into the newly harvested fields, and points out yellow dwarf coconuts used for temple offerings. At every turn, the island’s natural bounty is plain to see: coffee bushes flourish by the roadside, as do trees bearing cacao pods, large green papayas, and bunches of bananas. The Singaporeans are especially impressed.
I meet up again with Putu in an open-air pavilion for a hands-on lesson in making batik tulis. On the tabletop between us stand portable stoves weighed down with wax-filled copper pots. “The temperature has to be just right,” Putu explains. “Too hot and the wax will get very runny, too cold and it will quickly harden.” Then he demonstrates how to hold the pen-like canting upside down, scooping the molten wax into the instrument’s receptacle in one sweeping motion away from the centre of the pot. I watch intently as Putu brushes it along the rim and daubs the underside of the canting on a spare cotton sheet to reduce the excess wax. The whole process takes patience; my lack of it results in overly thick lines and blotches that irreversibly taint the artwork. Still, it’s not bad for a first attempt. When I encounter the general manager Takaaki Yasuda a short while later, he tells me, “Many of our Indonesian guests have never tried making batik themselves until they stay here.”
I’m rewarded for my efforts with a mid-afternoon spa session. Dewi “Rita” Samarintan, a Balinese therapist who has been with the resort since the pre-opening, offers me jamu of turmeric, honey, and lemon. “We used to have many Japanese guests, but the pandemic changed everything,” she says. “Now we get a mix of Indonesians, Koreans, and Singaporeans.” From the spa reception pavilion, Rita and I take a glass-roofed funicular cabin halfway down the hillside to the treatment rooms in a rectangular building that hugs the side of the valley. I find myself dozing off several times during a 90-minute Balinese massage; Rita’s long, skilful strokes with lemongrass oil knead out the knots in my tired legs, upper back, and shoulders. I virtually float out of the spa when the treatment ends.
That night, one final dinner awaits at the restaurant. I end up ordering the Hoshinoya Jewel Box — an exquisite chirashi don with salmon, scallop, and pearls of ikura in a neat arrangement that also includes fresh snapper, tuna tataki, and lightly charred squid. Interspersed between the sashimi are sweet ribbons of tamago and crunchy snow peas; the dish comes adorned with tiny wasabi balls, a sprinkling of edible flowers, and flecks of gold leaf. Tucking into this sumptuous mélange of seafood and fluffy sushi rice, I know I will someday return.