Two questions: is it possible to eat 21 desserts in a row? Is it possible to eat 21 desserts in a row even when you’re not a sweet-tooth?
The answer is ‘yes’ and ‘yes’, but it helps if the venue for such a gluttonous culinary endeavour is Room4Dessert. The famed restaurant in Ubud, in central Bali, is owned by American celeb chef and pastry legend Will Goldfarb.
Foodies will know Goldfarb from Netflix’s massively popular Chef’s Table series, which documents the insightful backstories of head chefs from some of the world’s most successful restaurants (including Ben Shewry from Melbourne’s Attica and Lennox Hastie from Sydney’s Firedoor).
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Paired cocktails are served in the wine bar. Picture: Penny Watson
The Goldfarb episode plots the opening of Room4Dessert in New York’s Manhattan, his subsequent rise to fame as the man who made desserts the main event, then the demise of that dream and his surprise move to Bali 12 years ago.
Today’s Balinese rendition of Room4Dessert is the documentary’s happy ending where Goldfarb’s serious dedication to dessert technique and creativity, paired with a devotion to Bali’s exotic ingredients, has been the recipe for his long-term success.
Such is it’s popularity, there’s usually a three-month waiting list for a table, but the pandemic-induced absence of tourists, means I am able to book just three nights in advance. It should be stated that I didn’t knowingly sign up for a 21-course dessert degustation.
When you book online, it describes a seven-course experience and the option of a cocktail/mocktail pairing. But in-situ you get far more bang for your buck. Guests are treated to three courses of seven dishes (so 21 in total) that are served in three different settings.
Little senbei, a savoury ‘snack’ in a box. Picture: Penny Watson
Happily, for me at least, they’re not all sweet. While some dishes appear delectably syrupy, foamy, glacé’d or candied, the real creativity often lies in their being something different altogether.
The tastebud adventure begins in the breezy open-sided casual eatery at the rear of the restaurant, the first volley of ‘snacks’ are more sweet than savoury.
A small ‘preserved lemon tart’ made from galangal with creme from preserved lemons, is savoury and served prettily on a leaf in crystal dish. The ‘little senbei’, a delicate rice crisp made from sustainably grown Balinese heritage rice comes in a box.
Will Goldfarb in his Ubud restaurant. Picture: Penny Watson
Next, seven ‘desserts’ are served in the moody late-night interior of what feels like a European wine bar. This is the showy bit, with crowd-pleasers like a ‘Margarita’ cocktail concocted in front of us from a sorbet of fresh-plucked herbs and an emulsion of aloe vera and cocoa butter.
‘Taro charcoal’ is a dessert inspired by a traditional grilled Balinese street snack, but it’s pimped with ice cream and the local palm sugar. The flavours run the gamut of tastebud sensations – bitter, sour, even salty and smoky – there’s a surprise in every sip and a bombshell in every bite.
The final seven ‘petit fours’ are served outside near the garden in the sweet-smelling tropical night air. They’re tiny and tempting even after a four-hour food fest and the finale is the showstopper.
‘S’mores’ is a campfire favorite – a cacao pulp marshmallow cooked over a husk fire with a crisp wafer of locally made chocolate melted on top… Just when I thought I couldn’t fit another thing in.
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