I was back in the office for a welcome lunch for a new colleague and they suggested Indonesian around the block.
Behind the tacky decor Cumi Bali is a family restaurant founded in 1986 in the Tanjong Pagar area. They started out in Duxton Hill and then moved to Tanjong Pagar Road, and recently moved to Tras Street. It was here that they struck gold with the acknowledgement from Michelin as a Bib Gourmand restaurant in 2022.
Sapi Rendang or beef rendang is probably the most well known Padang dish. And every restaurant has their own secret spice mix for the rendang. A good rendang has to be fork tender but not dried out. This was a good rendang.
Perkedel Kentang or mashed potato fritter is a ubiquitous everyday side dish in Indonesian and is similar to a croquette. Usually it is just potatoes mixed with some spices, but there are variations with minced meat or fish or corn. This was quite nice but I am a fan of deep fried potato in the first place.
Bendi or sautéed lady’s fingers (or okra to my American friends) was delicious and I recommend this dish if you come. It was easy to overcook the okra and turned it mushy, but here it was done to the right doneness, crunchy and not mushy.
The Ikan Bakar is a special fish smothered in 18 spices and top-grilled to perfection. Unlike the traditional ikan bakar (or grilled fish) which is charcoal-grilled like BBQ, this one was grilled with a layer of spices. The spices paste on top reminded me of otak-otak which acted as a cover for the leatherjacket fish to be kept moist underneath. Almost every table ordered this dish but I wished they didn’t use the leatherjacket as it was a rather bland and unexciting fish.
The Sambal Belachan required separate order. And it tasted quite sweet and not much belachan (fermented prawn paste). My colleague who came here before was quite sure the taste of the chilli paste was altered.
The restaurant was named after this dish – Cumi Bali, a charcoal grill squid Bali-style. The squid was grilled to perfection, just the right texture and doneness, a very simple dish that can go very wrong easily. It was smothered with a sweet and fragrant sauce that gave ti all the flavours.
We added a curry in mid course after several good choices. However, the Ayam Gulai was a complete letdown. The yellow coconut curry was watery and the chicken had no texture or taste.
The signature Es Chendol was also a letdown. The green chendol jelly was still frozen. The only saving grace was the delicious Gula Melaka used for the syrup with the smoky, coconuty taste of the smoked brown sugar.
The lunch started well, the service was sincere and friendly, and the food started off well with the signature items. Then it went downhill as the crowd came in.
Perhaps it was a busy afternoon and they ran out of ayam gulai. But if this is how a Bib Gourmand tasted like, I am beginning to lose faith the Michelin standard. This is the second Bib Gourmand that I have tasted this year that has been sub-standard compared to lesser regarded competitions. Perhaps the glam behind the pay to play model for guides like Michelin is starting to wear off.
Cumi Bali Indonesian Restaurant
50 Tras Street Singapore 078989
Tel : +65 6220 6619
Visited Oct 2022
Michelin Singapore Guide Bib Gourmand 2022