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Bondi to Bali: how Australian restaurateurs are taking over the island

A clique of Australian operators are riding a tourist wave to riches in Indonesia – but business in Bali is not for the faint-hearted

It’s not so far from Bondi to Bali. Four and a bit flying hours, or 5400 kilometres, but the psychological leap isn’t quite as profound. Head to the holiday island’s upmarket Seminyak district and things are as comfortable and familiar as can be for Australians chasing the tropical sun.

Beyond the crippling traffic jams, the local touts renting motorcycles and doing a quietly healthy trade in Viagra and ‘happy pills’, a clique of Australian restaurateurs are riding a tourist wave to riches. Motel Mexicola, across the road from Petitenget Beach, could have been transplanted directly from Melbourne or Sydney with its lurid cantina fit-out and trendy Mexican menu – and indeed it does prove to have connections to Bondi’s The Bucket List and Avoca Beach’s Rojo Rocket.

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“I’m here for purely the lifestyle, to surf, to do less work, and to make a shitload of money,’’ is how Adrian Reed, a co-owner of the thumping business, eloquently puts it. “Everyone in the hospitality business in Australia is struggling to make money, to pay rent, to pay wages. In Australia you’re doing brilliantly if you make 10 percent profit. Here, we’re making 40 percent profit.’’

Mexicola Motel  Bali

“I’m here for purely the lifestyle, to surf, to do less work, and to make a shitload of money,’’ is how Adrian Reed, a co-owner of the thumping business, eloquently puts it. “Everyone in the hospitality business in Australia is struggling to make money, to pay rent, to pay wages. In Australia you’re doing brilliantly if you make 10 percent profit. Here, we’re making 40 percent profit.’’

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The restaurant Petitenget, from ex-Melburnian founder of the Mooks label, Sean Cosgrove, is one of the successful old stayers after opening in 2008. Revolver, a Melbourne-style café tucked in the back of a clothing shop, was opened by Sydneysider Katie Allen two years ago and acts like a magnet for the caffeine-deprived.

Mama San recently joined older sibling Sarong, both founded by former Longrain chef Will Meyrick. It packs in a mostly Australian crowd for its pan-Asian menu, plenty of whom are drinking ‘wine of the week’, the Penfolds Koonunga Hill cab sav, for the equivalent of $80. It’s not pure profiteering – Indonesian taxes make buying Australian wine punitive – but it’s a good thing the local Bintang beer is better suited to the climate.

Indonesia is set to overtake New Zealand for the first time as the preferred holiday destination of Australians. A staggering one million are on track to visit this year, with 80 percent putting Bali on their itinerary. Little wonder the island’s hospitality industry has the feel of a goldrush.

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The Wild West image is also served with the presence of Robert Marchetti, the restaurateur whose Giuseppe, Arnaldo & Sons (GAS) at Melbourne’s Crown casino collapsed under a pile of debt last year. Marchetti is the high-profile restaurant consultant to Kadek Wirinatha, the prominent Bali businessman behind Seminyak’s exclusive Double Six resort, overseeing three new restaurants including the Plantation Grill, which was due to open this week. Marchetti has proven elusive – Guardian Australia was unsuccessful in contacting him for this article – but he has previously defended himself in the media, denying that he had ‘fled’ to Bali to escape the debt. Creditors, however, are unlikely to see any return of outstanding moneys – GAS owed in excess of $1.5 million to the Tax Office and Crown, staff and suppliers.

The Wild West image is also served with the presence of Robert Marchetti, the restaurateur whose Giuseppe, Arnaldo & Sons (GAS) at Melbourne’s Crown casino collapsed under a pile of debt last year. Marchetti is the high-profile restaurant consultant to Kadek Wirinatha, the prominent Bali businessman behind Seminyak’s exclusive Double Six resort, overseeing three new restaurants including the Plantation Grill, which was due to open this week. Marchetti has proven elusive – Guardian Australia was unsuccessful in contacting him for this article – but he has previously defended himself in the media, denying that he had ‘fled’ to Bali to escape the debt. Creditors, however, are unlikely to see any return of outstanding moneys – GAS owed in excess of $1.5 million to the Tax Office and Crown, staff and suppliers.

The Wild West image is also served with the presence of Robert Marchetti, the restaurateur whose Giuseppe, Arnaldo & Sons (GAS) at Melbourne’s Crown casino collapsed under a pile of debt last year. Marchetti is the high-profile restaurant consultant to Kadek Wirinatha, the prominent Bali businessman behind Seminyak’s exclusive Double Six resort, overseeing three new restaurants including the Plantation Grill, which was due to open this week. Marchetti has proven elusive – Guardian Australia was unsuccessful in contacting him for this article – but he has previously defended himself in the media, denying that he had ‘fled’ to Bali to escape the debt. Creditors, however, are unlikely to see any return of outstanding moneys – GAS owed in excess of $1.5 million to the Tax Office and Crown, staff and suppliers.

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He points to an infamous incident two years ago where five foreign-owned restaurants built on the beach were bulldozed overnight. “You might think all the right people have been paid but still run into trouble like that. It’s crucial to make sure the local banjar (community elder) on side.’’

Competition is heating up, too. The Australians spoken to by the Guardian say the days of kicking back and relaxing are over due to the massive influx of bars, cafes and restaurants vying for their slice of the action. “The market is becoming saturated,’’ says Hall.

Will the wave crash? The terrorist threat remains – although the Australian government’s advice about a high threat of attack doesn’t appear to be denting tourist or business optimism. The Indonesian government has also announced it is scrapping the US$35 visa entry fee from January 1, which won’t harm Bali’s attraction as a low-cost holiday destination.

“Some people are definitely going to learn the hard way,’’ says Motel Mexicola’s Reed down the phone as he navigates the traffic on his motorbike to their new ‘crab shack’, the Salty Seagull. “But the way I see it, you can spend your life worrying or you can just get on with it.’’

Source – The Guardian

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