Ten years is a long time in Shanghai’s rapidly evolving dining scene, and in that time, the city’s first and only Indonesian restaurant, has witnessed many changes. We speak to Venny Haryanti, proprietor of Bali Bistro and long-time Shanghai resident, about how the restaurant has got to where it is today.
First tell us about you and how you came to be in Shanghai.
Hi, my name is Venny Haryanti. I was born in Surabaya, but grew up in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta. During a business trip to Shanghai in 2003, I met my husband, and moved here in 2005 right after our wedding in Indonesia.
How did Bali Bistro come to be open?
Bali Bistro was initially opened by a group of 7-8 Indonesian businessmen who lived in Shanghai, to create a place for the Indonesian community and government officials during the preparation phase of the Shanghai Expo in 2008. Since then, it’s become a platform for business and diplomatic events to introduce Indonesian cuisine to the diverse nationals living in Shanghai. During the Expo in 2010, we were an integral part of the Indonesian Pavilion and hosted numerous events organized by the consulate.
How has the restaurant evolved over the years?
We used to be a restaurant operating on both floors, but we recently started a cafe called Balini Coffee on the ground floor to introduce Kalosi Toraja, coffee that’s grown on our very ownour organic farm in Sulawesi.
At the same time, we updated the style and menu and food presentation to be a bit more modern while keeping the basic Indonesian taste authentic.
In the last few years, we’ve won a few awards in the last few year. We’ve also been named an official partner of the Wonderful Indonesia campaign by Indonesia’s Ministry of Tourism.
As part of our effort to bring the experience of Indonesia to diners, we host Balinese dance and Indonesian live band performances from time to time.
What impressions do local diners have of Indonesian food? Have you been adapting your menu to the palates of locals or would you say youʼre committed to delivering authentic Indonesian fare?
Those who have visited Indonesia and Bali before, and frequent travelers are usually very open to the thick spices we have in some dishes. We have had to tone down the chili without changing other essential ingredients, as most non-Indonesians won’t able to take our level of spicy. Even customers from Sichuan or Hunan who are used to eating spicy food find it too hot as it’s a different chili from what they’re used to in Chinese ma la. Our Indonesian customers usually ask the server to tell kitchen to make it extra spicy.
What are some signature dishes or what is popular among guests?
For big parties: definitely the tumpeng, or Volcano Rice, which needs to be ordered a day or two in advance. For lunch: our Beef Rendang set (Rendang was voted as CNN Worldʼs best food in 2014), Ayam Goreng set, and Bakso (Beefball) are popular. Bakso is the favorite dish of our current President Jokowi. For dinner, you might want to go for the Gado-Gado, satay platters, Tahu Telor (tofu egg), Ayam Bakar (grilled chicken), and Garang Asem. My current personal favorites when hosting friends are the soft-shell crab, Ayam Suwir, and grilled salmon.
What challenges do you currently face as a restaurant in Shanghai?
Just the usual – high rent, high labor costs, and ever stricter regulations.
You started your coffee business in recent years. Tell us about that.
Our family business back home in Indonesia is in coffee. Our grandparents migrated from Quanzhou, Fujian to Indonesia and made a living by selling coffee to feed their 7 children. We now have vertically-integrated business that consists of our own farm, roastery, 130 coffee shops, and even a coffee processing company in Indonesia. I feel itʼs our duty to introduce Indonesian coffee to China. Balini Coffee serves Kalosi Toraja from our own farm which has a very interesting history and is grown completely organically.
What advice would you have for other would-be restaurateurs?
This industry, while fun and full of friendly people, isn’t as glamourous as it appears to be. Be ready for long hours of loving and managing people, receiving complaints, working on details, and having to continuously brainstorm creative ideas. If you’re here looking to make money in the short term, you’re better off looking elsewhere.
Bali Bistro is located on 75 Wanhangdu Road (万航渡路75号) and is celebrating its 11th anniversary on May 25. The dinner party happens at 7-9pm and will feature a Balinese dance performance, live music and a lucky draw.
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