Gili Trawangan has a reputation as a party island. But there are several boutique hotels that are upping the quality of what this tiny island just off Lombok has to offer.
This is good news. It would be a shame if Gili T was known only by the backpacker crowd. The scuba diving and snorkeling are simply too good and the views are simply too beautiful to be lost on those who would prefer to party all night and sleep on the beach all day.
Now is the ideal time for the upscale traveller to discover Gili Trawanagan.
For places to stay, we reviewed and recommend these three boutique properties, all in very quiet parts of the island:
But once you know where you’re sleeping, it is important to know where you should be eating.
There are two restaurants on Gili T which would have rave reviews in any city in the world. The fact that they’re both on this tiny island is a bonus for travellers who take their food seriously.
Blu d’a Mare Trattoria and Resort – www.bludamare.it
While you can eat on the beach with the sand between your toes (or in their open air restaurant across the street), the food at Blu d’a Mare is decidedly not casual.
The kitchen prepares all dishes à la minute / espresso (less poetically in English – only when the order is made). Each sauce is made individually when it is ordered. Even the bread is made several times a day (and it is a proper, dense bread — not a loaf so full of air it reminds you of Wonder Bread). This means you might need to wait a little for your meal, but who cares when you have this view from your table?
While everything is excellent, the seafood is not to be missed. Chef Moreno fishes for it himself, so you know that it is fresh. So fresh that you can even order the carpaccio (raw fish, seasoned with extra virgin olive oil, pepper and lime). Not into raw fish? Try the bocconcini al vino blanco (a chopped fish filet in a white wine sauce) or, if you order it the day before, caciucco (a fish soup). The type of fish you will eat depends on what Moreno found in the sea that day.
One of my favourite Italian dishes is penne arrabiata, and it is one I often order when testing a kitchen. A simple dish like this can prove whether a restaurant really knows what it is doing. I’m happy to report that the texture of the penne at Blu d’a Mare was perfect, as was the balance between pasta and the tasty sauce. It even remained hot — a challenge when eating outdoors with a breeze (no matter how warm) and when I insist on snapping a few photos before I dig in.
The restaurant is very popular — 100 to 150 people dine here per night in high season — so make a reservation.
Blu d’a Mare also has five boutique bungalow villas behind the restaurant, in a quiet garden.
The restaurant at Wilson’s Retreat – www.wilsons-retreat.com
The chef at Wilson’s Retreat is from the French food capital, Lyon. François Masson has wide culinary experience in the US, Italy, Scotland and Denmark, as well as in France, where he was head chef at Lyon’s Pell Mell. Gili T’s gourmands — local, expat and tourist — are very lucky that Chef Masson fell in love with an Indonesian woman and that they chose to live on Gili T.
His Wilson’s Retreat kitchen is top notch, and quality does not drop when Chef Masson is out of the kitchen. The restaurant has many French specialties, such as a traditional beef bourguignon, palourde Provençal (venus clams), salad Lyonnaise, as well as a few western and Indonesian dishes. Don’t skip dessert; I highly recommend the superb lemon tart — the best of my six month trip! There’s also an excellent drinks menu with premium alcohols and a well-chosen wine list.
Wilson’s Retreat is just a year old as of August 2014, but it is already becoming very well known for its accommodations and for its excellent food. People come from all over the island — and from neighbouring Gili Air and Gili Meno — to eat here. I met several people who came for all of their meals during their stay, after being disappointed at other island restaurants. If you’re visiting in high season, be safe and make a reservation.
The restaurant at Le Petit Gili: Informal with a mix of western and Indonesian dishes. Great barbeque. Just skip the coffee unless you like it sludgey. Open 24 hours. Near the night market and the pier for one of the safer boats (Gili Cat) back to Bali.
Kafe Kecil and Taman Thai: One restaurant, two names, serving Thai, Indonesian and a few western dishes, and great cocktails. A backpacker vibe, but the food is great. On the street behind the main street; turn up the street at FreeDive Gili.
Il Pirata (The Pizza Place): Thin crust pizza made in front of you and then perfected in a wood-fired oven. Kitty corner from Kafe Kecil.
Blog and pictures by Johanna Read