First things first: Velvet has set itself apart with a healthy dose of eccentricity in terms of decor and ambiance, which makes it completely unlike any restaurant we’ve been to in Ubud, and perhaps even all of Bali. Guests might find it a little unsettling at first, but the promise of good, authentic Mexican food should be enough to nudge anyone to give it a try and see what it’s about. And in our experience, this hidden gem is worthwhile all around.
A couple of months ago, Coconuts Bali was invited to have dinner at Velvet, a Mexican cuisine restaurant in the highlands specializing in seafood and grill. We know how it’s not exactly difficult to find Mexican food on the island as every other place seems to offer up their take of tacos, but if you’re looking for a combination of good food and unique atmosphere, this place sure has got ‘em.
It’s a short drive away from the center of Ubud, and here’s what you’ll be walking into: dimmed lights, dark red drapes, chandeliers, and velvet furnitures — all of which scream dark, sexy, and passion, which we later learned was what they are aiming for. Not exactly what you’d hope to find in a place of yoga and self-enriching journeys, perhaps, but keeping an open mind tends to invigorate the senses, no?
Behind Velvet’s kitchen is Chef Hiram Rios, who created a menu that fuses his Mexican culinary background with Bali’s bold flavors, which he eventually named “Balexican.” If one thing was certain from our “taste test,” it was that a lot of care was put into the dishes that made our meal that much more tasty.
We tried their different taco offerings, naturally, including their Aguachile (IDR45K/US$3.14), Fish Antitaco (IDR40K/US$2.80), and Beef Taco (IDR70K/US$4.90). The Aguachile is made of prawns with green chili-coriander citrus sauce and the Fish Antitaco is a barramundi stew with veggies, both of which are served on top of jicama tortillas, which is a low-carb option made from Mexican turnip. It’s our first time tasting this tortilla variant, and we think they were great with seafood fillings, not to mention that everything tasted fresh and flavorful during our visit.
However, the Beef Taco is undoubtedly the star out of the three, with tenderloin strips so rich with flavor and texturally firm yet somehow melts in your mouth — we simply can’t dish enough about those well-grilled slices. All of that is finely combined with a well-blended avocado sauce and served on top of their homemade corn tortilla. FYI, all the taco options are ordinarily served in three pieces, which kind of makes these prices more attractive.
Next, we tried Velvet’s Drowned Chicken Tacos (IDR70K/US$4.94), which is an entirely new dish for us. Golden crispy tacos are filled with chicken and drowned in a hearty spicy red sauce. We realized that though we are fans of Mexican cuisine, there’s evidently a lot more we have yet to discover. If, like us, you’re not big fans of crispy tacos, the preference might change upon tasting this dish. When you bite into them, the mildly soggy crisps are already infused with the fervent flavor of the sauce, and everything else just falls right into place. We know that sounds dreamy, and that’s because it kind of is.
On the other side of the creativity department at Velvet is Tatjana Stein, who co-created Lazy Cats Cafe, one of Ubud’s staple culinary destinations. In a conversation with Coconuts Bali, Tatjana shared how Velvet is the culmination of both her and Chef Hiram’s passion and desires — and brace yourselves if you’re a sucker for romance: the two are in love.
Every little detail in the restaurant seems to manifest from small parts of their characters, as we came to learn during our visit. Some of the art displayed around the restaurant are Tatjana’s original works, including the mannequins starkly decorated with Swarovski stones and the glittered artificial roses.
To be perfectly frank, we were completely immersed listening to Tatjana’s life story, which includes a career in the music industry back in her native Germany, where she started a company for artist development and brand marketing. When you get a chance to visit Velvet, we certainly hope you’d get to meet and have conversations with the people behind the place.
Anyway, we digress. In terms of alcohol, we only got to try their Classic mojito (IDR75K/US$5.24) during our visit, as we were a little under the weather that evening, but should we find ourselves in Ubud, we can’t wait to try their other cocktail offerings, and also reorder some of the dishes we’ve already mentioned (THAT BEEF!).
Dinner’s not over just yet, as we then tried Velvet’s Wilder Chicana (IDR130K/US$9). These consisted of tenderloin, paprika & prawn on skewers and served on the spot, which comes with three different sauces — avocado, spicy red, and pineapple salsa — as well as tortilla. Again, the grilled tenderloin is soft and bursting with flavor, while the prawn is just delish and the paprika is as juicy and sweet as you’d want it to be from a skewer.
The evening is incomplete without dessert, they say, and at Velvet we might have to agree. We were treated to three of their offerings, including the Castanyeta (IDR40K/US$2.82), a crispy fritter served with whipped cream and topped with cherry as well as slices of strawberries and oranges. Despite the whipped cream, it’s a relatively fresh and light dessert to satisfy sweet cravings.
The Chocolinas (IDR30K/US$2), a Mexican empanada filled with chocolate with powdered sugar sprinkled on top and served with a slice of dragon fruit, is a delicious sweet treat and marks our first time trying sweet empanada. While the strong crunch makes a good combination with the sweet chocolate, we don’t think this one’s particularly special.
Velvet’s Cream cheese dulce de leche (IDR50k/US$3.51) is something we’ll be coming back for. This one’s not on their menu, however, so hopefully they have it as a special during your visit. Following the savory and spicy flavors of the appetizers and main courses, the sweet comfort of this dessert is a fantastic way to end dinner, which left us more than satisfied.
While people might associate Mexican food with simpler meals, one ought to remember that there’s always different techniques involved in any cuisine. The grill here, we have to specify, is just excellent, alongside the memorable flavors that we tasted in all the dishes we tried. It’s a lovely spot for an evening out, be it early or late, and we’d go as far as to suggest that you should make room in your itinerary for Velvet while you’re in Ubud.
Velvet is at Jalan Raya Lungsiakan No. 64, Kedewatan, Ubud
Opens everyday, 3pm to midnight