High tea in Bali, in the presence of royalty?.
We’ve wandered into popular eatery Biku, lured by the prospect of an Asian High Tea, which, we’ve heard is quite a feast.
Visitors to this comfortable restaurant, strewn with fine Indonesian antiques, are united in their quest to enjoy tasty tucker at moderate prices, in the heart of Petitenget, north of Seminyak.
And even though it’s a little incongruous to be ordering sandwiches, tea and scones on a steamy day in the tropics, we quickly realise we’ve made the right, delicious, decision.
To add to the occasion, the restaurant’s friendly owner in the corner smiling our way is actually a Balinese Princess.
Formely Jane Gillespie, these days this Aussie expat and mother of three is called Asri Kerthyasa, having married the Prince of Ubud more than three decades ago. She’d met her handsome prince – Tjokorda Raka Kerthyasa – during a Bali holiday back in 1977.
They married the following year. At the time it was a controversial match, as the Balinese royals had expected their boy to marry a local woman.
Gradually, though, her in-laws came to accept she was here to stay.
And though her life is largely informal, there are times when she’s required to dress up and partake in the ceremonies, which are such an important part of the Balinese tradition.
“When I moved here, Ubud was a tiny village, with no electricity, no anything!” Asri recounts with a giggle.
With her warm, laid-back manner, she’s a little more approachable than your average princess. And there’s not a minder in sight! Just a few attentive waiters seeking her guidance for a customer who wants to buy a red floral crockery set she’s spotted on a shelf across the room.
A qualified pre-school teacher, Asri recounts how as a newlywed, she taught some English for a while, then started a local losmen.
“Over the next few years, as we had our three children, we went back to Australia quite often.
“I’d been running the hotel for about 14 years then we decided to lease it out. I thought I’d just retire – I was looking forward to that! But then I got really bored.”
Then she and one of her sons decided to start a tea-room. “I could never get a decent cup of tea around here!” she giggles. “So we wanted good tea, and comfort food at reasonable prices.”
She hunted extensively for the right location. Finally, she found an antique store for sale, on the site of a 150-year-old wooden house transported from Java.
She named her tearoom Biku after an antique statue that came with the joint.
The doors opened six years ago, and Asri hasn’t looked back. Aside from the tasty Asian-fusion comfort food, patrons can buy second-hand books, crockery,and gifts; there’s even a tarot card reader on hand every day and regular live music.
The Asian High Teas are often booked out in advance: gaggles of pals from across Bali will arrange to hook up to enjoy these feasts.
For about nine bucks, you get to python down all manner of joys, surrounded by bejeweled, batik-strewn folk of all nationalities, many of them expats.
“Running this place, I’m busier now than I was when I was running a hotel!” says Asri. “But I really do love it.”
BIKU is open 8am to 11pm daily. JL RAYA PETITENGET NO 888 KEROBOKAN KELOD.