Yak Magazine, Jun/Jul/Aug 2014
Ondy Sweeting takes the family to a place she’d rather not talk about...
Some stories should not be told, and this is one of them. However, in the interests of professionalism (the boss told me to do it), I am sharing what deserves to remain a well-kept secret.
Zibiru is a gorgeous neighborhood restaurant, tucked away discreetly in Jl. Drupadi, not so far from the madding crowds, but far enough. It is a favourite haunt for those who have become acquainted with the fabulous food, the intimate atmosphere and the genuine hospitality.
“Sweet” doesn’t begin to conjure the pocketed garden eatery that exists less than a metre from the tiny connecting road that runs between two major thoroughfares; Oberoi Road and Jl Dhyana Pura.
Formerly a Viennese café, it retains a home-style charm furnished in shabby-chic Balinese furniture and an upstairs/downstairs layout that allows for privacy and intimacy. It’s perfectly laid out for both romance and celebration.
Chef and co-owner, Luigi Calcagno can really cook. With a made-from-scratch approach, including fresh organic produce from Zibiru’s “environmentally positive” farm.
The lights are twinkling and an acoustic jazz band is setting up in the garden when we arrive for dinner. Luigi has only just been told we’re arriving but he is still cool and charming as he greets us. We choose a family-style table in the garden and greet some friends who are also having dinner there. Regulars, and there are many of those.
A glance at the menu tells a story of regional Italian cuisine that includes hand-made pasta, a host of appetisers and salads and some main courses that promise more substantial and equally appealing offerings. It’s a fairly comprehensive menu and filled with temptation . . . you want it all. Three generations of us are having dinner together and everyone is happy. Makes a nice change.
Luigi takes over and hardly raises a sweat, playing chef and host with equal amounts of charm. There is a really personal feeling about Zibiru, and we start with appetisers which he chooses.
These range from a fabulous fresh tuna tartare, shaped as a heart and mingled with avocado and mango, a perfectly textured square of Parmagiana Gratin, grilled eggplant layered with home-made tomato sauce and topped with mozzarella, it is one of the best I have ever eaten. Alongside we also have a gorgeous basket filled with tiny prawns, calamari rings and baby octopus, Fritturina, fried to perfection with a delicate batter coating. Finally we are served a selection of cured meats, Tagliare, served on a board that comes with slivers of first-rate parmesan dipped in a tiny bowl of honey, there wasn’t much left of any of it.
In typical Italian style the main courses were three pastas together with a snapper dish that was on the specials board that night; stunning white fillets of fish dressed with artichoke and potato, peas and mint.
Delicate little gnocchi, Gnochhi Norcina was dressed with Italian sausage and a creamy black pepper sauce while hand rolled Strozzapreti Ortolano was simply dressed with a balanced sauce of Italian bacon, cherry tomatoes, zucchini and basil thrown together with a fragrant olive oil. The Caramelle was a big hit, little pasta bows filled with ricotta cheese and spinach in a sage butter sauce.
The pasta dishes were all wonderfully light and Luigi points out to us that eating pasta is actually good for you. Mind this carbophobes. “Pasta is the most well balanced meal. It contains 100 -120 grams of carbohydrate mingled with protein and vegetables. Italians are the second longest living people on the planet, there’s a reason for that,” Luigi says.
Born in Rome, trained in classical French cuisine and with experience in Italy, New York and Brazil, he has 18 year’s experience as a chef and clearly knows how to cook. The French influence can be seen in many of the dishes, although predominantly Italian there is a finesse here that turns Nonna into Una Donna di alta classe, to mix my genders.
Before dessert there is one more thing that has to be said; Luigi and his silent partner Giotto, are not only incredibly charming, they are also very handsome. While this shouldn’t matter, well . . .
Desserts get the girls squealing, in a good way. Chocolate fondant cake is the way to my girl’s heart and this one did the trick, beautifully; another heart-shaped creation that oozed gooey chocolate on to the crisp biscuit and creamy vanilla ice cream beside it. An open apple tart topped with caramelised custard and to really sink the diet a dark chocolate mousse.
“This is heaven!” shouted the young diners as we fell into a pleasant dreaminess accompanied by the standing bass, the steel guitar and the little drum set playing classic jazz tunes beneath the starry sky.
Zibiru has its fans, many of them, but while it is well priced and seductive with great food and charming hosts, I am a little nervous that once the secret is out, I’ll have to fight for a reservation. Some stories should not be told.