12 Dec 2016
“What, we have to wade in the sea to get to the restaurant?” we ask in a panic, mentally trashing that floaty dress we’d originally planned to wear for dinner later. “Yes,” says our friendly Banyan Tree Bintan guide calmly. “We’re taking a traditional Indonesian pompong boat to the kelong”. Thank god we brought slippers, we think. But we needn’t have fretted. At 6.45pm sharp on the beach, we are presented with stylish black flip-flops. What appears to be a glorified raft made from driftwood and fitted with a small motor putters nearby. We slip on life jackets and stumble clumsily into shin-deep water, unwisely wearing those flip-flops instead of going barefoot like the rest of the group. Because one of the rubber thongs gets stuck in the sand. “Eep!” we yelp unglamorously, leg hovering mid-air. The poor Banyan Tree F&B director reaches down and fishes it out of the salty depths for us. The boat is flimsy and we are instructed to split up and sit on both sides of it to balance the weight. We cling to its railings like kiasu aunties as it bobs around gustily. There’s a thrilling element of danger. But the ride ends quickly as the hotel’s recently built kelong is but a mere 200 metres away from its private beachfront.
12 Dec 2016
The dining 'room' and kitchen
The neat wooden house on stilts is bathed in the warm glow of orange lamps. Now, the only type of kelong we’ve been to is the rickety sort with half rotting wood. Where you avoid its greasy kitchen and pray you don't have to use the loo — often just a hole in the floor. Speaking of loos, there isn’t one here. “If you have to go, you must take the boat back to the shore,” says our guide breezily. Now he tells us. But, boy, this kelong is posh. There’s a pleasant smell of new wood on the smooth planks. A long table is beautifully set with crockery, candles, napkins and steel teapots. As we settle comfortably onto a throw cushion and gaze at the rippling waves, a server offers us chilled chardonnay. Meanwhile, the kitchen at the back is large and professional looking for a floating hut. It is also spotlessly clean and manned by a small army of cooks tonight, headed by Banyan Tree’s executive chef. Our favourite bit: a charcoal-fuelled barbecue pit on which our fish, harvested from the kelong’s nets, smoulders. After draining our glass of wine, dinner is served.
12 Dec 2016
There is a choice between two similar seafood-centric nine-course set meals (from $95 a pax). First, an array of appetisers. A pale, less spicy version of Otak Otak wrapped in coconut leaves. Springy Steamed Sea Snails with ginger and garlic, plus a potful of Clear Fish Soup scented with curry leaves. The waiters diligently fill our glasses and clear our dirty plates. Next, a whole Grilled Rock Fish smothered in sticky, sweet black sauce, along with Stone Crabs bathed in Chilli Gravy. There’s also crispy Ayam Goreng and a lovely dessert of Palu Butung, traditional Indonesian rice pudding thickened with creamy coconut milk and cooked with steamed banana and pandan syrup. As we eat, a quartet of musicians complete with a double bass performs under the stars. The local lads have smooth vocals, segueing effortlessly from The Beatles’ ‘Eight Days a Week’ to the mandarin classic ‘The Moon Represents My Heart’ by Teresa Teng. And we’re pleased to say we didn’t have to disrupt this magical meal by having to take the boat back to visit the loo even once.
A kelong dinner at Banyan Tree Bintan starts from $95 per pax (minimum of one pax, maximum of 16). A Sea View Villa starts at about $564 a night. Guests of sister property Angsana Bintan next door, where a room starts at $192 a night, can also dine at the kelong. Call +62 770 693 100 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more info.