Deciding to close up shop is a difficult decision for any restaurateur; and for a restaurant that was serving hundreds of hungry patrons every day for years, it is likely a surreal moment.

Having hustled and bustled non-stop since they opened, Cuca in Jimbaran — run by the dynamic duo of Chef Kevin Cherkas and Virginia Entizne — saw their 200-hundred seat restaurant empty for the first time in eight years. It was a sobering  experience as the successful restaurateurs realised that clearly no business was safe from the lockdown-induced difficulties.

Photo courtesy of Cuca

Refusing to pause, the team at Cuca was determined to keep busy, innovating with  their very own hot sauce to give home-based diners a dab of the Cuca kitchen. But, it wasn’t enough to keep the stoves burning. So, Chef Kevin and Virginia took this as a sign for a forced sabbatical… 

Inspiration lies around every corner

As many of us have experienced, a calm mind is the perfect breeding ground for creativity. As such, the extended break from the kitchen had Chef Kevin bursting at the seams with new culinary creations. Now, eight months after closing up shop, the eclectic tapas-style restaurant has come back with an array of debut dishes set to excite diners new and old.

“It can take Kevin months just to come up with a single new dish,” shares Virginia. She explains that returning guests get upset if they replace something on the menu, so they make sure that anything new has to be up to scratch with whatever it replaces.

Photo courtesy of Cuca

However, with nothing else to do but create, Cuca has presented a menu with eight new dishes and two new cocktails. Inspired by global cuisine — a side-effect of the couple’s love for travel — the latest creations take diners on an exciting journey around the world, but, Chef Kevin reminds us: “In typical Cuca fashion, what you see is not what you get!”

Presenting the newbies

As always, it’s best to start with a drink. The two cocktails (also available as mocktails) are both incredibly fresh, surging with fruitiness and flavour. The deviously named Vitamin C is inspired by a 60’s Italian Campari Orange, but Cuca has fashioned a homemade Campari and squeezed sweet tangerines into this zesty libation. The next, perfect for island life, is Coconut Ice, a coconut water-based Margarita with a spritz of lime and citrus and rimmed with shredded coconut.

For those who know Cuca, dishes are presented tapas style, a great way to eat many little bites of many different flavours. Two new pop-in-your-mouth dishes include: Sticky Sushi, where Cuca reinvents this Japanese staple but makes it vegan! Chef Kevin takes eggplant through the same processes of unagi, the succulent grilled caramel scented eel, to top off sticky and crispy sushi rice, flawlessly substituting the taste and texture. Another pick and bite are the new Nachos, where Cuca presents salty chips splashed with bright Mexican flavours where every bite is slightly different than the last. Another small bite tapas is the new Chili Satay, Cuca’s take on Bali’s own ‘satay lilit’, made with spiced fish, shredded coconut and lemongrass.

On to some large-portion dishes. The first takes us to Greece, where Chef Kevin once again gives a creative vegan twist on a favourite: Moussaka. Roasted golden yam is spiced with Indonesian rendang gravy and a crispy, bubbling béchamel made with hand-squeezed coconut cream.

A personal favourite was a stunningly conceptualised Fish Tartare. Immaculately presented, with delicately sliced cucumbers depicting scales; underneath, a combination of finely ground fresh fish with a tomato-based sambal. This particular sambal very accurately embodies all the flavour you want from this Indonesian relish, but without the spice as to allow the freshness of the fish to come through – served alongside sheets of crispy squid dyed in its own ink. Another seafood favourite is the Spicy Crab, inspired by Singapore’s own Chilli Crab, Chef Kevin makes this dish with a soft shell crab instead, with a rich but mild chilli-tomato gravy and Asian basil.

Finally, Cuca takes us to the night markets of Taiwan with their Beef Bone & Marrow. The new dish, rich with marrow and gently cooked inside a succulent bone wrapped with honey glazed beef.

Bone & Marrow, photo courtesy of Cuca

We leave the best for last, literally. The Last Piece of Cake is the most technical dessert on the menu and is inspired by Chef Kevin’s own (painful) memories of never getting the last piece of cake as the youngest brother in his family. The Last Piece of Cake, the prized and cherished final slice — ever so sweet for the one who got it! This gluten-free twist on the lava cake presents subtle notes of banana; an intensely creamy texture; with a rich, molten chocolate centre.

Last Piece of Cake, Photo by NOW! Bali

The excitement of Cuca regulars at the thought of new dishes is matched by the (famous) exuberance of Chef Kevin and Virginia themselves. Bouncing around the re-opened restaurant has given the couple life, as they excitedly share and present these creative culinary concoctions to their patrons. The modest numbers seems not to phase them, as they welcome the thrill of happy diners once again.

For Bali residents and domestic tourists hoping to travel the world: a few bites of Cuca’s new menu may help to curb the craving! Cuca is open Lunch and Dinner, Friday – Sunday.

Cuca Restaurant Bali
Jalan Yoga Perkanthi, Jimbaran

Edward Speirs

Edward Speirs

Edward, or Eddy as he prefers to be called, is the Managing Editor of NOW! Bali and host of the NOW! Bali Podcast. He enjoys photography, rural travel and loves that his work introduces him to people from all walks of life.