When it comes to the restaurant scene in Ubud, there seem to be certain commandments for newcomers these days. Thou shalt have plentiful vegan options. Thou shalt locally source your produce. Thou shalt transform a jackfruit into a sandwich. But all too often, we’ve felt like these prerequisites were, well, kind of a shtick to draw in the droves of ‘conscious’ tourists (read: have at least one dreadlock).
Then we met Zest.
This new spot, perched high atop an embankment looking out over the famed Campuhan ridge, doesn’t just fill their menu with mylks and smoothie bowls—they embody all the values that come along with local, healthy, clean eating. In short, Zest walks the walk and talks the talk. They’re the real deal.
Oh, and their food is really, really delicious, too. Good values in a restaurant are important, but great food is crucial. And Zest has got the goods. Here’s the deal: the Zest team cart in organic, in-season produce from head chef Simon Jongenotter’s food forest in Tabanan. Their (totally plant-based) menu is heavy on local staples like starfruit, soursop, moringa, cassava, kunyit and (of course) jackfruit, and they’re all used in creative, colorful ways with “Fuck, that’s good!” results.
The community-cooking concept extends beyond local fruits and vegetables, though. Zest’s space is set up like an ecstatic dancer’s paradise, with gorgeous sunlight from every corner, plenty of couches and open space, and bold, beautiful murals and statues everywhere you look—by their account, it’s all to foster an atmosphere where you feel comfortable to turn to the dude sitting next to you sipping a vegan hot chocolate (who, no doubt, has adopted an Indian name) and ask “Whatcha got there, friend?”
Zest has been holding morning dance parties (hello, 6am!), cooking classes and other events, too. It’s like the sexiest community center you’ve ever been to.
But back to the food. That’s why we’re all here, after all, right? Before you even taste the goodies on Zest’s menu, you see them. And they are gorgeous. Chef Jongenotter has created some works of art here, with bright colors and exotic food architecture. That’s saying something—we do live in the land of Instagram smoothie bowl porn. Check out the Dragon Fruit Carpaccio, topped with coconut, mango, almonds and cacao and don’t feel strange when you have a hard time eating it; it’s just too damn pretty (do eat it, though, it’s delicious). We loved Zest’s pancake stack as well, a tower of impossibly fluffy ‘cakes drizzled with thick, hot chocolate sauce and filled with fresh coconut and carmelized banana.
As Zest’s comfy atmosphere will likely have you chatting with neighbors, or contemplating life while looking out over Ubud, there’s a good chance you’ll suddenly realize you’ve been there for hours—and it’s time for lunch. We’re usually skeptical of ‘meat substitutes’ (let a veg be a veg!), but Zest’s Awakened Cowboy (no, not the name of an Ubud-only sex position… yet) changed our mind. It’s a ‘steak’ made of jackfruit and taro with a startingly satisfying taste, served with grilled tomatoes, creamy mushroom sauce and crispy cassava fries.
You can’t really go wrong with drinks at Zest. Their Rainforest Chai Latte was some of the best chai we’ve had outside of India, topped with cinnamon, coconut milk foam and freshly grated nutmeg. If you’re feeling bold—and it’s in season—go for their Durian/Coconut Milk smoothie. It’s all that yogurt-y, weirdly refreshing durian taste grounded by the nuttiness of coconut, and it knocked us right out. Zest also has all the healthy, colorful shots (turmuric, beet root and ginger abound) you could dream of, plus a handful of unique cocktails if you’re feeling more wild and less zen (go for the Arak Obama, with cacao infused arak, espresso and coconut nectar).
Zest caught us by surprise when it opened a few months ago, and we’ve already been back a few times since. If you’re shacked up in Ubud, chances are you’ve already been through—and if you’re living down South or you’re a tourist backpacking your way through the island, this spot has all Ubud bottled up. Go on, take a sip.