About five years ago, Christian Tseng took over the running of a property — Amala Villas Ubud — as a tribute to his mother’s legacy. The late Tseng Ee-Cheng, founder of luxury travel agency Amala Destinations, built the villa and he felt compelled to keep the property going.

At the time a student at Nanyang Technological University doing a masters in film studies, he had planned to juggle classwork with his property management duties. “As my travels back and forth became more frequent, I decided I wanted to do something for myself,” says Tseng, who is the director of The Amala Collective. “Since I have always been interested in cocktails and bars, I decided to start a cocktail bar close to the villa.”

Together with a husband and wife team based in Bangkok—Anupas Premanuwat, who founded Ku bar and his wife Elaine Sun, who started wine bar Kang Kao—they co-founded Kawi Ubud, which focusses on fresh ingredients grown in the villa’s garden or sourced from farmers. Much of the harvest is used to create their own infusions, bitters and tinctures for their cocktails.

The wrench in the plan

Covid-19 scuppered the team’s plans to launch in April 2020, but instead of throwing in the towel and moving back to Singapore, Tseng decided to keep the holiday villa going. “Even though everything was unpredictable and impossible to plan, what was most important was the well-being of the staff and the upkeep of the property,” he says.

The nine staff were tasked to maintain the buildings and the grounds, and the focus was on training the team to provide everyone with new skills in preparation for when travellers could return to the
island. In the meantime, whenever travel restrictions eased, and he was allowed to fly back to Bali, Tseng would hold reservations-only sessions at Kawi Ubud.

Since March, as Bali has gradually relaxed its entry restrictions, an increasing number of foreign travellers are returning. However, instead of focussing solely on the tourist market, Tseng says he intends to future-proof his business by coming up with programmes that will appeal to local travellers, too.

“What I realised during the pandemic is that we had neglected the domestic market and suffered because of that. So, in conjunction with the foreseeable influx of foreign guests, I would like to introduce collaborations with local groups and communities that would interest Indonesians as well,” he says.

This is one of the reasons why he has gone to great lengths to cultivate a garden on the villa grounds to ensure access to a bounty of local flowers, herbs and botanicals for Kawi Ubud’s cocktail menu. He says, “It is a bar in Bali and for Bali, and I hope it can be something anyone associated with Bali can be proud of.”

Delicious initiatives

Also ongoing is a series of pop-up dining sessions with Anand Pereira of popular private dining kitchen Katong Diner, which will run till June. Pereira, also the managing director of Amala Destinations, will be handling travel itineraries while he is based in Ubud, and will incorporate ingredients from local producers such as dairy, cheese and meats into his menus.

After Pereira’s stint, there are plans to invite other chefs from the island to host such dinners. In addition, there will also be private dining plus bed and breakfast packages at the villa, for those who might want to enjoy an idyllic night in the Balinese countryside.

“To build a brand, I have to get our name out there, and I think it is easier to sell drinks and food compared to room stays. With F&B, we hope to attract people to come here and check out the place for themselves, and maybe stay here on their next trip.”

(Related: Why Ho Renyung’s favourite trip is an inwards retreat)