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Ready to Fly: The Beach House, Gili Trawangan and a Ko-Ko-Mo Future

Published 01 February 2009   

FRV takes another look at Gili T and the Beach House’s new Ko Ko Mo restaurant and resort.

Text by David Trauts

As the boat smashed through each wave crest and the monster engine roared, bottoming out in the swell troughs gasping for water, Gili T came closer and closer into sight. The trip to this point had been an adventure of sorts; from the buffeted Fokker propeller flight in high winds from Bali, the winding road up the coast of Lombok to the departure beach, the large swell and the looming beachbreaks yet to be breached on the island itself, just getting to the Gilis that wintery day in January was an adventure. Casting my mind back some four months earlier, to my first visit in the height of summer, and the contrast was total; clear blue skies, smooth waters and a welcoming demeanour, creating a juxposition to this adventurous wet season welcoming.

We were on the Beach House speedboat, after getting a ride in the Beach House vehicle from Mataram, and now greeting Di Somerton on the beach directly in front of her and one of her partners, Matthew Blundell’s, Beach House on Gili Trawangan, the largest of the three Gili Islands.

The Beach House is somewhat a phenomenon on Gili T (the name locals affectionately call Gili Trawangan). In just five years, The Beach House has grown and developed organically from a holiday house built between friends to a tourism facility, the envy of most on this secluded and infrastructure-starved island, or anywhere else in the archipelago for that matter.

Blundell has a strong pedigree in the restaurant business as a trained chef and setting up, running and eventually selling a number of restaurants in his hometown of Sydney, Australia. From 1991 to 2003, his restaurants included Pegrums in Paddington, a couple of bistro venues in Bondi and after he sold his last, Kentra in Double Bay, he took a year’s sabbatical planning to practice his golf swing. However, recieving a phone call that same year, 2003, changed things totally. The call was from the owner of the new Beach House in Canggu, Bali, asking him to help set up the kitchen of the now popular Echo Beach sited cafe. “The offer was too good to refuse,” says Blundell, and he and his wife moved to Bali. “After consulting on the Echo Beach House cafe,” he contiunues, “the owner of that and I formed a partnership in the Wrapper Snapper restaurant in Oberoi. Next thing I knew, we were partners in the land here on Gili T and building a holiday house.”

At that stage, and only a very short time ago, Gili T didn’t have much more than white beaches, beautiful clean ocean waters and backpackers drifting in and out of homestays and diving camps. Almost no fresh water, scant electicity, no roads, but an incredibly laid-back lifestyle that young travellers were beginning to flock to. Obviously, the newcomers saw an opportunity. “My business partner and I eventually went our separate ways and my wife and I, with other Beach House Resort partners, began to develop more accommodation options behind the first villa we’d built. We had people continually asking us to rent that villa so we began to build more rooms, small bungalows and the restaurant ,right on the beach. Last year we aquired the property next door and built a new swimming pool and offices.”

Matthew Blundell is no slouch. With a pioneering attitude, and without doubt about the need for a slice of the Indiana Jones in the equation, he and a handful of others on Gili T have created an idyllic way of life forthe mselves and the island’s multitude of visitors. Every single piece of construction has been boated in from Lombok. It is a logistical nightmare in the making, but as Blundell says, “it’s just a question of organisation”. To begin with, at The Beach House, fresh water is brought in from Lombok by boat every day to feed showers and the only freshwater swimming pools on Gili T, which is pumped to the complex through a pipe 200m offshore. The majority of the electricity is supplied by a large generator and, on average, only 20% of the resort’s total usage comes from PLN, the government supplier. All food stuffs are boated over from Lombok and laundry is washed at their specialised facility, also on Lombok. It’s Robinson Crusoe in the modern world but there are benefits for everyone involved.

We stayed in the big villa, as they call it; the first villa they built as a holiday house, and one of the best accomodation options on the entire island. The four-bedroom villa is private and has plenty of space, with palimanan stone features and air-conditioned bedrooms, a fully-equipped kitchen and living area. Each bedroom can be rented separately and the large, freshwater swimming pool is a total luxury on this water-starved tropical island. The Beach House restaurant is sited right on top of the beach and serves tasty Aussie cafestyle fare and with Matthew’s involvement in exporting Indonesian seafood all over the region, the sumptious seafood BBQ grill on offer every evening, displayed roadside in front of the restaurant, is one of the best and freshest seafood dining experiences going. His restaurant definitely shines in this part of the world.

Joining the stable of Gili T ventures, the Beach House Resort partners and some close friends have already developed another new concept for the island; ko-ko-mo, a new 11 villa luxury resort and fine-dining restaurant about 200 metres along the beach, west of The Beach House. Norma Swanepoel, Matthew’s mother, is a reknowned Sydney interior designer and collaborated with the architects and builders to design and furnish ko-ko-mo. The villas and restaurant are due to open in mid-February and Matthew wants to try his hand again at a fine-dining restaurant. “I’m five years away from fine-dining I want to get involved again,” he told me as we walked through the job site which will soon be the 60 seat ko ko mo restaurant. The concept is simple; the best food, service and restaurant experience on Gili T. Since the coast-hugging track that circumnavigates the island cuts straight through the middle, the restaurant is separated with 30 seats on the beachside and 30 on the kitchen side. White linen and silver service are on the agenda and Blundell will be on the floor and in the kitchen. “There are more and more people arriving to Gili T requiring better standards, quality and service. We plan on giving it to them and not just in a local sense; we want people to be impressed no matter where they are from and where we are.” In a sense, they are trying to create one of the world’s greatest, and maybe one of the most difficult to get to, destination restaurants on the planet. But they have one major trick up their sleeve; arriving on that white sandy beach on a beautiful speed boat, booking into a luxurious, but not pretentious, resort and dining in what could be one of the country’s finest restaurants does have a certain hedonistic, ‘I love life to the fullest’ ring to it.

The growth and potential of this idyllic isle, baking in the Indonesian sun, is nothing less than expansive. Over the past ten years the number of arrivals has gone from almost zero to thousands per year and people from all walks of life are now heading to Gili T. Just as what happened over the years to the Kuta and Seminyak areas in Bali, both the low and highend will have their place on this island – and for the betterment of all. As Matthew showed me the new menu that he’ll soon be serving at the ko ko mo restaurant, which is as complete and exciting as any in the country, I felt part of something once again that had wings of its own and was ready to fly. This is the future of Gili Trawangan.