It’s Wood-Fired Product-Inspired Fun At The Pumping Mason Bali With Chef Ben Cross

Mason Bali kitchen

“It’s just fun, mate,” Mason Bali’s chef Ben Cross shrugs when we ask him how he summons the energy and enthusiasm to run the hippest (and probably busiest) eatery on the blissed-out Indonesian island. “We simply love what we do,” he adds contentedly in a soft Australian drawl tempered by his years as an itinerant chef in foodie havens like New York and Barcelona.  

Đọc bài viết bằng Tiếng Việt

And it’s not just his accent that’s changed. The culinary philosophy Ben Cross developed along the way has evolved too. Now, it’s all about cooking with the utmost simplicity. “Mason Bali is all about good products, cooked on the grill,” Ben smiles. “There’s a nakedness to this style of food,” he says, “because there’s nothing to hide behind – it has to be good.”

Plates made in Bali
“We make our own charcuterie and cheese, our plates were custom made, and in the construction of Mason Bali a lot of the bricks were custom made.”

Mason Bali On Record

Wood-fired anything is a trend that refuses to abate. “I’d say it’s because of the flavor – food cooked on a grill is just super flavorsome, and that’s probably tied into our human DNA,” he muses.

And everyone’s in love with his version of it. 

Mason Bali opened in 2019, and this July and August they’ve had two record months. Clearly, Mason is a serious operation. “We have about 120 seats,” Ben Cross confirms, “and each night we turn over the tables three times.”

Coolrestaurant bali
Mason Bali during another intense evening service. “We have around 120 seats and we turn them over three times a night,” Chef Ben Cross tells us.

Putting The World’s Best Chefs’ Knowledge To Good Use At Mason Bali

But Chef Ben Cross means it when he says it’s fun. He fell in love with the chef life deeply. So, back in the day he’d stagiaire (take unpaid internships) in restaurants around the world – a couple of weeks here, a couple of weeks there – just to soak in the knowledge he could access working for some of the world’s best chefs. 

Mason Bali cured meats
The Mason Bali team checking out the housemade cured meats.

“I’d jump into these kitchens and check out what they were doing. There were restaurants in New York. That place is like its own beast – New York City pumps and they’re hard kitchens.” 

“One memorable place there was Tertulia, a restaurant in New York’s West Village. It has a wood-fired concept. Seeing how they could run an entire menu off their small grill was amazing,” he remembers. 

Team at Mason Bali
The kitchen at Mason Bali.

At Can Fabes, a three Michelin star restaurant 50km north of Barcelona. It was at the vanguard of Catalan cuisine for three decades: “A guy would come in from mushroom picking in the mountains and drop his produce off. Another guy would come in with a just-killed chicken still with its feathers on. And it was amazing to be in such a beautiful restaurant that was a mix of old and modern.”

Later on, he worked at Rockpool in Sydney, when it was in the World’s 50 Best list. He opened a restaurant in Spain with Julian Lennon after they met by chance at a BBQ. And he spent an extended period at Ku De Ta, the Bali restaurant, beachclub and bar.

It’s knowledge he’s been putting to good use at Mason Bali. 

Mason Bali’s hand-made filo pastry with spinach and housemade ricotta.

The Menu At Mason Bali

The menu leads with housemade pickles and cheeses and cured meats. And then offers breads and dips, small plates and then sharing plates from the wood-fired oven and grill, with a plethora of sides and some punchy desserts. 

“That’s a tough one,” he frowns when we ask him where he’d sit and what he’d eat if he were a guest at Mason Bali

“I think I’d sit in the courtyard out back,” he finally decides. “And I’d order a mix – the house-made charcuterie, the smoked tuna, dips and flatbread…just snacking.” 

It’s an answer which ties back to how they took the name Mason in the first place. “One of the partners came up with it, and straight away we were like ‘yep’ – we make our own charcuterie and cheese, our plates were custom made, and in the construction of Mason Bali a lot of the bricks were custom made. So Mason, a name which connects to the idea of an artisanal place, just fit.”  

Wood fired oven bali
Cooking up Mason Bali’s product-first dishes in the wood-fired oven.

“Smashing A Few Good Bottles” At Mason Bali

“And we’d smash a few good bottles of wine too,” Ben adds about his own dream dinner at Mason Bali.

There’s more good wines around in Bali than ever. That’s partly thanks to Mosto Bali. The Bali-based natural wine pioneers, widely regarded as Indonesia’s first natural wine bar, are importers too.

Mosto have a hip little wine bar and eatery less than three kilometers away in Bali’s Canggu, the sleepy coastal village turned epicenter of island cool. Mason Bali gets lots of bottles from them, like their cloudy and aromatic Italian pet-nat, Costadilà IGT Bianco Colli Trevigiani.

There’s a long list of cocktails too – signatures like their Margarita A La Mason with tequila, lime and pomegranate and their Jungle Bird with dark rum, campari, agave and pineapple. Added to that, there are sections dedicated to Negronis, Martinis, and Gin & Tonics.

Bali cocktail
There’s a long list of cocktails too – signatures like their Margarita A La Mason with tequila, lime and pomegranate and their Jungle Bird with dark rum, campari, agave and pineapple.

Drinks aside, on the product-first Mason Bali menu right now, he’s particularly excited about the giant prawns from Papua that they’ve added to their specials that soon will take a place on the main menu. “Oh man, those Papua giant prawns are such a beautiful product,” he nods happily. 

At Mason, Ben Cross, originally, wanted to create a menu full of staples – ‘wood roasted’ lamb shoulder with cumin rub, house yogurt and salsa verde, and a charcoal chicken dish with rosemary, lemon, aioli and jus – “stuff that’s reliably always on the menu”. Rarely a product as special as the Papuan prawns will come along that goes from the specials menu to the main menu. 

Wine in Bali
“And we’d smash a few good bottles too,” Ben says about a night at Mason Bali.

What’s Next For Chef Ben Cross And Mason Bali?

Besides the new products he’s discovering, Chef Ben Cross is excited about the upcoming opening of Mason Uluwatu, Mason Bali’s second installment. But, after Mason Ulutau, in November, they’ll open Barbera – an 80-seat bistro-style wine and cocktail-focused spot “that’ll be a bit more polished than Mason Bali.” 

Chef Ben Cross
“Fuck this place is cool and it has a vibe.” Chef Ben Cross (pictured) at Mason Bali.

But back to the original question of how he maintains the passion for this in such a tranquil setting where you could easily while away your days more pleasurably on the beach or in the surf. “You know, I still walk into Mason and think fuck this place is cool and it has a vibe.”

And he’s right. Mason Bali is cool. And it does have a vibe.


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