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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Restaurant Review: Sabrosa, Jakarta

Oct. 22 (Jakarta Globe) As someone who has spent my life around restaurant kitchens, I can’t help but be enthused when I meet chefs who are truly passionate about food. Abdul Halim Hafiz, head chef at the recently opened Sabrosa, fits that bill.

First, some quick background on the restaurant itself. Sabrosa only started serving customers at the end of September and is still in its soft opening phase as Abdul finalizes suppliers and his menu. The restaurant is owned by Aprilia Djojorahardjo, Lisa Tumbelaka and Lonny R Mahendra, all of whom are newcomers to the hospitality trade. They know what they want though and, with the help of Abdul and experienced restaurant manager Agus Permana S, look likely to succeed in their venture.

The decor is modern/elegant, with soft lighting, inconspicuous abstract paintings and pots of white orchids throughout the room. The mocktails we sampled were delicious so I expect the cocktails will be also, and the preliminary wine list features offerings from around the world. Add to that an attentive and knowledgeable staff, and I can easily see Sabrosa becoming the next place to see and be seen by Jakarta’s beautiful people.

But all of that pales beside the true star of the show — Abdul’s food! I was delighted to see a selection of tapas on the menu and my colleague Lisa and I ordered three to begin — garlic chicken, mushroom with garlic and seafood croquette. Tapas are Spanish-style nibbles and each was merely a few bites, but what delicious bites they were, with delicate details that were truly impressive. Tiny mushroom caps were filled with garlic pesto and topped with roasted cherry tomatoes, each set off with a tiny deep-fried mint leaf. Fine strips of chicken breast were wrapped about slivers of zucchini and fresh thyme with slices of roast garlic alongside, and a seafood-filled potato croquet was served beside a barely cooked piece of salmon atop a shelled shrimp.

We decided to share a main and chose the grilled fillet of Norwegian salmon with crispy skin. To accompany the dish, we were offered a choice of fried or roast potato and salad or steamed vegetables. The salmon was served on a bed of potato mash with al dente asparagus spears, roast garlic cloves (Abdul, like myself, seems to be a fan of the pungent bulb) and a light drizzle of balsamic vinegar and oil. We had chosen roast potato, which came as a rosti-style cake of interwoven potato strips, and a salad of assorted baby leaves. The fish was perfectly cooked and the simple presentation allowed each individual flavor to be appreciated in its entirety.

Lisa suggested sharing a creme brulee for dessert, a suggestion I resisted until told by a staff member that Sabrosa’s brulee was well worth sampling. I usually avoid this most cliched of ’70s-style sweets, but Abdul’s dessert was indeed a unique twist. Rather than the usual ramekin of custard topped with caramelized sugar, we were served a bowl with the custard resting in a red berry coulis, topped with a latticework of spun sugar and a scoop of refreshing strawberry sorbet.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that Abdul studied and trained in Jakarta, although he has since worked in Jeddah, Bahrain and on an exclusive private island in the Seychelles. Jakarta diners should be pleased he has returned.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Restaurant Review: Royal Kitchen, Bellagio Mall, Jakarta

Oct. 15 (Jakarta Globe) I’ve found that a good standard for judging the quality of any ethnic restaurant is to be aware of how many diners of that ethnicity frequent the establishment. If the Chinese restaurant you’ve chosen has no Chinese diners, it’s probably best to go elsewhere for your dim sum fix. With that in mind, I was pleased that every table except mine at The Royal Kitchen Indian Restaurant & Bar was primarily, if not totally, occupied by Indian diners.

I was not surprised, however, as the first signs we were in for an authentic Indian repast came when my friend John and I arrived at the restaurant. We were shown into the room past a small shrine featuring a statue of Ganesha — the Hindu elephant-headed god — and bearing sweet-smelling incense and offerings. The ambience continued in the dining room where soft lighting and mellow Indian music set off silver settings on embroidered cloths atop comfortable dark wooden furniture.

We started our meal with tandoori grilled chicken drumsticks, tender enough that the meat fell from the bone and complemented perfectly by the creamy mint sauce our attentive waiters brought to the table. We followed that with Mutton Rogan Josh, as well as a dish of fresh mushroom and chopped spinach flavored with garlic called Khumb Aur Kachi Mirch Ka Masala, dhal and a selection of breads and steamed basmati rice.

Many Western diners prefer lamb to mutton, but my Indian friends who cook taught me long ago that mutton, or even goat, is a much tastier option, providing it is given slow cooking time to make it tender. Restaurant owner Deepak Malik told us the Rogan Josh was simmered for at least four hours, which resulted in soft, succulent cubes of meat in the thick, rich tomato and onion gravy. The naan, with plenty of garlic and fresh parsley baked in, was the ideal accompaniment to scoop up the gravy and light, fluffy Basmati rice. The vegetable dish was also excellent, with thick pieces of mushroom blending well with the chopped spinach and spices.

Although the silver dishes didn’t look to hold a lot when brought to the table, there was more than ample food and it was all we could manage to share a Matka Kulfi for dessert — a homemade ice cream flavored with saffron and pistachio. Served in a tiny clay pot, it had a sweet saffron overtaste and a faint flavor and texture of pistachio. The delightful presentation continued with our coffees, which our waitress poured from silver cup to dish and back again to mix the coffee and sweetener before we drank. The small cup of sweet coffee rounded out our meal well.

The Royal Kitchen also serves a Chinese menu, but I would definitely recommend going with the Indian specialties. The restaurant serves a lunch buffet Monday through Thursday for only Rp 55,000 a head, plus tax and service, or a corporate brunch on Friday and Sunday brunch for Rp 65,000 plus, plus. A second Royal Kitchen also opened recently in Balikpapan.

The Royal Kitchen Indian Restaurant & Bar
Bellagio Boutique Mall, ground floor
16 Jl. Kawasan
Mega Kuningan Barat Kav. 3-5
South Jakarta
Tel. 021 3002-9975

Monday, October 12, 2009

Book Review: Jakarta Inside Out, by Daniel Ziv

Oct. 12 (Jakarta Globe) In his introduction to “Jakarta Inside Out,” author Daniel Ziv writes that he dreamt up the book as “a love letter” to the city he has “been proud to call home for nearly a decade.” It reads as a letter to a longstanding love — not the naive, starry-eyed infatuation one feels for a new amour but the warts-and-all, love-you-despite-your-faults (and sometimes because of them) type of love.

As a resident of Jakarta for a little over a year myself, Ziv’s book made me reassess this capricious city with a more tolerant eye. He sugarcoats little, makes fun of much and brilliantly illustrates the contradictions one constantly finds here with the many beautiful photographs contained in the book. Each picture here is worth a thousand words, if not more, from the skeletal figure of a slum dweller in the doorway of his shanty house to images of the vibrant, affluent business area and homes shown elsewhere.

Ziv, who has an MA in Southeast Asian Studies from London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, writes, “Jakarta is not what you’d call a beautiful place. It’s a chaotic maze of low-lying slums, gleaming skyscrapers and imposing toll roads enveloped in a gigantic cloud of pollution and trapped in hopeless gridlock.” If the mark of true genius is that someone agrees with you, I have to proclaim Ziv a genius.

The chapters of the book are arranged alphabetically, ranging from “Asongan” to “Wartel and Warnet,” and are also cross-referenced. There are no entries for X, Y or Z obviously, and Q and V also missed the cut.

The descriptions are humorous (bajaj are “undoubtedly the cockroach of the automotive world”) and sometimes cynical (Jakarta’s banks “tend to resemble laundromats more than prudent financial institutions”), but always worth reading. I am obviously not the only person to think so as this is basically a revamped and updated fourth printing of the second edition, put out because the last printing has been out of stock for about a year.

Ziv said the layout has changed significantly in this first self-published printing, with 20 percent of the content updated or new, and 40 percent of the photos new. The book also features suggestions of the Top 10 Alternative Things to Do in Jakarta — well worth reading if you’ve fallen into a rut in your time here.

“The emphasis is basically that it’s been refreshed,” Ziv said. “It would have taken a year and a half to rewrite the whole thing.”

He does plan a complete rewrite sometime in the near future but for now needed to get the popular guide back on the shelves.

One of my favorite characterizations is in the chapter on “Bule” (foreigners). “Some bule are arrogant, bossy or patronizing,” Ziv writes. “Others are politically correct to the extreme, culturally oversensitive or just totally neurotic.”

Adrian Darmono — a friend whom Ziv describes as a “cutting-edge Indonesian designer, blogger and Certified Bule Observer” — contributes a chapter titled “You Know You’re a Bule with a Mission if You ... .” The cutting but all-too-true examples include “Rant about how Nike exploits its factory workers in Indonesia by paying them $35 a month,” closely followed by “Rave about how you can have breakfast in Indonesia for 35 cents.”

Benny and Mice, of comic strip and book fame, have contributed hilarious caricatures of types found within the community. These range from the local neighborhood thug to the society lady with her Imelda Marcos-style hair.

I took Ziv’s book with me on a visit to the United States last month and found it a great primer and starting point for those who know nothing about Jakarta. I’ve found it equally good for those of us who live here, in providing an alternate look at the city’s foibles and making its many frustrations amusing again.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Restaurant Review: Capocaccia, Pacific Place, Jakarta

Oct. 08 (Jakarta Globe) When I started reviewing restaurants for this paper, I asked many friends for recommendations, and the name Capocaccia kept coming up. Having finally sampled its food, ambience and service, I can understand why.

A colleague and I took a short stroll from our Plaza Semanggi office to Capocaccia at Pacific Place and arrived suitably hungry. The restaurant bills itself as a gourmet panini bar and I was very much looking forward to some European-style delicatessen treats.

After a busy day, we were both ready for a cocktail so ordered the Martini Assoluto for Wendy and a mojito for myself, with mineral water alongside. The martini was visually stunning, with orange, strawberries, kiwi, grapes and apple all visible in the glass, but lacked in the way of taste. My mojito, though not as pretty, was a well-mixed classic, though perhaps a little sweet (and Indonesians do seem to prefer more sweetness in food and drink).

The menu itself was full of products I constantly search the city’s stores for, not all of which I have managed to find. Buffalo mozzarella, arugula, Culatello (Parma ham), Bresaola (spiced cured beef), smoked tuna, swordfish and salmon — the list goes on. Restaurant manager Nugi Adhiat Nugraha told us almost all the products, especially the meats, were sourced from Europe.

We began with a Bresaola salad of spiced cured beef, arugula, mushroom, corn and shaved parmigiano, served with char-grilled panini. Nugi explained that the dish was intended to be eaten with the fingers and demonstrated pouring oil and balsamic vinegar on our plates first to dip the salad ingredients in. I was surprised to see corn kernels as an ingredient and wondered how easy they would be to eat by hand with any sense of delicacy, but found it easy enough to do if I used a piece of beef as a wrapper. I’m a huge fan of bread with balsamic and good olive oil anyway, so the addition of the tasty meat, cheese and vegetables added to my pleasure in this dish.

Capocaccia is best known for its sandwiches so we opted for a Caleno, with raw ham, deer milk cheese, arugula, tomato and truffle oil; and a Rosolino, with turkey breast, arugula, tomato and tartare sauce. Both were served on fresh bread rolls baked on the premises and with a satisfyingly crisp crust, and with a copious amount of the main ingredients. The cheese in the former was rich and creamy and the truffle oil gave an earthy flavor.

We were pleased to have chosen a salad to begin as bread, even when it is this good, is very filling and neither of us had room left for dessert. Had we managed it, though, Capocaccia offers the Italian classics of Panna Cotta, Tiramisu and Tartalino, along with fresh fruit salad, with or without ice cream.

The interior of the restaurant has two levels with a long and well-stocked bar on the ground floor, in addition to tables outdoors for those who, like us, enjoy watching Jakarta’s passing parade. We dined early in the evening and the music being played was mellow jazz selections, but Capocaccia also features DJs on Wednesday and Friday nights. The kitchen closes at 11 p.m. on weekdays and at midnight on weekends but the bar stays open late.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Restaurant Review: Stammtisch at the Tavern Pub, Aryaduta Hotel Jakarta

Oct. 01 (Jakarta Globe) There’s something about being told items are forbidden that can make them all the more tempting. In this predominantly Muslim country, pork and alcohol fits the bill. To sample both, one can fly off to Hindu Bali, where roast suckling pig is a favored delicacy, or instead take a taxi to the Aryaduta Hotel Jakarta, which hosts a German stammtisch each Monday in its basement Tavern Pub.

Resident hotel manager Robert Kunz, a native of Germany, says stammtisch translates as gathering, and is a large part of Bavarian culture.

“Usually the men gather once a month on a selected day,” he said. “They gather together, they eat together, they drink together, they exchange about work, politics and fun.”

When guests are seated at the stammtisch, they are brought an ashtray with a bell attached, in addition to a selection of freshly baked pretzels. The tradition, Kunz explained, is that anyone who rings the bell is expected to buy drinks for everyone in the room. The rule is applied loosely at the Tavern, but Kunz said at many stammtische it would be treated very seriously.

Dinner was a buffet laden with heavy Germanic fare, and the humble pig featured in many guises, from roast hocks with crunchy crackling through smoked pork loin and several types of sausage. The chef will happily carve your roast for you, and the tender white meat set off by the crisp crunch of the skin is a taste I hadn’t realized I was missing until I sampled it liberally, doused with a tasty gravy. Sides of spaetzle, sauerkraut, potato and beet salads were also on offer, as were Bavarian-style beef rollmops, but pork is definitely the focus. The bread selection, another German specialty, was also excellent.

But, as good as the food is, and my friend and I ate ourselves into a hog-fed heaven (Katrin didn’t even leave room for the strudel dessert she had been rhapsodizing about since our arrival), the stammtisch is mostly about the gathering.

Beer is included in the buffet price, and regulars have their names inscribed onto their tankards. The weekly event has been going for about 20 years, Kunz said, and the tavern is the oldest German restaurant bar in the city.

“We have hard-liners who come every single night, it doesn’t matter how’s the weather, unless they are away on holidays.”

Newcomers are just as welcome as old friends, however, and we were quickly made feel at home by the regulars.

“You always meet new, interesting people,” Kunz told us. “You can make new relationships, new friends.”

The hotel chain is also hosting Oktoberfest on Thursday and Friday at the Aryaduta Hotel Jakarta, and on Saturday at the Aryaduta Hotel and Country Club Karawaci. Kunz said the ballroom would be dressed as a traditional German beer tent with a nine-piece Bavarian band flown in to play.

“There will be drinking games and telling jokes, and they’ll all be in traditional clothes,” he said.

“The people, with the music, they set up first on the beer benches, like you can see here. They will most probably start on the benches to sing and dance to the music. When the alcohol level increases, they will be on the tables, but this is all traditional like you can see on the TV.”

Tickets for Friday were sold out but still available as of Wednesday for the Thursday and Saturday events.

Tracie Barrett is a Jakarta Globe copy editor who formerly worked in restaurants.

Stammtisch At the Tavern Pub
Aryaduta Hotel Jakarta
Jl. Prapatan No. 44-48
Central Jakarta
Tel. 021 2352 1234