Easily overlooked, the vibrant dining scene of the Indonesian capital is full of surprises.
Daun Muda Soul Food
Daun Muda, or young leaf, is the latest of Chef Andrea Peresthu’s many pursuits. The trained architect and university lecturer turned sustainable coffee champion turned Mediterranean restaurateur has launched his first Indonesian restaurant, featuring gastronomic treasures from around his native land.
Chef Andrea was already known for his carefully sourced imported products, but at Daun Muda, he turns his attention to the best ingredients that Indonesia has to offer. The freshness from limau kasturi (calamansi lime) shines through the flavour-packed sambal cacam made with chunks of salted telang fish, while the raw kenikir greens (known as ulam raja in Malaysia, a variety of cosmos) form the leafy base of the rusip Daun Muda, a bright mix of exotic vegetables that is so much more than the house salad it sounds like. Many dishes are served in generous shared platters: chicken sate is served with a Manado-style tomato sambal that defies expectations, while the nasi goreng kambing (lamb shank fried rice) embraces its heady Indo-Middle Eastern roots.
If the bright flavours and copious portions aren’t enough, the open kitchen, a flood of natural light, a crowd-pleasing late-20th-century Indonesian pop soundtrack and Javanegra fair-trade coffee all contribute to making low-profile Daun Muda the worst-kept secret in town.
Vong Kitchen comes with the pedigree of celebrated New York-based chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten of Michelin three-star Jean-Georges and his son, a respected chef in his own right, Cédric. That sort of international firepower at a restaurant that has been in the works for over a year made the opening of Vong one of the most anticipated in the Indonesian capital.
The restaurant is located in the resolutely sleek ground-floor space of the long-delayed Alila SCBD building that will soon house a luxury hotel. The menu is modern cosmopolitan, as reflected by the signature tiger prawns a la plancha (grilled on a metal plate) paired with green curry sauce and ginger basmati rice.
The Vongerichtens’ name may be on the door, but the name at the top of the menu belongs to Colombian-born Chef de Cuisine Louisa Caicedo, a 10-year veteran of the Vongerichten empire. A talent to watch, she works in close collaboration with Chef Cédric, tweaking details with exacting attention to detail, changing the texture of a sauce, adding local fruit to the dessert menu and adapting to local tastes. She is responsible for interpreting Chef Cédric’s menu, but she also showcases her own creations, such as the octopus and romesco salsa.
Hip in moderation, KAUM Jakarta became an instant hit with locals and visitors alike who continue to flock to this colonial-era house that sports a transformed interior that successfully blends industrial chic and traditional motifs.
A beautifully charred iga bakar (grilled short rib) is paired with KAUM’s take on asem pedas, a zesty, spicy soup soured with the fruit of the belimbi and green tomatoes, a mouth-watering match. Another satisfying dish for meat lovers is the sate buntel, skewered grilled minced goat sausages served over glowing embers with a side of acar rujak, a sweet vegetable pickle. Diners craving a little green on their plate shouldn’t miss buncis obrak abrik, an original dish of string beans, egg and dried shrimp created by the KAUM team yet quintessentially Indonesian. A simple dessert like steamed pandan-scented kue kojo is garnished with traditional grated coconut and a less traditional coffee-scented caramel sauce.
Servers are knowledgeable about the food and offer enthusiastic descriptions and recommendations when prompted. They’ll also happily guide you through the selection of cocktails and mocktails that capture the fruits, herbs and aromatics of Indonesia.
Nusa Indonesian Gastronomy
Chef Ragil Imam Wibowo has been a passionate promoter of the culinary diversity of Indonesia for years. In addition to his restaurants and other culinary activities, he is known for hosting Makan Besar (Big Feast), a television programme in which he criss-crossed the archipelago in search of local delicacies.
That experience very naturally led him to open Nusa Indonesian Gastronomy, where he takes diners on a culinary rollercoaster through the far-flung corners of the country. Located in what was once a wing of the Jakarta mayor’s residence built in the 1930s, the building was painstakingly dismantled, then reassembled brick-by-brick in its current location.
Chef Ragil works closely with farmers and other artisans in local communities who supply him with foraged goods, fresh fish, seasonal produce and delicacies like rare dried eel rendang belut from Batusangkar, West Sumatra, cooked for hours over a wood fire with no fewer than 40 types of aromatic leaves until it resembles fragrant shards of charcoal.
In Chef Ragil’s kitchen, love of tradition does not mean he always plays by the rules. A recent meal included dendeng batoko, grilled dried sliced beef from Minangkabau, served not with the traditional accompaniment of sambal balado but with a tangy sambal tulang enriched with bits of cartilage. Sayur banbanci jantung sapi, the classic festive Batawi (Jakartan) dish of beef heart with coconut, has been reimagined here with dainty plating and airy bites of baby sugar cane. The thoughtful selection of desserts also succeeds in presenting the many facets of Indonesian sweets, including roasted banana kue, a modern coconut gelato and jackfruit cream.
*Photos courtesy of respective restaurants