Review: Union (Jakarta, Indonesia)

Courtyard @ Ground Floor
Plaza Senayan
JL Asia Afrika No. 8
Jakarta 10270 Indonesia
+62 21 5790 5861
http://www.unionjkt.com

After a whirlwind trip to Hong Kong, Macau and Singapore, I’m now back in Jakarta. It’s been great visiting those places (especially Hong Kong) though dealing with mild food poisoning this morning certainly wasn’t fun (my fault – I bought nasi lemak in Singapore and ate it while it was still cold as soon as I back to Jakarta). Now that I’m somewhat rested, I thought I’d churn out another post – this time I’ll be writing about Union, a café in Jakarta.

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My cousin Boris took us here last weekend immediately after our buffet lunch at The Café. Union claims to be a ‘brasserie, bakery and bar’ in one, though it seems more like a Parisian café to me what with its romantic foundations and pretty green trees outside.

Its logo font also screams out ‘HIPSTER!’ which kinda makes sense since, according to the website, the café supposedly aims to be a twentieth century bistro (huh?). Despite its identity crisis, it is always packed – we were unable to score a table when we rocked up that Sunday afternoon.

Pandan donut (approx. AUD$2)
Pandan donut (approx. AUD$2)

Union boasts an interesting selection on donuts at the counter, including the cheese-filled donut (Indonesians love cheese – blame the Dutch). I ordered a pandan donut, which had the slightest tinge of green.

In all honestly, I couldn’t taste any pandan flavour. Secondly, the texture was more brioche than donut – in fact, it was pretty much like eating a buttery donut-shaped brioche bun. Not that there is anything wrong with that, of course, but when you buy something being called a pandan donut, it’s fair to say that you’d expect to get something that would vaguely taste like one!

Hummingbird cake (approx. AUD$6)
Hummingbird cake (approx. AUD$6)

Boris loves Union’s peanut butter and jelly cake but unfortunately there was none left. He decided to get the hummingbird cake instead which was good value at approximately AUD$6 given its size.

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Yep, it was so big that we managed to get three slices out of the one big cake slice…

The cake was super moist and not horribly sweet, thus making it one of the better hummingbird cakes I’ve had. Thumbs up.

While I’m never ordering another donut from here, I can definitely see myself sitting by the window with a slice of cake and coffee on a rainy day – I just need to make sure I’m there before it gets too packed.

Review: The Café @ Hotel Mulia Senayan (Jakarta, Indonesia)

Senayan City
JL Asia Afrika Senayan
Jakarta 10270
Indonesia

Greetings from Hong Kong!

I’m currently travelling for the next two weeks but because I’m awesome, I’m going to try and blog as much as I can in between bouts of stuffing my face with street food and dodging ‘how come you’re not married yet?’ questions from nosy Indonesian aunties.

From this point on, I’ll start documenting my foodie adventures rather than wait until I get back to Melbourne. The last time I did it, I never ended up finishing my posts. Shame on me.

So anyway, yesterday the family and I got invited to lunch at Hotel Mulia, one of the pimpiest hotels in downtown Jakarta. Hotel Mulia is home to a few fancy restaurants and I visited one last year, Table8. This time we were going to The Café, an upmarket buffet restaurant. Despite the heavy rain and despite Jakarta’s horrific traffic conditions, we somehow made it only 5 minutes late.

Unfortunately for us, our table was not ready so we had to wait 10 minutes in the lobby. Once we were called up, we were told that we weren’t allowed to take any photos of the restaurant and the food. That sucked if you were a DLSR-toting food blogger – not that it stopped me from using my iPhone to take a few sneaky shots!

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There are as many buffet stations here as there are Louis Vuitton handbags. While most places have their buffet stations in the one place, the stations here were scatted all over the place. In fact, the ‘Western food’ section was so hidden that I would not have realised it was there but for my nosy brother who had a bit of a wander around the restaurant.

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Oh look! There’s my uncle! And dad!

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My first plate was a Japanese and dim sum affair, just the way I like it. We were sitting with the family of the guy who my relatives are keen to set my cousin up with (she was conveniently sick yesterday and didn’t attend this lunch, hah). The guy (let’s call him S) was there too and he telling me off for eating yum cha when I had all week to indulge in that sort of food in Hong Kong. Yeah whatever, mate. Sif tell me what to eat! Especially since the har gows were actually quite good – definitely better than most I’ve had in Jakarta!

The sashimi wasn’t the freshest I’ve had but it was good for buffet quality. The tuna tataki, however, suffered from having too much pepper on it. I’m not sure if that was the way Indonesians prefer to eat tataki, or whether the cooks were trying to mask something. Hmm.

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S then made a comment about how my siblings and I throw everything together onto our buffet plates. For example, why mix Indian food and chicken buns together? He said that it must be an Aussie thing but I’m not sure as I’ve always ‘done’ buffet restaurants like this? In contrast, his first plate was an all-Japanese affair, his second plate had chips and burgers and he saved his final savoury plate for the Indonesian dishes. I might be doing it wrong, but whatever.

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How’s this for an even more random buffet plate? I had bresaola, prosciutto and jamon along with dahl. I also had some coconut rice wrapped in banana leaf from the Indonesian food section but the line to the actual Indonesian dishes was friggin’ long so I went without, hah.

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Say what?! Angasi oysters from all the way in Australia?!

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You actually had to walk across the hallway to another room for desserts. And even though I’m not big on desserts, I couldn’t help but be impressed at the range. They had everything from gelati to eclairs to little cake, both European and Indonesian.

I grabbed a green tea ice cream from the freezer along with two Indonesian favourites, profitjets (Dutch pancakes) and spekkoek (or kue lapis/Indonesian layer cake) covered in chocolate. They were all excellent.

I may only have three had not-so-full plates (and one dessert plate) but I was pretty full – no dinner for me that night! I’m not sure how much the buffet was per person so I can’t say whether dining at The Café is good value for money. Nevertheless, The Café is better than most buffet restaurants I’ve been to and the har gow dumplings are better than most in Jakarta.

Pakuan Café @ Grand Royal Panghegar (Bandung, Indonesia)

Grand Royal Panghegar Hotel
Jl. Merdeka no.2
Bandung, Indonesia
+62 22 423 2286
www.grandroyalpanghegar.com

My family and I stayed at the Grand Royal Panghegar Hotel while we were in Bandung. Located on one of Bandung’s main streets, it’s the perfect place to stay if you want to be the middle of all the action. My uncle’s wife, Elizabeth, happens to own timeshare in this particular hotel so we were fortunate enough to stay there for free. Subsequently, our morning breakfast buffets were also free (included in the room rate) but I ain’t putting a disclaimer above this post because my aunty did pay for her timeshare, after all.

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Every morning, a gamelan orchestra plays traditional Sundanese music next to the koi fish pond. I’m not a fan of music in the morning (can you tell I’m not a morning person) but the symphony of gongs, xylophones and plucked strings created a beautifully mystical atmosphere as we walked into the hotel’s main restaurant, Pakuan Café.

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I didn’t get to take photos of the buffet stations but it doesn’t matter. Here’s pretty much what I ate every morning for breakfast: poached chicken breasts, fried rice, vegetarian puffs and facon. Yes, fake bacon. It’s made out of turkey. Gross.

I can’t say that the food was amazing but when it’s included in the room rate, you’re hardly in a position to complain. The staff are so polite and friendly and variety of food ain’t bad. For example, there are other traditional Indonesian dishes such as baked chicken and regional soups and cereals available (though I don’t touch cereal at all).

One thing’s for sure though, facon sucks. Give me the real thing any day.

Kopi Aroma (Bandung, Indonesia)

Jl Banceuy No. 51
Braga Sumurbandung
Bandung, Indonesia
+62 22 423 0473

Despite the fact that Indonesia exports a lot of coffee beans, it’s actually very hard to find good coffee in this country. And by good, I mean anything that’s slightly better than Starbucks. I guess it’s fair enough though, Indonesia doesn’t really have a strong coffee culture like Melbourne does. In Indonesia, tea is king. That, and bubble tea (winning). That said, if more people knew about Kopi Aroma, well, I think things might be a little different.

Kopi Aroma has got to be one of the coolest places in Bandung. When I first heard about this ‘cool coffee place’, I thought that it would be a café where you can sit down and enjoy your coffee. I was only slightly disappointed to find out that it was a little shop that sold bags of ground coffee. The disappointment, however, didn’t last long once I was entranced by the sweet and seductive aroma (har-har so punny) that filled the shop that looked like it hadn’t changed since it first opened.

Founded by Tan Huow Sian (Indonesian-Chinese represent!) in 1930, the humble little koffie fabriek (coffee factory in Dutch) is now owned by his son Widyapratama. Despite Kopi Aroma’s success, there are no plans for it to branch out. Even though that sucks for out-of-towners, it just keeps Kopi Aroma legit.

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I love how Kopi Aroma still uses the same wood-fuelled German roasting machines from when they first opened. Kopi Aroma specifically uses wood from rubber trees to heat the beans up slowly and evenly, thus increasing its flavour.

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Using scales from Rotterdam, each bag is weighed as per the customer’s request. The most you can buy in one go is 5kg – I stuck to 200gms. I don’t remember how much I paid for it, but suffice to say that it’s a lot cheaper than a bag of Vittoria from the supermarket.

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I love the classic packaging: brown ink on white paper with Dutch on the left and old school Indonesian on the right. The flavour is them stamped in blue ink on the top. In case you haven’t figured it out, I ordered a bag of mocha Arabica beans (mocha? What? It’s essentially just a sweet Arabica blend…)

The coffee isn’t bad either. The thing is Indonesian coffee is that it’s better if you drink it black, with only the slightest amount of sugar if required. Being a white coffee drinker, I initially struggled with it. In fact, I still do. While I love the smell of my Aroma Kopi beans (if cocaine smelt as good as this…), I did find the taste a bit too strong for my delicate (read: whimpy) Melbourne tastebuds. Having said all that, I know that I will one day become accustomed to good ol’ Indonesian coffee and if you happen to love your blacks, Aroma Kopi is definitely the place for you.

Maxi’s Resto (Bandung, Indonesia)

Jl Gunung Agung No.8
Ciumbuleuit
Bandung, Indonesia
+62 22 2032 666
http://www.maxisresto.com/

Our short visit to Bandung happened to coincide with my uncle’s wife Elizabeth’s birthday. Being one to get tired early in the evening and one to be antisocial, I didn’t really want to go. I mean, we spent the whole morning driving from Jakarta before spending the afternoon eating congee, checking out factory outlets and visiting relatives. Life was tough and I was tired! However, I managed to put on a smiley face as I hopped in the car with the rest of the family to go to a restaurant that was supposed to be ’15 minutes from downtown Bandung.’

Whoever told my dad that Maxi’s Resto was 15 minutes from the city centre had no idea what they were talking about. We followed the directions we were given which only resulted in us circling the same area for 30 minutes. Then when we finally realised which street we were supposed to turn into, we spent another 20 minutes driving up a hill and into what looked like a really dodgy part of town. Because we were so far away from the bright lights of Bandung proper, we had no mobile reception. And because my family – including myself – were too pussy to get out of the car to ask for directions, we got our driver to do it.

After being given a few wrong directions, we FINALLY arrived at the restaurant. After all that drama, we were worried that we’d look foolish arriving way late only to realise that we were actually the first guests to arrive. Ahh good ol’ Indonesia and jam karet (I meant that in a sarcastic way, of course. Try as I may but as a highly-strung female with a type-A personality, I cannot cope with the idea of time being elastic).

Maxi’s Resto is an interesting restaurant. You might be wondering what is up with the name. While I have no idea who or what Maxi is, I do know that Indonesians like to abbreviate and shorten words. Thus, restaurant becomes ‘resto.’ While I don’t particularly like the word resto, a lot of Indonesians do so who am I to argue. Foodwise, Maxi’s serve a variety of Western dishes, though Indonesian favourites such as chicken satays are available.

When the other guests finally arrived, we were able to order. I didn’t bring my DSLR that evening so I’m afraid you’ll just have to deal with crappy iPhone photos.

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We started off with good ol’ bread and butter.

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When my brother Kenneth ordered the chicken burger, he expected it to come in a bun. He was surprised to find that all he got was a crumbed chicken breast pattie with veggies and baked wedges. Sometimes I forget that Dutch influences are still pretty strong in Indonesian restaurants and that when a restaurant offers ‘burgers’, they usually mean just the meat. Regardless, Kenneth’s ‘burger’ was delicious. The coating was crispy and the chicken breast super-tender.

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Meanwhile, I made a bad choice by ordering a lasagna di carne al forno (read: Maxi’s attempt to make the humble lasagne sound more posh. I was surprised to find that it was, well, smaller than what I’m used to. Not only that, it also tasted only one rung better than the frozen lasagne they stock at the supermarket. There was barely any meat and the sheets were stiff. In fact, I was still pretty hungry afterwards so I filled my stomach up with beef martabak from a street seller.

I didn’t get to taste everyone else’s dish, but both my parents loved their dishes (mum had something Western while dad ordered satays). In light of that, I guess I shouldn’t complain for my dish was less than AUD$4 (in fact, so were Kenneth’s and Janice’s). Still, there was a MASSIVE difference between the quality of my dish and Kenneth’s dish which isn’t good at all. Given that Maxi’s Resto is an upscale restaurant with wonderful service, the prices they charge are ridiculously good. I wouldn’t mind visiting again perhaps during the day so I can actually enjoy the mountain views. But I’ll stay away from the lasagne.

Ta Wan (Bandung, Indonesia)

Paris Van Java
Lt. GF G-A-08
Bandung, Indonesia
+62 22 8206 3590

Let’s get away from Jakarta’s floods, crazy traffic jams and mega megamalls for a bit and swerve east to my birth place, Bandung. Located 140km from the nation’s capital and 768m above sea level, Bandung is less populated and a lot cooler than Jakarta. This makes it a popular place for Jakarta folk to escape to on weekends.

My family and I were in Bandung to visit my dad’s side of the family and particularly my dear grandpa who once had a quick mind but unfortunately now has dementia. In the past, driving from Jakarta to Bandung would take more than half the day thanks to the bloody rough mountain roads. Thankfully, the government has since built a freeway which means that the hardest part of a Jakarta-Bandung road trip was getting out of Jakarta’s traffic jams. This also meant that we arrived in Bandung a lot earlier than anticipated. In other words, we had time to eat before meeting up with my dad’s brother, his wife and my grandpa.

Once upon a time ago, luxurious hotels and restaurants lined the streets of Bandung; that earned the city the nickname ‘The Paris of Java’ (or Parijs van Java in Dutch). While some of the restaurants and cafes are still around (I will be reviewing a few of these soon!), Bandung is now a mishmash of clothing factory outlets, cheap and dynamic eateries and hot women such as myself – it’s no wonder why people come here from places as far as Malaysia and Singapore just for a weekend. Bandung today may not be as refined but there is a shopping centre called Paris van Java which has been erected in honour of its bygone era.

We went to said shopping centre for lunch. My parents and I felt like congee so we decided to go to Ta Wan, one of our favourite Chinese restaurants in Indonesia. Nicknamed ‘the porridge place’, Ta Wan does porridge really, really well. They also do other things well, but it’s the porridge that gets people talking. Because they do it really, really well.

Anyway.

On that day, we decided to share a large bowl of porridge along with a few dishes.

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The chicken fried rice was the first dish to arrive. It was fragrant and lovely, with a lovely hint of smokiness for extra flavour.

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I can’t remember what this dish was called but I’m going to call it garlic fried chicken bits because that’s what it tasted like. Oh, it was also sticky and sweet and slightly hot but then that would stretch its name out too long and I don’t particularly want to do that. My siblings really enjoyed eating the battered bits of chicken fillet with the rice.

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Sharing dishes? Forget about that! As far as my dad was concerned, he wasn’t going to share his bakmie ayam jamur (mushroom chicken noodles) with anyone! This dish was very similar to the cwie mie Malang he enjoyed at Abby’s Natural Organic Products but I’m willing to bet (Tom Waterhouse-style, of course) that they didn’t use free-range chicken here. Regardless, the dish was delicious and I especially liked the contrast between the very gentle chicken broth and the earthy and sweet chicken mushroom mix.

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Finally, the dish of the day arrived: Ta Wan’s famous fish and century egg congee. You could get a regular-sized bowl for Rp. 14,000 (AUD$1.40) but given that you could get a large one for the equivalent of 5 Aussie cents (lol), it would be silly not to do an upgrade.

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The congee was just as fantastic as I remembered. It had texture. It had consistency. It had flavour. And more importantly, it had a generous amount of crispy Chinese dough stick pieces. Oooooh yeaaah! It may have not been congee weather (since when IS it congee weather in Indonesia) but stuff it.

Each dish was less than AUD$3, which made it a ridiculously cheap meal by Aussie standards. I’m surprised that they don’t have a branch in Jakarta as I reckon that it’ll make a fortune there. Plus, Jakarta is desperately lacking in good and cheap Chinese restaurants. ‘But Libby, Jakarta is hotter and more humid than Bandung! Sif open up a congee restaurant there!’ you doth protest. Yeah, well, there are a couple of Ta Wan restaurants in Surabaya which happens to be hotter than Jakarta. So there.

Duck King, The (Jakarta, Indonesia)

Central Park Podomoro City
1st Floor, Unit 116
Jl. Let. Jend. S ParmanKav. 28
Jakarta, Indonesia
+62 21 5698 5620
www.theduckking.com

I’ve often said in the past that I don’t come across too many decent Chinese restaurants in Indonesia. That said, the Duck King franchise serve up some not-too-terrible Peking duck and yum cha dishes and I was glad to have tried it one Sunday afternoon after church.

Even though I’ve only just heard of Duck King, they’ve actually been around for 10 years. Starting off in Jakarta, they eventually regurgitated several ducklings in cities such as Bandung (represent!) and Surabaya. I can see why this chain is popular; not only do they cater to Indonesia’s large Muslim population by going pork-free, they also whip up some decent dishes.

My uncle Charlie tried to make a last minute booking one Sunday afternoon, only to be told that the restaurant was fully booked. But when the person on the phone realised that it was regular diner Charlie on the line, a private room suddenly became available. And that is how 14 members of my family ended up sitting on a large table overlooking the brightly-lit Central Park shopping centre.

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I love how yum cha restaurants in Jakarta start you off with the most random nibbles. We enjoyed fried anchovies at May Star, for example, and sambal (chilli) beans here at Duck King.

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We started off with some delicious fried prawn wontons. The waitress was kind enough to cut them into little pieces so we can all have a nibble. I suppose the non-tight arse thing to do was to order more servings but c’mon, we’re talking about my family here…

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Duck King’s dim sum dishes range from Rp. 18,800 to Rp. 31,800 (AUD$1.88-$3.18), making them reasonably priced. We started off with the classics: chicken feet, ginger prawn wontons and fried taro dumplings.

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Then came the siu mai. The ones here are made with chicken and shrimp, in accordance with the restaurant’s ‘no pork’ rule. They weren’t bad, but I really do think that siu mai tastes a lot better with pork.

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The lo mai gai (sticky rice) is mum’s favourite yum cha dish and Duck King did a commendable version. They came in pretty small parcels here, which is good if all you wanted was a nibble.

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I couldn’t say good things about the xiaolongbao (pork soup) dumplings, though. Filled with chicken mince (but no broth!), they didn’t quite taste as amazing as the pork version did and the skins were gluggy.  I also found them a bit too sweet for my liking.

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The fish congee was alright, though a bit more ginger would have transformed the dish from okay to pretty, pretty good.

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Char kway teow… hmm, not what you’d usually find at a yum cha restaurant (then again, what was a duck restaurant doing serving yum cha anyway?!) but these were lovely. There were lots of noodles! There was wok hei! And there were lots and lots of shrimp.

Duck King, as its name suggests, do a wonderful assortment of duck dishes. Their menu boasted Teow Chew-style duck and Nanjing salted duck and deep fried duck, all tantalising options. Because we’re boring though, we stuck to the Peking duck. I can’t remember how many ducks we ordered but because my family aren’t big duck eaters and because we had a bunch of other dishes to devour, I think two ducks sounded about right. Each duck is Rp. 278,000 (AUD$27.80) which makes it on par with Peking duck in Melbourne (essentially, this means that Peking duck in Indonesia is relatively expensive).

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The Peking duck was nice enough, but it didn’t exactly blow me away. While the meat/skin/fat ratio was spot on (though some of the females in my family did say that there was a bit too much fat), the skin was a tad too sweet – that alone kind of spoilt it for me.

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My brother doesn’t like yum cha dishes very much. So whenever he’s around, we always order some sort of beef dish from the a la carte menu. On this day, we ordered the honey peppered beef which he lapped up happily, while the Chinese greens provided some much-needed vitamins.

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Surprisingly, our har gow (prawn dumplings) arrived pretty late. The skins were on the soggy side and they were pretty small, but we ate them anyway.

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My brother also wanted sweet and sour fish. In Indonesia, gurame (a native white fish) is popular in Chinese restaurants. Due to the floods, however, the region’s gurame stock was pretty low so we had to make do with flounder. It’s not my favourite fish, especially when it’s being served with a heavy sauce like this, but everyone else seemed to like it.

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Our final dish was the zhaliang, or char liong, as they called it here (fried Chinese dough sticks wrapped in steamed rice noodle rolls, FYI). The zhaliang at Duck King was a steal at Rp. 21,800 (AUD$2.18), a fraction of what we normally pay in Australia. Unfortunately, Duck King did a terrible version. Like May Star’s zhaliang, the dough sticks at Duck King were fried in old coconut oil, giving them a nasty aftertaste. And what, no Chinese greens on the bottom?!

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Oh, and our egg custard tarts were burnt. WTF was with that?!

In saying all that, we all had a lovely relaxing time at Duck King. Some of the dishes may not have done it for us but hearing stories of cousin Boris passing out after drinking way too much tequila and my Oma thinking that he had died more than made up for it. Duck King’s Peking duck may not be as delicious as the ‘other’ duck king Simon Lay’s Peking duck. You’re also better off finding better yum cha offerings in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs. But if you’re in Jakarta and craving duck or prawn dumplings, Duck King would probably be the first place I’d tell you to go to.

Social House (Jakarta, Indonesia)

1st Floor East Mall, Grand Indonesia
Jl. M.H. Thamrin No.1
Jakarta, Indonesia
+62 21 2358 1818

A lot of people find it strange that shopping isn’t on my list of favourite things to do. What? A girl who doesn’t like shopping? Sadly, it’s true. On any given day, I’d rather eat rotting whale carcasses than spend hours at Melbourne Central looking at and trying on clothes, making small talk with shop assistants and carrying bags of shoes that I’ll probably only wear once.

If Melbourne’s malls bore even a remote likeness to the ones in Jakarta, however, I probably won’t be as much of a hater when it comes to shopping. In Indonesia’s capitals, the palatial-sized malls are filled with treasures in every corner. From standalone Christian Louboutin stores to xiaolongbao kiosks to multi-storied Timezones (what, they still exist?) to ice skating rinks, they have it all – and we’re only talking about the smaller malls here.

Grand Indonesia, in Central Jakarta, is one of the bigger ones not just in the country but also in Southeast Asia. In fact, it’s so big that it’s actually made up of two separate malls: East Mall and West Mall with a bridge between each one. Throw in a hotel and a residential complex by the Kempinski group, a 58-story office tower and lots of designer boutiques and world-renowned restaurants (Benihana, anyone?), and you’re pretty much set for the whole day. This complex also happens to be owned by Indonesian clove cigarette manufacturer PT Djarum which just goes to show how lucrative the tobacco industry still is in Indonesia.

One of my favourite bars in Jakarta, Social House happens to be in this very mall. Oned by the Ismaya hospitality group, it’s an all-day restaurant, wine bar with a wine shop attached if you wish to take home any of the 300 varieties available. When I first visited in 2009, it was located inside the Harvey Nichols department store. In 2013, however, Harvey Nichols was no longer there and due to the construction works, it took my sister Janice, my cousin Abigail and myself a while to navigate the intricate web that was Grand Indonesia’s East Mall redevelopment.

Social House is open from morning right through to the late night. When we rocked up just after 3pm on a weekday, we were just keen for some shared plates and Social House’s famous lemon iced tea that we enjoyed by the jug-loads all those years ago. Unfortunately, we were told that only the bar menu was available so I wasn’t able to enjoy the lime-cured kingfish sashimi that I had last time. Not to worry.

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Because this bar is where a lot of gweilos congregate, the staff here speak fluent English. At night, this bar is full of American expats and pretty young things but during the day, it’s mostly young travellers wanting to take advantage of Social House’s free wi-fi. We were fortunate unfortunate enough to sit next to a group of loud Queenslanders who happened to stopping in Jakarta en route Bali for a surfing trip. Of course.

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I absolutely adored the cute message that was printed on each napkin.

The normal lunch and dinner menus are divided into ‘east’ and ‘west’ sections with dishes to represent both Asian and European cuisines. You might want to order a Vietnamese beef and papaya salad from the east section, for example, and get your partner to try the burnt butter gnocchi. Unfortunately, we didn’t have that luxury (damn that awkward 3-5pm timeslot) so we settled on a BBQ chicken pizza from the bar menu.

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Comprising of chicken pieces, mushrooms, BBQ sauce and mozzarella (Rp. 85,000/AUD$8.50), it wasn’t bad but for a restaurant of this quality I did expect something way better than only slightly better than Domino’s. Hell, I don’t even know why we agreed on this pizza as I normally shun pizzas with BBQ sauce on it.

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Janice was keen on a slice of red velvet cake (Rp. 65,000/AUD$6.50) so we grabbed that too. Layered with cream cheese frosting and topped with crispy almonds, it made for a better alternative to the effking rainbow cake that seemed to be all the rage when we were there. Both Janice and Abigail liked it a lot, but I found it a bit too sweet (man, I’m such a killjoy haha).

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This is what we came here for: a jug of Grandma’s homemade iced lemon tea (Rp. 115,000/AUD$11.50 for a jug). Janice and I fell in love with it the first time all those years ago. We loved that it was so zesty and fresh, perfect when you’re in hot and humid Jakarta. We also loved the crushed mint and the sugar cane stick that came in each glass for that extra bit of sweetness. For some reason, we weren’t as awed by the tea this time around. For me, it was a case of too much sugar and not enough lemons while Janice could have sworn that we got a bit more tea for our buck last time.

In the end, we were a bit underwhelmed. The food wasn’t as amazing and our tea did not blow our minds. The bill was Rp. 289,000/AUD$28.90 which, for a jug of tea, a small pizza and a slice of red velvet cake, is expensive by Indonesian standards. Mind you, this included sales tax and the ‘compulsory service charge.’ We were better off going to Grand Indonesia’s food court (which is actually impressive in itself) and eating kebabs there.

Don’t get me wrong, I still think that Social House is fab. I love its chilled yet sophisticated atmosphere. I love the friendly staff members and the fast service. Moreover, I like that there is not an ounce of snobbiness in this place (which is a bit of a surprise considering that a lot of high society Jakartans can be fickle). However, I would not come here during the 3-5pm period. Instead, go for the proper lunch or dinner experience or even better, wait until it’s really late and just enjoy a few glasses of wine while trying hard not to eye-roll at bogans.

Chuan Tin (Tangerang, Indonesia)

Supermall Karawaci
Coco Walk Unit WS No.16
Jl. Boulevard Diponogoro no. 105
Lippo Karawaci
Tangerang, Indonesia
+62 21 5422 0576

Jakarta seems to be growing at a ridiculous rate. Indonesia’s capital city has been inundated with migrants coming in massive waves in the last few years that heaps of new residents have resorted to living in nearby cities such as Tangerang.

Within the Tangerang region, new-ish satellite towns such as Lippo Karawaci exist. These towns provide affordable housing for those who cannot afford rents in Jakarta, while being only a 45 minute drive away from the big smoke. If I had to come up with a Victorian analogy for this, Jakarta would be Melbourne, Tangerang would be greater Geelong and Lippo Karawaci would be Lara. Try squeezing 1.5 million people into Lara though, heh.

For a satellite town, Lippo Kawaraci actually has some pretty neat facilities. They have a very good private school and its own university and a mall, no a supermall that is just as good as Doncaster Shoppo and Chadstone. Pffft, who needs Jakarta?

My family, my aunty Ie Elsa and her husband, Om Jonathan and myself were at the mall one day. In addition to checking the place out, I also wanted to get my iPhone screen fixed. Earlier in 2012, it broke during a hiking trip in Crystal Cascades, Cairns. I was initially devastated when I saw that the jagged lines and cracks were ruining my ability to fully appreciate #foodporn pics on Instagram but eventually grew to live with the cracks. After all, they made for a good convo starter (guy at party: oh wow, your iPhone has cracks too! Me: yep! I broke it while hiking in Cairns, how did you get yours? Guy: oh, I broke it at home). Additionally, the Asian in me refused to pay at least $150 to get the screen fixed.

But when I heard that I could get it fixed inexpensively in Indonesia, I decided to go for it. At Supermall Karawaci, there is an entire floor dedicated to electronic gadgets. If you want to buy your toy, sell it off or get it fixed, someone on the floor will be able to help you. The problem I had, though, was that Indonesians prefer Blackberries to Apple or even Samsung products (pfft, I say, PFFFT) so it was ridiculously hard to find a stall that was able to fix my iPhone. Eventually I did though, and had to play an inflated price to get it fixed. Okay, so AUD$65 is way cheaper than any place in Melbourne but still.

So before I start going on about iPhones and shopping centres, let’s get back to this entry. After we got my phone fixed, we decided to have an early dinner at Chuan Tin. Chuan Tin is a Chinese restaurant that focuses on Hokkien cuisine (actually, most Chinese restaurant in Indonesia do but anyway).

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We decided to order a mix of Chinese-Indonesian favourites, starting with black pepper beef. I found that the beef wasn’t as tender as I would have liked, and the sauce too sweet. My brother, a huge black pepper beef fan, loved it though.

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We then ordered a serving of chap chai (mixed vegetable stew-slash-stir fry). I wouldn’t say that it was anything remarkable though.

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I’m not a fan of soft shell crab so when I say that this soft shell crab with beef floss dish was ‘meh’, please don’t listen to me. Instead, listen to my mum who thought that this dish was ‘very nice.’ And if you think that the use of beef floss was weird, you’re not the only one. On the other hand, though, Chuan Tin serves only halal food so there was no way they could use pork floss.

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The next dish was the sweet and sour fish. In Indonesia, the fleshy gurame is often used when the dish calls for white fish. Unfortunately, the restaurant didn’t have any gurame available due to the floods and so they used another fish in its place. I can’t remember what fish it was, except that it was one that was native to Southeast Asia and that it was stringy, tasteless and dry. Oh, the sauce was too sweet as well.

Because the dishes we had were unremarkable, we didn’t have much hope for the lo mie, Chuan Tin’s specialty. Surprisingly – and thankfully – it turned out to be the restaurant’s best dish.

Lo mie is essentially a dish consisting of thick egg noodles swimming in a thickened broth. My mum makes a version of this dish at home every now and then, and I was under the impression that it was a Hokkien-Indonesian dish. After googling the dish, however, I found out that the Filipino lomi is a very similar dish – perhaps the Chinese-Indonesians ‘borrowed’ the dish from the Philippines and tried to palm it off as its own? Not that I’m complaining though, this dish was ridiculously good.

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The lo mie here comes in different sizes: a small serving would feed one or two people while a medium feeds four to five. Because there were seven of us, we choose the large serving (Rp. 93.000/AUD$9.30). On the menu, instructions on how to eat it are printed.

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There are pots containing black vinegar, garlic and chilli on the table. You’re encouraged to make a sauce using some or all of the ingredients which you’ll dip your noodles into.

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Ta-da!

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These noodles were so friggin’ good. They were fat, thick, chewy and absorbed the flavoursome chicken-based stew beautifully. We were suitably impressed. My only criticism would be that I would have liked less trimmings (chicken, veggies etc) and WAY more noodles.

If you love noodles and want to try something different, then I’d highly recommend Chuan Tin. We paid the equivalent of AUD$27 for seven people, making it an inexpensive meal even if most of the dishes weren’t too great. Going forward, I’d suggest staying away from the non-noodle dishes and ordering a plate of lo mie to share with your dining companion.

Abby’s Natural Organic Products (Tangerang, Indonesia)

Ruko ‘Del Espana’ no. 37
Kalimantan Road
Lippo Karawaci Utara
Tangerang, Indonesia
+62 9 420 8818

One thing I miss about Melbourne when I’m in Indonesia is not being able to access fresh green vegies easily. It’s not like we can’t get spinach leaves, broccoli and bok choy in Indonesia, it’s just that getting these items that we normally take for granted back home isn’t as easy as walking to the nearest Coles. If I thought getting green vegies in Jakarta was difficult, then try getting organic green vegies – or organic anything for that matter.

Thankfully, though, the organic food movement is slowly growing (pun intended). The movement may be only small but the interest level is high enough to motivate several farmers to set up their own organic farms outside of Jakarta. One such farmer is former Catholic missionary Father Agatho Elsener from Germany. At one point, he must have realised that promoting organic produce in Indonesia was a more worthwhile pursuit than promoting Catholicism in a predominately Muslim country. And frankly, we’re all better for it.

So where does Abby’s Natural Organic Products fit into all this? It’s a small canteen that belongs to my Ie (aunty) Elsa. In addition to selling organic fruit and vegies, she also churns out traditional Indonesian dishes using produce from Father Elsener who delivers to the store twice a week.

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The story behind the shop is pretty remarkable. Dear Ie Elsa was diagnosed with breast cancer several years ago. Things were tough, as you can imagine, but she believed healthy eating contributed significantly to her speedy recovery. And that’s why she decided to open up an organic store in Lippo Karawaci, a satellite community in Tangerang, a growing city west of Jakarta. Who’s Abby? That’s her daughter and my cousin :).

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But back to organic produce. Tea is the drink to go to at Abby’s but freshly squeezed juices are available. My brother had a strawberry juice (Rp. 12.000/AUD$1.20) while I had a bok choy and pineapple juice (Rp. 15.000/AUD$1.50). While they’re not as sweet and filling as the stuff you get at Boost Juice, I felt a lot healthier drinking these juices.

On the day our family went to visit Ie Elsa at the shop, we ordered several dishes to share.

wp3 Gado gado (vegetable salad with peanut sauce) is a favourite Indonesian dish for many. I don’t really have a opinion about the dish either way but I was surprised to see how much better it tasted with organic vegies. Okay, so perhaps Elsa super-awesome peanut sauce which consisted of an irresistible blend of spices might have had a hand in making the dish so good. Whatever it was, it was the best salad dish I’ve had in a long time. Chuck bits of lettuce, cabbage, green beans, spinach, bean shoots, chokos, cucumber and tomatoes on a plate, top with sauce made from organic peanuts and lime juice before sprinkling it with shallots and onion cracker. It was divine and it was only Rp. 15.000 (AUD$1.50).

wp4 The tofu salad was very similar to the gado gado – the same vegies were used and the same sauce was used. There was just less vegies and more lime juice. Oh, and lots and lots of tofu cubes (Rp. 15.000/AUD$1.50). Once we were done with one plate, we eagerly ordered another.

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There are meat dishes on the menu too. Dad decided to order a serving of cwie mie Malang (chicken noodles from Malang, East Java). The meal came in a set – you had egg noodles with organic greens which you’re supposed to combine with mince and broth, both from free-range chickens. On the side, there was also a single piece of fried chicken wonton (Rp. 19.000/AUD$1.90). It’s a dish that I’d recommend if you want something a bit more filling.

Although Ie Elsa insisted that the food was on the house, we told her to shush and paid for our meals. To this day, I still can’t believe how ridiculously cheap our meals were. We told Ie Elsa that those prices were way too cheap and her response was a shrug and a ‘that’s normal for organic food here.’ Hah, a dish of similar quality would cost almost $20 in an inner Melbourne cafè. I understand that you can’t compare Jakarta to Melbourne but I did still think that charging less than AUD$2 for dishes as fresh and amazing as these was ridiculous. I have to sadly say, though, that the service isn’t super fast at Abby’s. But given that Ie Elsa runs the whole shop and restaurant on her own, I’d say she’s doing a great job.

Abby’s Natural Organic Products comes highly recommended, not just because my super-awesome aunty owns it but also because anything that promotes the benefits of organic food and clean eating gets two thumbs up in my books.