Indonesia’s Nikkei Fever

JapanesePeruvian cuisine may have been late in coming to Indonesia, but—to judge by the debut of two stylish rooftop Nikkei restaurants in Jakarta and Bali—it’s here to stay.

HENSHIN

Crowning the tallest building in the country, The Westin Jakarta has reserved its top three levels for Henshin, which made its debut in July. Accessed through a “secret door” in the hotel’s ground-level lobby, Henshin’s express elevators whisk patrons to the 67th-floor lounge, a dizzying 270 meters above the clamorous streets of the Indonesian capital. Here, panoramic views are best enjoyed from the outdoor bar terrace, whose inventive cocktails include the sweet Sakura Maru, named after the ship that brought the first group of Japanese immigrants to Peru back in 1899 and thus laid the groundwork for the century-old fusion cuisine known as Nikkei.

Chef Hajime Kasuga. Photo courtesy of the Westin Jakarta.

Upstairs, you can’t go wrong with the Peruvian-style sashimi known as tiradito; try the octopus slices dressed in chimichurri—a piquant green marinade—with bell pepper gelatin and drops of Peruvian black olive sauce. Also recommended is the indulgent Henshin Roll, containing flame-seared foie gras, unagi, spicy crabmeat, and avocado, dipped in sweet soy sauce and “Indo-nikkei” sambal.

Octopus tiradito at Henshin. Photo by the author

Head chef Hajime Kasuga, a third-generation Japanese-Peruvian from Lima, explains the guiding philosophy behind his creations: “Nikkei food is about using fresh ingredients and looking after them, using the best utensils to preserve that freshness. It also requires a chef’s good hands. If all three elements are present, you don’t need anything else.” Kasuga’s riff on arroz con pato, a Peruvian favorite of duck with coriander rice, is ideal for the Indonesian palate. Cured duck breast imparts the umami flavor so crucial to Nikkei cuisine, and roasted ají amarillo chilies (a ubiquitous ingredient in Peru) give the dish a fiery kick. Even better, the toothsome slices of roast suckling pig served with tomato jelly and yuzu-scented salad are divine; pureed kabocha squash adds a characteristic Japanese sweetness, while small heaps of chalaquita—composed of diced onion, chili, and coriander—provide a refreshing counterpoint that cuts through the fattiness of the meat (62/878-0002-8008).

ABOVE ELEVEN BALI

When Above Eleven opened in 2012 atop a skyscraper in the hip Bangkok neighborhood of Sukhumvit, it was hailed as the first Peruvian restaurant in Southeast Asia. Its recently launched Bali offshoot is the first international expansion, occupying a 1,000-square-meter rooftop space at Jimbaran’s Samasta Lifestyle Village. As at the Bangkok flagship, Soho Hospitality drew inspiration from the greenery of New York’s Central Park. The result? A chic yet whimsical venue replete with decorative, tree-like steel umbrellas crowned by square glass canopies that glow by night, an artificial hedge maze at the entrance, and an arbored walkway leading to a more intimate zone christened Gramercy Park, where a round-topped bar in polished concrete is styled after New York food trucks and the walls sport extruded brickwork reminiscent of Manhattan’s 19th-century townhouses.

Sundowners at Above Eleven Bali. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

Sipping a pisco sour while watching the sunset over Jimbaran Bay makes a fitting prelude to Above Eleven’s contemporary fare, overseen by head chef Renzo Vacchelli, who relocated from his native Peru to helm kitchens in Germany and London. Don’t miss the tuna cebiche, made with avocado, onion relish, and red chili sauce in a citrusy marinade. Another highlight is the snapper tiradito, a lesson in subtle complexity thanks to the light-handed addition of ponzu sauce and truffle oil. Vacchelli’s version of anticucho skewers, a typical Peruvian street food, is equally inspired. The marinated beef heart tastes far better than it sounds, but the star is the melt-in-the-mouth octopus served atop quenelles of herb-speckled mashed potato.

Above Eleven’s modern take on Peruvian chicharrón (braised and fried pork belly). Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

So what sets this Indonesian outpost apart from the Bangkok flagship? “The main difference is that in Bali we have the advantage of getting very fresh fish and seafood on a daily basis,” Vacchelli says. Being in Jimbaran, the restaurant procures its marine bounty at the nearby fish market, while produce is supplied by community farms around the island. “All the ingredients we use at Above Eleven are locally sourced with the exception of salmon, tenderloin, striploin, and duck leg.” Speaking of the latter, the succulent duck leg confit that graces Above Eleven’s arroz con pato is, when paired with the generously portioned bed of coriander rice, a meal in itself. Be sure to leave room for dessert: the excellent alfajor comprises crumbly cornstarch biscuits, vanilla ice cream, and dulce de leche that will have you licking up every last drop (62/811-386-0402).

This article originally appeared in the October/November 2017 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Nikkei’s New Heights”).

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