Long overlooked as a necessary stop for business travelers and those in transit, Indonesia’s capital is a diamond in the rough, with an air of sophistication that belies its unpolished veneer.
Less than two years after closing its doors, the Four Seasons Hotel Jakarta has reopened in a brand-new, all-suite tower. The opulent, Art Deco–inspired interiors by New York–based designer Alexandra Champalimaud are a nod to the Dutch colonial period, while Jakarta’s role in the historic spice trade is reflected in details such as homemade ginger chocolates, lemongrass-scented hand towels, and exuberant reliefs of nutmeg, clove, and cinnamon in the lobby.
The Hermitage is another property that derives its character from the city’s past. A member of Starwood’s Tribute Portfolio since the end of last year, the hotel occupies a renovated 1923 Art Deco structure in low-rise, leafy Menteng, with a colonial elegance that permeates its guest rooms and dining venues, not least the French restaurant L’Avenue. Patrons also flock to the ninth floor for sundowners at La Vue, a poolside bar and cozy rooftop lounge that offers an alternative panoramic view of the skyline.
Rising head and shoulders above it all, the Westin Jakarta opened in late August on the top floors of the Gama Tower, the first skyscraper in Indonesia to break the 300-meter mark. Its most exciting feature will come with the November launch of Henshin, a double-height Peruvian-Japanese restaurant crowned by a rooftop alfresco bar on the 67th floor.
With the April debut of OKU, Hotel Indonesia Kempinski has raised the bar for Japanese cuisine in Jakarta. Chef Kazumasa Yazawa—who once oversaw Tetsuya Wakuda’s Singapore restaurant Waku Ghin—brings a contemporary, almost theatrical flair to his creations. Standouts include salmon carpaccio with truffle-ponzu dressing and roe, not to mention the unconventional chicken katsu parcels wrapped in squid-ink batter.
The Fairmont Jakarta’s Indonesian restaurant 1945 is also putting a creative spin on traditional Asian fare. Most notably, its owners enlisted the help of acclaimed Bali-based chef Chris Salans to develop a menu blending authentic Indonesian flavors with modern cooking techniques. Recent additions include Javanese lamb burgers on seared rice cakes with salad, and a playful reinterpretation of the street-food classic martabak: served with julienned pickles and jellied cubes of dipping sauce, it contains a succulent filling of curry-spiced wagyu, scrambled duck egg, leeks, and onion in a bundle of crispy, paper-thin filo.
In the nearby Senopati area, Sofia at The Gunawarman is a welcome addition to the neighborhood’s burgeoning restaurant scene. Ensconced in a Victorian-inspired space with soaring ceilings and generous arched windows, Sofia serves up a selection of Asian-accented Mediterranean cuisine. Starters range from frog leg Provençale to Spanish treats such as octopus al ajillo, while homemade pastas include capellini with uni and sun-cured mullet roe in white-wine butter sauce.
Whether it’s for a mid-afternoon tipple or late-night libations, The Dutch has been a sought-after spot since the gastropub opened in March. Its copper beer tower has a separate tap for Americanos, the house cocktail. Another specialty is the photogenic Lemon Haze, which comes shrouded in fog beneath a glass cover. The cocktail fuses gin and elderflower syrup with a trio of Asian ingredients—soju, yuzu juice, and soy milk—to complement the bold flavors of the gastropub’s meat-heavy menu.
In Plaza Senayan, Chicago-style chophouse Prohibition conceals an intimate speakeasy bar that evokes its namesake era. Muddled with homemade lemonade and ginger beer, cucumber, and cuts of citrus, its Pimm’s Cup is served in a miniature clawfoot bathtub—a reference to the bootleg gin production methods of the 1920s.
Independent concept store ARA was a first for the city when it opened last November in the trendsetting neighborhood of Kemang. Rather than bringing in overseas fashion labels, the emphasis is placed squarely on showcasing local talent. Indonesia’s three hottest ready-to-wear labels—Peggy Hartanto, Friederich Herman, and Toton—are well represented, as are emerging brands such as Populo Batik, Sapto Djojokartiko, and Patrick Owen. Customers can also sample fragrances by Elantier, while jewelry hunters will find unconventional pieces from Rosalyn Citta’s raw, hand-hammered bracelets to the subtle earrings of Clarissa Kwok.
Aside from guiding visitors around Jakarta’s historic districts and running day trips outside the city, Walk Indies has a half-day coffee tour introducing the varieties of beans grown across Indonesia, with visits to several coffee houses that practice a range of processing and brewing techniques from the traditional to the avant-garde. A unique specialty tour offered by Alila Jakarta explores the city’s little-known musical heritage on a six-hour journey around the neighborhood of Tugu, the birthplace of a popular folk music style known as keroncong that was introduced by Portuguese sailors in the 16th century.
Iwet Ramadhan, radio host and founder of batik fashion line TIKPrive
“One of my favorite places for Indonesian street food in Jakarta is Sate Pak Heri at Sarinah Junction, where they serve big portions of mutton satay. Pondok Sate Pak Djono Pejompongan in the neighborhood of Benhil is another good choice—I especially love the satay and deep-fried tofu called tahu pong. Nearby Bumen Jaya is known for traditional nasi goreng kampung served with fried egg. As an avid runner, I enjoy Car Free Day that takes place every Sunday on the main downtown avenues of Jalan Sudirman and Thamrin. I’d also like to try the seafront promenade at Ancol for an early morning run to catch the sunrise.”
Jo Elaine, co-founder of ARA concept store
“One Fifteenth in Gandaria serves consistent coffee and equally delicious food. For restaurants, I recommend anything by the Union Group. I know the owners and they would never serve anything they wouldn’t eat themselves. Bistecca is their newest restaurant, where the striploin is good and they have the biggest shrimp cocktail. Roh Projects is one of the most exciting art galleries in Jakarta, because of [director] Jun Tirtadji’s ability to spot fresh talent—I like the boldness with which he runs the gallery.”
This article originally appeared in the October/November print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“City Guides: Jakarta”).