Checking In: The Orient Jakarta

An eye-popping design by Bill Bensley underpins the most exciting boutique hotel to debut in the Indonesian capital in recent years.

Poolside at The Orient Jakarta. (All photos courtesy of The Orient Jakarta)

It’s 7 a.m. and I am blissfully alone in the fifth-floor infinity pool at The Orient Jakarta. Below an undulating rattan ceiling punctuated by fantastical jellyfish sculptures, a series of hydrotherapy jets massage my tired back as the surrounding skyscrapers gleam in the soft morning light. Even with the hum of traffic rumbling down Jalan Sudirman, one of the busiest arteries in Indonesia’s sprawling capital, I find the soothing resort-like ambiance both surreal and wholly unexpected.

But then, this months-old hotel is packed full of surprises. The Orient takes up the highest floors of a 32-story tower, whose stark facade of jet-black glass and exposed concrete belies the exuberant spaces within. It’s an ode to traditional Indonesian culture, seen through a nostalgic lens and brought to life by the Bangkok-based architect/designer Bill Bensley. His starting point was a catalogue filled with hundreds of hand-painted batik patterns compiled by a Dutch merchant at the turn of the 20th century, discovered by chance at an antiques store in Bali.

Inside the high-ceilinged lobby of the Bill Bensley–designed hotel.

The Look

Stepping into the lobby, guests will immediately see how Indonesian craftsmanship has been combined with Bensley’s signature whimsy. Javanese shadow puppets and an antique bell take pride of place in a small seating area, while capiz-shell chandeliers cascade from peacock statues perched atop the rattan-and-metal lattices framing the concierge and check-in desks. Caspar — the double-height Spanish restaurant and bar on the ground floor — is adorned with intricately carved gebyok portals made in the Central Javanese woodworking town of Jepara, and Torajan ceiling panels sourced from South Sulawesi. Inside the lift lobbies and corridors, reproductions of early colonial-era prints and old photographs add visual interest to the textured stucco walls. Some of the public areas showcase artifacts from the owners’ private collection, including vintage Dutch mailboxes, framed muskets and pistols, and a handful of bronze Malay lela cannon.

The nostalgia reaches its peak at the recently completed Library Lounge, accessible through a narrow door guarded by a Balinese winged lion. Located just down the corridor from the pool area, the room contains a puzzle-like assortment of vibrantly hued batik from Central Java’s northern coast, a folding screen depicting elephants and a mythical bird, a collage of copper batik stamps, and stone reliefs recalling those found on the Hindu-Buddhist ruins dotting the Javanese countryside. There’s also some rattan-backed furniture handed down through generations of the owners’ family. This elegant setting is just the place for a locally inspired afternoon tea session (think pine-scented lapsang souchong paired with beef rendang wraps, choux pastries, and vegetable fritters dressed in Balinese sambal matah). Or you could opt for an evening cocktail or glass of whisky in the attached bar, a cozy and no less well-designed space presided over by a statue of the Hindu god Ganesha.

Reliefs adorn the bar area of the fifth-floor Library Lounge.

Dual-aspect Grand Orient Rooms are situated in the corner of the building.

The Rooms

Batik meets pop art in the 70 high-ceilinged guest rooms, which span the 26th to 30th floors and come in five different categories (three suites and more accommodations will be added by the end of this year, bringing the total room count to 153). The batik prints on cotton in my Grand Deluxe room offered a contemporary take on the geometric kawung motif, and there were matching cushions on a hot pink sofa. Bensley’s unwavering attention to detail makes it hard to know where the old ends and the new begins: artisans in Jepara and Bali gave the custom-made teakwood cabinets a vintage feel, with the natural color of the wood showing through thin coats of paint.

Layout-wise, even rooms in the same category can differ depending on where they are in the building. Unusually for an urban hotel, the toilet is sometimes positioned at the opposite end of the room from the washbasin and shower booth, the latter enclosed by a curved wall of glass blocks. (Tiled marble floors mark out these separate wet zones.) Booking a 40-square-meter Grand Deluxe room will give you a good chance of getting a standalone bathtub by the floor-to-ceiling windows; all guest quarters come stocked with Bulgari bath amenities.

While the ultra-soft pillows may not be to everyone’s liking (firmer ones are available on request), I did appreciate the support of the King Koil mattress. Every room is equipped with a Smart TV, which allows Netflix to be streamed directly from one’s device or laptop via Google Chromecast. For an indulgent night in, order room service — whether it’s short-rib satay maranggi, a classic Spanish omelet, or seared goat-meat fried rice with curry paste, you’re bound to find something that tickles your fancy.

Left to right: A window-side bathtub in a Grand Deluxe room; painted details in the Library Lounge.

Left to right: Arroz negre (squid-ink paella) at Caspar; the restaurant’s outdoor dining area.

The Food

Breakfast is taken at Caspar, where an à la carte menu includes a selection of hearty Indonesian, Japanese, and international entrées. The rest is presented buffet-style on a central island counter: expect to see salad, fresh fruits, cold cuts and smoked salmon, as well as imported cheeses and baskets of pastries (think buttery mini-croissants and pain au chocolat). Weather permitting, guests can dine at an outdoor seating area on a patio raised above the pavement, insulated from the traffic of Jalan Sudirman by a riot of greenery.

One of the few truly authentic Spanish restaurants in Jakarta, Caspar is helmed by Valencian-born chef Rafael Martínez, who relocated to Indonesia after stints at a trio of Michelin-starred restaurants in his native country. You’ll find tapas like croquettes and diced tomato mixed with olive oil on crusty bread, a Catalan favorite. Heftier options range from pollo mantequilla — pan-roasted baby chicken in brown butter served with cheese Parmentier — to the generously portioned squid-ink seafood paella, a crowd-pleaser that’s best shared between six or more people.

Those craving hearty Japanese fare should head over to Furusato Izakaya, a two-story venue in the same building (but accessed via a separate entrance). Its traditional wood-and-tile exterior appears to have been transplanted from the streets of Kyoto; inside, the blond-wood dining rooms feature tatami mats. Must-tries here include the crispy sweet chicken nanban topped with creamy egg salad, and mixed yakitori dipped in egg yolk and soy sauce. Leave room for dessert: the delicate slices of matcha and chocolate mille-crepes, flown in straight from Japan, are sublime.

A seating area inside The Orient Jakarta’s Library Lounge.

What Else?

Guests will want to make time for splashing out in the aforementioned pool. Its deeper area offers ample space for swimming laps, and shallower zones have plenty of submerged nooks to sit or stand while enjoying a hydrotherapy massage. (The connected wading pool even sports a kids’ waterslide.) On the same floor, past the Library Lounge, the property’s gym is now fully operational. An in-house spa with four treatment rooms is currently in the pipeline, though hotel staff say they are not in a rush to launch the space until they find the right partners for the treatments and wellness products. Still to come is rooftop venue Café California, which will feature cabanas and a river-like pool open to the public.

While The Orient Jakarta welcomes guests of all ages, the hotel is geared more toward couples and solo travelers by virtue of its design: there are no twin rooms and access to the main lift lobby is via Caspar, which transforms after dark into a buzzy entertainment venue with live music. When travel restrictions are eventually dropped and international visitors begin trickling in, new cultural experiences organized by the concierge will focus squarely on Indonesian architecture and design.

Doubles from US$138; theorienthoteljakarta.com

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