DestinAsian’s deputy editor gives us the lowdown on five eateries he plans on returning to when it’s safe to dine out again in the Indonesian capital.
Potato Head’s Indonesian restaurant Kaum made a splash when it opened in Hong Kong and then Bali several years ago; the Jakarta flagship followed soon after, taking up a restored colonial-era bungalow and an industrial-chic glass house in the leafy neighborhood of Menteng. This is just the spot to invite visiting friends from abroad for a taste of Indonesian food beyond the usual suspects like nasi goreng and beef rendang. My favorite item on the menu is gohu ikan tuna, a modern rendition of a specialty from eastern Indonesia’s North Maluku province. The classic recipe combines pieces of fresh skipjack tuna with lemon basil, chopped shallot, and bird’s-eye chilies, but Kaum’s version is tossed in coconut oil and elevated through the addition of juicy pomelo strands, toasted kenari nuts, and sprigs of mint, with some extra acidity thanks to a sprinkling of calamansi lime juice. Other must-tries include the Aceh-inspired pan-fried chicken and Sundanese char-grilled sate maranggi, which uses wagyu beef marinated with ginger, garlic, crushed black pepper, and lesser galangal.
Spanish chef Oskar Urzelai has spent more than 20 years working in kitchens around the globe, with stints at hotels not just in Indonesia but also Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Thailand, and Cambodia. Seven years after opening his first restaurant in Jakarta, Plan B, Urzelai put down roots in the buzzing Senopati area last March. Named after the members-only culinary societies that emerged across the Basque Country during the 19th century, Txoko (pronounced “choco”) is a bright, two-story venue that pays homage to the chef’s own Basque origins through both its cheery decor and contemporary fare. Tapas here are not the dainty bites one would expect to see at bars in Bilbao or San Sebastián, but more like what the Spanish call raciones, or larger sharing plates. These include perfectly grilled octopus in earthy, mushroom-based boletus cream and a whimsical patatas bravas (spicy fried potatoes) in aioli foam. For mains, try the tuna tenderloin with marmitako sauce—inspired by a popular stew that originated on Basque fishing boats—and onion panna cotta. Whatever you do, save space for dessert: Txoko’s signature cheesecake is arguably the best in town. Every mouthful yields the rich, nutty flavor of Idiazabal cheese, whose intensity is balanced out with honey ice cream and guava sauce.
This casual venue in the central neighborhood of Cikini won’t win any awards for its design or the presentation of its food, but that’s not why it made the list. The spicy, highly aromatic Manado cuisine served at Bunga Pepaya was memorable on my visit—and for all the right reasons. An abundance of blue-and-white porcelain sets the scene for mouth-watering dishes like cakalang fufu, or smoked skipjack tuna, duck in rica-rica sauce, and, as the restaurant’s name suggests, stir-fried papaya flowers. I highly recommend Bunga Pepaya’s ayam tuturuga, a creamy chicken dish redolent with all manner of spices and herbs (think turmeric, pandan, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaf, ginger, and chilies). A Javanese friend of mine gave the ayam tuturuga the ultimate vote of confidence—he declared that it was even better than his mother’s home cooking.
Hunter and Grower
Behind a tiled facade on a narrow Kemang street lies the latest brunch spot by the Sunday Group, founded by two local graphic designers who made their first foray into the F&B industry with the popular (and achingly hip) café Mister Sunday. Hunter and Grower has a spacious, pet-friendly dining room, where patrons tuck into East-meets-West fare that reinterprets Indonesian comfort food in unexpected new ways. Cue the deconstructed sayur asem salad, which arranges various ingredients found in the traditional sour vegetable soup: corn, snow peas, melinjo fruit, and tofu, around a bed of quinoa. A sayur asem reduction on the side distills the expected flavors into a tangy dressing. My favorite main course is the grilled salmon with sambal dabu-dabu. Some restaurants have a tendency to overcook the fish, but Hunter and Grower consistently prepares it just the way I like it—with the center still soft and semi-translucent. The fillet is topped with a wafer of crispy salmon skin, and served with an excellent nasi bakar (coconut milk–infused rice grilled in banana leaf) that could easily stand on its own.
Sometimes the best places are hidden from view, and so it is with this informal bistro-style eatery tucked away inside an office building directly opposite the Setiabudi One mall. The menu here spans multiple cuisines, but with one common denominator: the use of pork. Groups of chili-loving friends many want to try out the Indonesia Big Pork Rice, which is so prodigious it should be shared between three or four people. It includes four pork-based dishes from Sumatra, Java, Bali, and Sulawesi, each served with a different sambal. Two other variations of the platter focus on the flavors of Sulawesi and eastern Indonesia; the pork in the latter is smoked over wood for at least six hours. If you’re dining solo or eating with just one or two other people, excellent choices range from the bacon nasi goreng to the oven-baked pork belly, whose combination of crispy skin and melt-in-the-mouth meat will leave you wanting more. Reservations are not accepted but there is one way to nab a table at peak hours: by ordering pork knuckle for your (suitably large) party in advance.