Jakarta: halal Indonesian food in the heart of Manila
I have never been anywhere near Indonesia but the thought of vicariously tasting their cuisine is something I will never say “no” to. It just so happened that there’s an Indonesian resto at the far end of our Malate street. I have been eyeing the place for months and in fact entered one time, just to look at the bar and the rest of its cozy surroundings. Having found the menu interesting, I finally convinced a dinner companion to give the place a try.
Our verdict: this is one resto you could indulge your appetite in, even though tucked in a discreet corner and far from the madding crowd of Malate. There’s no harm trying out satay or nasi goreng once in a while when all that the tourist district offers are karaokes as well as a smattering of Korean and Japanese restos.
What we ordered: nasi goreng, the classic Indonesian fried rice topped with egg; ayam goreng, their version of spice-infused fried chicken with a choice of kecap manis or sate sauce for dipping; gado-gado, their classic vegetable salad with peanut dressing, and the tumis kang kong or sauteed watercress with chili. Our gratis appetizer consisted of the akar ketimun, pickled cucumber slices with sweet vinegar dressing.
All proved delicious.It is worth noting that Jakarta does not serve any pork, and all dishes are “halal,” meaning it conforms to the standards of food preparation adopted by Moslems. Jakarta is worth another visit if only for the beef rendang I still have to taste, as well as its assortment of satays. I tasted beef rendang last week in a hotel and thought of how similar it is to our very own beef adobo in coconut milk. Other interesting dishes on Jakarta’s menu include the sup bunut or tender oxtail soup, ikan (fish curry), gulai kambing (goat stew Indonesian-style), and the sambal goreng (spicy sauteed shrimps with quail eggs cooked in coconut milk). They also have a sampler plate called sate campur which is a combination of sate ayam (chicken bbq) , daging sapi (Indonesian beef stew) and udang (shrimp) with lontong or rice suman. For dessert, they have kolak durian dan pisang ( sweet saba banana cooked in durian & coco milk) and molded tapioca with langka, pandan leaves and syrup, among others.
The dishes are priced very affordably from below P100 to P300. There’s a pianist playing during chosen hours and a bar from where you can drink your blues away. The resto also delivers food and is open to special functions like Rotary Club meetings.
Luckily, I was able to meet the owner Rod Estrella who even proudly toured me inside his kitchen which stores all the herbs and spices that are the secret to good Indonesian cooking. Something can be said about a place when you’re brought to an off-limits territory like the kitchen: it means they have nothing to hide . In this case, the Jakarta pantry was spic-and-span – absolutely no danger of a cockroach swimming inside your hot broth
I also don’t trust establishments dishing out foreign cuisine where one of the owners is not a foreigner. Maybe this has something to do with my last disastrous experience in an Italian restaurant handled by a Filipino-Chinese. I mean, the best Italian food can only be had when the one behind the kitchen is an Italian or of Italian descent. Same with the Chinese, French etc. But I guess Jakarta is an exception. Mr. Estrella, who also owned Garuda and Borobodur restaurants in the 70s, says he learned the ropes from the wife of the Indonesian ambassador way back. Some of the ingredients are imported from Indonesia but the rest of the herbs like the turmeric leaves, lemon grass, coriander and pandan are brought in from his native town of Nabua in Bicol.
Mr. Estrella did say what determines the success of a resto is “location.” So why did he build his resto in an out-of-the-way place in Malate? ” Because I have the only authentic Indonesian restaurant in the area. They will always have a reason to come here.”
Jakarta Inn – Piano Bar & Restaurant is at 2082 Benitez St., near. corner San Andres, Malate Manila
It is open from 11 a.m. to 2 pm for lunch, 6 pm to 11 pm for dinner (Mondays to Saturdays)
Coming from Taft Avenue, go straight to Quirino Avenue in the direction of South Superhighway. Turn right when you see Benitez St.
Tel. No. 521-1416