Are you getting bored with the modern, too-cool-for-school eateries around town? Want to savor the culinary delights of Indonesia in old-world ambiance? If so, drop by Kembang Goela, a place where one can taste traditional Indonesian home-cooking - and an opportunity for some to sample some of their ancestors' favorite food.
Kembang Goela is the old-fashioned word for candy, these days most Indonesians would say permen, instead of kembang goela.
The restaurant is beautifully furnished in a colonial style, with some old Indonesian and Dutch tunes softly playing in the background. Its antique collection is also a feast for the eyes; an old clock, tiffin carriers and a gramophone from a bygone era. Some of these artifacts are for sale, while others are part of the restaurant's private collection.
While waiting for food or friends, one can also browse Kembang Goela's mini-library of old books and new, glossy magazines, like Architectural Digest, Prestige and The Peak.
Thumbing through the menu, besides Indonesian dishes, one will find Dutch and Dutch-influenced cuisine, such as the appetizer huzarensalade (carrot, beet, pineapple, applea and green peas dressed with home-made Dutch sauce).
Talking about the food, chilies are used in a wide variety ways in Indonesian dishes and it's a good idea to ask the waiter beforehand whether the food is fiery. A lot of the recipes that use lots of chilies can be altered to make them less spicy. As a person who cannot stand hot, fiery food, I was lucky to find out early on that my main course yuyu djeroek Bali (fried soft-shell crabs served with Balinese orange salad, Rp 45,000) was a hot dish. In the description of yuyu djeroek Bali on the menu, I did not see the word "chili", yet I was told that it was a fiery dish. Although the chef toned down the chilies, as requested it remained delicious, with the pungent salad and crabs complimenting each other perfectly. The mouth-watering fried yuyu (crabs) were crunchy on the outside, yet tender on the inside - succulent from first bite to last crunch.
Oseng-oseng ketjipir (green vegetable Ketjipir, with shallots, garlic and chilies, Rp 27,500) was also tasty and not too hot for my liking. My drink was a luscious es bendera (Rp 22,500), a blend of sirsak, lime, pineapple and pink guava - very refreshing.
If you are into hot food, the dendeng balado (crispy fried beef spiced with sweet and sour red chili, Rp 50,000) or ayam mevrouw lientje (grilled chicken with red chili sauce, Rp 45,000) are excellent.
Boentoet balado (fried oxtail spiced with sweet and sour red chili) and oedang kapiten jongker (fried king prawns with special black pepper, shallots and garlic sauce) are among the other choices.
As for dessert, one has a range of traditional Indonesian desserts here, like pisang gentjet (fried banana served with Javanese palm sugar syrup, Rp 15,000) and kue jongkong (coconut cake, Rp 22,500).
In August the restaurant's rijsttafel, a Dutch term, literally translated as "rice table" will be on offer. Rijsttafel is a complete rice banquet with a selection of dishes and accompaniments - a representative sampling of Indonesian cuisine. The idea is to have tastes of many things rather than a full meal of any single dish, as all five or 10 (or more) dishes arrive all at one time. Semur ayam (tangy chicken stew), sayur lodeh (vegetables cooked in rich coconut gravy), kroket (croquettes) and sate ayam (char-grilled skewered pieces of chicken served with peanut sauce) are just a few of the many dishes in the rijsttafel.
The dish was created during Dutch colonial times in Indonesia. High society, including top-ranking government officers and plantation owners enjoyed eating an array of many dishes in small portions that sometimes covered the whole table. Although it was created by the Dutch, the rijsttafel has its roots in Indonesian cooking, as most Indonesians traditionally take a meal from a big bowl of rice with other dishes arranged around it.
However, one needs to make a reservation at least two days in advance for rijsttafel. A minimum of 15 guests is also required. There are many variations on offer, the easiest on the pocket at Kembang Goela is the Rp 225,000 per person version, for nine dishes (from appetizers to desserts) including drinks.
Bon appetite and selamat makan.
Kembang Goela Plaza Sentral
Parking Lot Jl. Jendral Sudirman Kav. 47- 48
Jakarta Tel: 520 5651
Opening hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily