“Do you have a reservation, Sir?” Turning up at one of Kemang’s most popular restaurants at 7.30pm on a whim is always likely to end in tears, but respect due to Toscana for using their initiative and doing some table juggling while we sat at the bar having complimentary drinks to apologise to us for us inconveniencing ourselves.
At this point I realised that the dining area is non-smoking and resolved to absorb as much nicotine as possible while waiting at the bar and munching complimentary bread-sticks.
I do love the concept of free stuff and tend too avail of too many, with the result that I have generally sated my appetite by the time my food arrives.
Probably some kind of conditioning from student days, when it was a matter of stocking up on anything not nailed down when visiting a restaurant.
I actually visited because I had recently heard two good reviews from my friends and having lunched in Loca!, I made the short stroll around the corner to Toscana wondering if it would be snooty, or expensive or entirely hyped-up – my usual pre-review inverted snobbery mantra.
It does try to be snooty, but as evidenced by the service upon arrival, this snootiness just seems to be hard-working efficiency as opposed to ball-breaking coldness (Cassis!).
Once the nicotine and gluten-fest were dispensed with, we were seated at a very pleasant seat beside a couple who appeared to have dispensed with the communicative dimension of their relationship, and instead he fiddled with the settings on his Crackberry, while she phoned her friend.
Who says love is dead in the 21st century?
I ordered the Grisca (Something) Carne while the Marmzfemme opted for the Penne Bolognese, which she forgot to request uncheesed. Some gentle huffing and puffing ensued, but such is life, and she had already devoured a fairly bulking-looking semi-chicken earlier.
Her food was apparently not quite as good as the equivalent in PepeNiro, Trattoria’s new incarnation, but perhaps the cheese was a deciding factor, on top of a full stomach.
The reason I am making excuses for Toscana is that my food was incredible.
The meat – lamb chop, tenderloin, sirloin and veal was served on a bed of mixed lettuces, accompanied by aubergine, three colours of peppers and caramelised onion with a red wine and pepper sauce on the side. NOMNOMNOM!
I think I let down Mz Marmz, by wiping up the sauce with at least 5 pieces of assorted (complimentary) bread.
The toilets were really nicely decorated, but were confusing as to which gender should go where, as evidenced by an Italian couple screwing it up.
Still, it amused me as I enjoyed my post-prandial burpage.
To those of you who read this more than once in a blue moon (Hi, Frank! Hope your Mum’s feeling better), you will know that I am an occasional visitor to Brewww!, an innocuous-looking little cafe just off Kemang Raya opposite the new Index building. Until now, I have never ventured upstairs. Wow, what a revelation! While the cafe downstairs is small and dark, the upstairs is a light airy space which looks like a sofa and cushion showroom. Sparse decoration and high ceilings lend a sense of openness and peculiarly, quietness. It is like a library in a nice chilled-out way. The Internet connection is nice and fast and the waiters only come near you when asked.
The Blueberry cheesecake is uber-rich and delicious – would recommend one slice between two, unless you are accustomed to that kind of thing.
The sofas are comfy and loooooong. Marmz likez.
One thing that bules like to do when gathered together is to moan about various places where they paradoxically wilfully spend a good deal of their waking lives and so it is with Kemang’s Eastern Promise. Plenty of moans can be heard regarding speed or pleasantness of service, but this is simply the result of a bar/attempting to replicate a Western experience and succeeding in terms of atmosphere and decor. That the bar is in Jakarta will always create a culture clash. Most Indonesian waitresses find it difficult to walk a line between the expectations of reservedness, attentiveness, discretion, fun, accuracy, timeliness and bawdiness-willing in a country where a waitress is referred to as a bar girl and treated accordingly by people too rich to care about others’ feelings. Eastern Promise does manage to keep a standard of decency not afforded to the staff in Blok M or Jalan Jaksa, while catering to Westerners’ fickle needs by providing free daily newspapers, WI-FI (on which I pen this), an Indian/Western food menu with weekly specials and weekend roasts including a haram Roast Pork with crackling, which brings a joyful tear to the eye.
Not a week goes by without the management coming up with new, fun ways of keeping bums on seats and curiousity tweaked. Monday offers free beer for bald people, moustachioed people, be-lipsticked people(!)and bespectacled people, depending on which week of the month it is. To be sure, just turn up with all of the above to guarantee free drinkage. Friday offers free beer between 5pm and 6pm to all those in the bar until someone leaves or visits the toilet. It is called Pressure Hour for these reasons. Once a month there is a trivia quiz, with questions ranging from the simple to the bafflingly fiendish, but all within an atmosphere of ribbing and mild abuse between the teams vying to be monthly champions.
Indonesian culture (culture? What? In a bar review?) is represented by displays of photography and craft in the restaurant and these have featured some stunning pieces of art, with Leonard Lueras and Brandon Hoover displaying notable favourites.
The outside pavilion area has a large area for events such as the regular gigs held on Friday and Saturday nights. These are loud and popular and have showcased some incredible talent from very diverse points on the musical spectrum. It seems nothing is too odd or experimental on the From Under A Rock nights and the more conventional rock and covers scene draws handsome crowds every weekend. Being outside, it can get a little warm, but this just adds to the gig atmosphere.
The food is good, with the curries being paricularly noteworthy. The Beef Bindaloo is fiery enough to satisfy even the most daring chili-phile. The Reasmi kebabs are fresh and mouthwatering. Today, the Marmz had Chicken in Red Wine Sauce from the weekly specials menu and Mz had the Chicken Curry. The curry was declared ‘very Indian’ which had me wondering what that could possibly mean. Further inquiry led me to understand that it was identifiably Indian and not generic kari flavour. Thumbs uppage from the Mz, who was starving and not in the mood to be trifled with. My chicken was tender and the caremelised shallots added
sweetness to the dark goodness of the red wine sauce.
I guess the reason that Eastern Promise garners so many moans from expats is that they have become spoiled, without even stopping to realise that it is places like Eastern Promise that have catered to their whims, almost to the point of perfection and slowly but surely, spoiled them like a patient and indulgent parent.
Despite assurances on the phone that The Venue in Kemang was open, a parkir with a hose in the car park cheerfully informed us it was tutup, while splashing our feet with water. Having taken a taxi from Grand Indonesia, I was pretty peeved to say the least. The Venue – Customer service failure in the extreme!
So Ms. Marmz, having worked in Kemang before selling her soul to the devil and joining my office suggested Loca!, which is a short hop, skip and a jump around the corner. My first impression was that it was closed as the door bears no sign announcing its ‘buka’ness. But being intrepid, we pushed and the door gave way into what I can only describe as a doll’s house designed by a six year old on ketamine. Citrus colours predominate, with the artworks on the wall naive and like talented finger painting. Me likey!
Random but fun!
The menu is pretty basic but has all the staples you would expect of a Kemang cafe. The coffee list is extensive and reasonably priced (are you listening Starbucks!), but still with decent baristas. I don’t drink coffee, but they looked like they knew what they were doing. I get confused beyond Nescafe.
It is the ambience that sells this place. It is a place to unwind, read, browse your iDiotbook and generally mull over the trivialities of life.
The Venue, shove it up your unpredictable opening hours. Loca, you have it right.
Crowded. Awful music. Dark. Meh. Thus endeth the potted 5 word review by Ms Marmalade.
This negativity could well have been caused by her losing her camera memory card (of which she is obsessive) or the fact that she spent the morning teaching after a night of watching rain pour through the ceiling or it truly it is a rather resounding failure.
Most of the time she is the upbeat half of our duo, but today that was not to be the case and our choice of review target was tantamount to masochism. We walked in to find that the preliminaries for a kids birthday party were being organised in this Mexican cantina-inspired eaterie. My anti-children alarm should have gone off, but as I had already avoided Amigos for 4 years, I bit the bullet and made my way upstairs in the hope of being as far as possible from the screaming, dribbling, hyperactive, poo-machines. Little did I know that the second tier was a gallery of the downstairs and we were treated to a bird’s eye view of the little darlings in action.
The food was served quickly by competent waiters and waitresses who were probably glad that they hadn’t drawn the short straw and been press-ganged into dressing up as – rather humiliatingly – Naruto. Why they picked the tallest, most suicidal waiter to portray the short-arsed character is rather beyond me, but this is Indonesia and logic frequently takes protracted holidays.
The food was Mexican Meh. It was ok, but not as spicy as I would have liked as I made a point of telling the waiter that I wanted it pedas. Spicy the Ground Beef Tacos weren’t, but they were fresh, apart from the generic crispy taco shells (previous residents of Ranch Market, no doubt). Rather predictably the Marmalade Missus got Chicken Enchiladas. She is currently plucking her feathers as I write this.
The birthday party did seem to be a successful affair with all concerned enjoying themselves, except me, but then I wasn’t invited. It’s not my party and I’ll cry if I want to.
Naruto took to slumping on the steps and that’s pretty much how I felt about the whole experience.
Just one more thing, Amigos. Kids + Microphones = hideous fail.