July 18, 2016 / 3 Comments
I’ve pondered long and hard how to start this review off. How to convey to you how much I loved this dining experience. How to explain in words how special this restaurant is, how special this chef is. How to make you want to travel to Jakarta (not exactly the world’s most hospitable city just FYI) just to taste the molecular Indonesian cuisine I’m about to describe.
How does one do that? How can I put on the screen words that express just how excited I am about this restaurant? I don’t think I’ll quite be able to do justice to our experience, but clearly I’m going to try.
Dining at Namaaz is a journey full of surprises. Unique surprises. The first of which is it’s location. Jakarta. Indonesia. Not the Bali of many a tourist dream, but dreary, somewhat depressing Jakarta (sorry Jakarta). I usually wouldn’t use such words to describe a destination, but it feels like Jakarta is a city only a mother (or perhaps it’s residents) could love. I’ve ventured to many, many an Asian city, and loved the lot, despite their quirks…but Jakarta is a bit different. The first thing you notice is that it’s home to ‘officially’ the world’s worst traffic (I googled it, and believe me you will too when you experience how bad it is) and if you go 10km total in an hour, that’s an achievement. If you’re thinking, ‘Hey, no worries, I’ll walk instead’, think again. It’s a city that’s practically unwalkable due to sidewalks either being non-existent, occupied by street vendors, converted into a parking lot for motorbikes, or full of rather large holes (holes leading to the sewer no less) ready for you to fall into. This makes journeying to any destination a rather frustrating affair. Make sure you get a sim card when you land, as then at least you’ll have something to occupy you through out the long taxi journeys (it’s also great for monitoring how far you haven’t gone in your Uber).
Not sure what to expect of the local culinary scene, we were eager to see what Namaaz had to offer, being that Jakarta has no internationally lauded establishments of note that feature in the World’s 50 (or 51-100) Best list or Asia’s 50 Best list (Bali does however, with Locavore sneaking into Asia’s 50 Best at no. 49). I think it will very soon, and the first is going to be this very restaurant that I’m about to tell you about. I’d put money on it right now in fact, if you’re the wagering sort.
Arriving to Namaaz Dining, we step through the pivoting door into the much-more-modern-than-I-anticpated interior, replete with an eye catching monochrome illustrated wall (later we find out this illustration is done by none other than the Chef himself). Tiny mint-sized hand towels sit ready to be re-hydrated by test tube vials of water, giving us a hint that what’s to come won’t be the norm.
I’m lucky enough to have notes from the Chef himself on the amazing dishes we experienced – so I’ll provide you with his commentary as well as my own.
1. Candle and Cracker
Sambal (chilli sauce) is considered hot and spicy so here’s our interpretation of sambal as a candle. The dish is “sambal balado” which consists of mixed of sautéed shallots and chillies. It is served with assorted traditional Indonesian crackers made from cassava, lotus root and sweet potato.
Course one catches me a little off guard. A rack of vegetable crisps arrives, and a run-of-the-mill, not-that-attractive standard red table candle is lit. At least I thought it was a standard red candle. Just as I’m about to shuffle it out of frame so I can take some photos of the crisps sans it’s existence, it’s explained that the candle is not a candle at all. Rather, it’s part of the dish – and it’s contents are meant to be spread on the vegetable crackers (the wick is a pecan thread, apparently). I have to say I got a little excited at seeing something new, not just another melting chocolate sphere, another table top dessert. Something that wasn’t copied from a YouTube video. Not just a spectacle though, this course delivered on taste.
2. Cireng, not Churros
This is my interpretation of a very underrated Jakarta street food dish called Cireng. By making it into the shape of churros (which most Indonesians know!) I can try to make Cireng more popular. It’s made from fried tapioka flour covered with palm sugar and served with sambal rujak (a mixture of peanuts & chillies).
Dish two arrives, and again all is not what it seems. Looks like a churro, tastes like peanut satay! A touch of pineapple adds the perfect sweet contrast to the spice.
3. Rujak Tartar
This is a playful approach to rujak a traditional fruit dish served with peanut sauce. At Namaaz we always say ‘what you see it’s not what you get’. 18 hours dehydrated watermelon then rehydrated, served with spherification of mango.
This beautiful dish is another brain bender. By this point you realise you’re on a fantastical journey and really can’t assume you know what any of the dishes will taste like before putting them in your mouth. The watermelon looks like and has the texture of raw beef, and there’s no way you could tell the ‘eggs’ were not real eggs until you ate them. Brilliant, and delicious. Being quite a sweet dish however, I would have preferred to have this dish towards the end of the journey as a dessert course.
Sambal roa is a traditional dish from Manado, Northern Sulawesi that consists of fish cooked by smoking. The presentation of the dish is an interpretation of the smoking technique used to cook the dish, presenting it as though it is charcoal, ashes and smoke. It’s made from cassava blackened with bintochan, a kind of natural food clour from the plant, served with rice crackers and sambal roa.
Arriving cloaked in a dome of smoke, it’s crazy how much this dish looked like charcoal, and smelt like it too. The cassava inside is a great twist, though I could have used more moisture in this dish as it was a little dry for me.
5. The Swing
This is dish inspired by my childhood. I used to have a swing hung-up on a “stink bean tree” outside my home. The dish is made from fried chicken liver pate, using the stink bean skin as the chain and served with sambal goreng.
Delightfully playful, both the chicken liver ball and the chain are edible, and nicely livened up by the vibrant dip. I ate the whole thing, though I’ll admit the ‘chain’ element doesn’t sound as appetising now I know it’s made from ‘stink bean skin’! I really loved the whimsical presentation of this course.
6. Pot of Oncom
Oncom is a by product of fermented soybean that is traditionally made by the village families in their homes. The pot is made of tempeh and fermented soy bean. The soil is made of byproduct of tempeh, filled with soy bean curd with sambal tears.
The only pot of any form you should dare consume in Indonesia, I quite enjoyed this (very cute) dish. You discover layer after layer of ingredients as you dig down inside the pot, and being not that familiar with Indonesian food, there are some new tastes in here for me. I’d like this pot plant to come with a watering can of broth of some sort, as this was another course that was yummy, but really quite dry in terms of mouthfeel.
There are always pickles in burgers. Well this is the Indonesian version, based on a dish from Bogor (West Java) called Asinan which means pickles. So our interpretation is a mini burger that is actually made from Asinan. It’s made from cryogenic nitro oxidized peanut sauce, served with a shot of clarified carrot and pineapple juice and turmeric cracker and pickles.
This dish is made table side with an anti-grill of sorts and after it’s been carefully constructed, the tiny burger starts melting pretty quickly…so I had to sacrifice the snaps, but I do have a video! Once the tiny burger is made, it’s presented on a straw leading to the carrot and pineapple juice that you down straight after the burger. Amazing! This petite course was delicious and I was just sad that after witnessing all the had work that went into the process, there sat just one little frozen burger on a stick each – I would have loved a repeat. Or two. Or three.
8. Oxtail Soup
Oxtail soup is a traditional dish from central Java. Inside the oxtail bone there is marrow, so this is our approach of that marrow. It’s made from rice custard served with beef floss and beef broth.
Firstly – how divine is the presentation? The beautiful wooden bowl carries on the strong connection to nature seen throughout the meal, and the components, while perhaps a little unusual individually, work perfectly together. I loved the pipette of chili. A dish that was much more satisfying than initially expected. If all floss was made from beef, I dare say flossing would be a much more popular pastime.
Cabe-cabean is a Jakarta slang term used to describe unstable young crazy girl – where cabe means “hot chilli” in Indonesian. Tuna pate coated with chilli juice, served on top of toasted bread, bone marrow custard and sambal dabu.
See that chili? That gorgeous, tiny chili? It’s tuna. They were even kind enough to make a non-seafood version for me that was indistinguishable from the original. Plenty of technique in this delicate bite, but brought back to it’s homely roots with the toasted bread base.
10. Corned Beef Rice
This is inspired by my childhood. It’s a dish my mom used to prepare as a simple lunch box to feed me and my 7 brothers and sisters! She tried to keep it simple and quick by mixing the canned corned beef with rice & cheese. It’s made from 12 days corned beef tenderloin, sautéed with rice, coated with cheddar cheese and served with fresh baby spinach salad.
Another dish that at it’s essence, is so homely, and serious comfort food – but executed to a very high standard. Humble ingredients yes – but oh, so satisfying. One of my favourite dishes of the night, I could happily eat this on a regular basis. I guess Chef Andrian’s mum knew a thing or two about creating dishes that make people smile.
11. Paha Ikan
In the central Java region of Indonesia people call the main course Ikan, which actually means fish even though it’s a beef or chicken, so this is my interpretation of it. Simmered fish wrapped with chicken skin with the chicken bone inside, served with flame grilled rice with salted fish and green chillies.
Throughout the meal, my husband was always annoyed with himself when he caught a glimpse of a later course being served to a neighbouring table, such was the fun in the surprise that he didn’t want to spoil it. He mentioned that he’d spotted this course around the restaurant, and hadn’t particularly been looking forward to what he thought was just a chicken drumstick. Surely by this point in the meal it should have become evident that nothing at Namaaz Dining is what it seemed…and again was the case with this course. For him, snapper, and for myself, lamb hidden inside the chicken disguise. Really delicious – and I mean you’ve just got to have a curry course, right? Beautifully executed.
12. Sate Padang
This is our interpretation of satay, instead of using skewer, we served the satay on top of the bone
Cured beef tenderloin served with coconut jelly, rice cake and crackers, dusted with dehydrated sate padang seasoning.
Three delicious, petite mouthfuls of tender beef served atop a giant bone gives rise to a rather imposing juxtaposition as this dish arrives to the table. It’s every element of the traditional satay dish in one bite, like the perfect molecular Indonesian canapé – if these were circling the room atop a serving tray, I don’t think I’d be letting them leave my table with any remaining.
13. Es Campur
Es campur (mixed ice) is icy dessert combination of tropical fruits and delicacies, it’s a spherification of mixed fruits and delicates, served with spoon covered with coconut sorbet.
A beautiful little bite, this looked like a tiny marine snow globe. Taste wise I wouldn’t mark it as one of the most notable dishes of the evening, but certainly nice and very, very pretty.
14. Putu Cangkir
In Jakarta food comes right to your front door by the street food vendors which have their own distinctive sound for each food. In this case, whistling is the sound for kue Putu – steamed rice cake served with infusion of Pandan steam coming out of the cangkir (cup).
You can’t help but stare when each table is served this course – the shrill noise of the dry ice letting off pandan steam via it’s rice cake vent is attention grabbing, and plenty of fun. We were beyond excited when it was finally our turn for this course. It really sums up what Namaaz Dining is all about – so playful, and so delicious. Yes, it really was delicious. Chewy, caramelised, coconutty – the only difficult thing about this dish was waiting for it to cool down so you could devour it! Like most of Namaaz’s menu, I’d happily feast on this moreish morsel on repeat. I love this course even more now that I know that the inspiration for this dish comes from the sound the street vendor uses to advertise his product.
Want to hear what this dish sounds like?
15. Hot Chocolate
The word Coklat in Indonesian actually means the color brown. This dish is a playful approach towards Coklat to make colorless Coklat instead. It’s Distilled chocolate with a bit of bitterness from calcium and fructose.
If magicians drink hot chocolate, I’d imagine this is what it would look like. Completely clear (and even more intense in flavour than the original brown version), the semi-viscous liquid makes my brain expect vodka, but vodka it’s not. Actually, It would make a pretty fantastic cocktail if you happened to add some…
16. Neon Sorbet
Villagers in the mountain side around my hometown of Bandung used to collect fireflies and put it in a jar just before dinner so they had light. Assorted fermented fruit with cryogenic tonic water served with the UV lights on.
This one is a show stopper. A bit like the Mugaritz ‘hey, let’s all grind some stuff together’ moment, this dish is delivered to all of the diners at the same time (why will become evident soon enough). It looks innocent enough, but with a flick of a switch the black lights completely transform the tray in front of you into a luminous, sparkling river of emerald blue. It’s pretty cool, I’ll admit that. Ok, it’s really cool. But the this one fell down for me when it came to the taste test, and was a case of style over substance. I guess fermented fruit with tonic water just isn’t my thing. But it was a enough of a show that I wasn’t even disappointed.
17. Es Podeng a.k.a ExPlodeng
Icy dessert consists of puree red bean, coconut, peanut and chocolate and milk
Milk bonbon coated with bread and peanuts, on top of the puree red bean, served with crackling chocolate cryogenic espuma.
When you’re presented with ponchos and men surround your table with their superhero capes, you might wonder what the heck is about to happen. The men with capes serve a dual purpose – to keep the surprise from other diners, and also to contain the explosive spray coming from the final course! Is there a more perfect way to cap off a night at Namaaz Dining and all it’s culinary craziness, than with an exploding dessert?
While we were lucky enough to experience the above menu – the ‘Greatest Hits’ season, I’m pretty confident that anything coming out of Chef Andrian’s kitchen is going to surprise and delight. I love that they change their menus seasonally – it gives me an excuse to return to Jakarta, just to dine at this restaurant.
Namaaz Dining is certainly one to watch – I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for it’s inevitable ascent into Asia’s 50 Best List.
I’ll be rooting for you, Namaaz Dining – you can taste the the passion your team has for sharing these creative and immersive experiences with your guests in each and every bite. See you next time.