David Trauts dines at Menteng Jakarta’s Kunstkring Paleis restaurant and discovers more than a piece of Indonesian heritage.
One of the few historic landmark buildings in Jakarta, the Bataviasche Kunstkring in leafy Menteng, not only celebrated its 100th anniversary in April this year, but also its latest incarnation as one of the finest and most culinarily accessible Indonesian restaurants in the city. Why I say accessible is that the menus are finely tuned to a western, but also, according to my Indonesian friends, local taste too.
The Tugu Kunstkring Paleis building, which loosely translates to the Tugu Art Society Palace, was restored to its one-hundred-year-old splendour by the Tugu Hotels & Restaurants Group with help from Lingkaran Seni Indonesia and opened over a year ago. The restaurant’s many menus range from Indonesian, Dutch, Western, Southeast Asian and Oost Indische. Many of the recipes have been sourced from Dutch colonial times where the chefs had centuries of experience cooking with the local cuisine for the Dutch palate. The combination of fine food, art and history makes the Paleis a not-to-be-missed destination restaurant for tourists to the city and for anyone living in Jakarta with an interest in local cuisine and culture. Plus it’s the perfect place to take your visiting foreign friends.
The culinary highlight has to be the three choices of rijsttafel; a combination of 12, 16 and 24 small plate dishes, one of which was being boisterously enjoyed by a group of ladies at the lunchtime I visited. For those who don’t know the rijsttafel it is probably one of the most famous dining concepts in Dutch colonial Indonesian cuisine, and is more or less a banquet served on small tasting plates. The grand meal consists of different Indonesian dishes varying in ingredients, spice, colour and flavours. It’s a fun culinary experience and groups of ladies obviously love it, puffing up their hair and dressing to the nines for the occasion at Kunstkring. According to Sian, public relations at the restaurant, Kunstkring Paleis is very popular with groups and with the pomp and ceremony of the presentation of the set menus, is also a load of fun. I’ve never seen so many selfies and group shots in such a short time as I did with the ladies that lunch.Click to view slideshow.
The main dining area is called The Pangeran Diponegoro Room and features a magnificent painting filling an entire wall entitled ‘The Fall of Java’ depicting the capture of Prince Diponegoro after being betrayed by General De Cock of the Dutch-Indies Government. A poignant moment in Indonesian history it stands at one end overlooking the elegant European style antique furnishings of the large dining room. Adjoining that room is the Suzie Wong Lounge, complete with Wanchai rickshaw and paraphernalia from the romantic movie based in Hong Kong during the fifties. There are other smaller private dining rooms at the back and upstairs and all are steeped in their own historical themes. Speaking of romance, the place to experience a truely romantic interlude must be the uncovered balcony upstairs overlooking the gardens and neighbouring Menteng at night. Anyone ready to pop the question?
Now, as I said before it’s not just the history of Kunstkring Paleis that makes this restaurant an enjoyable experience. The food is also very good. On the two trips I’ve made, the food and service has been excellent. With such a wide variety of menus and choices it can be a rather bewildering process to choose a dish, but both the European and local dishes that we tried were all cooked to perfection, which makes a stab in the dark a fruitful possibility too. The beef rendang, imported steaks, curries, soups and just about everything on the extensive menu was delicious. The price too is also great value for money.
For those interested in Indonesian history and culture, and shouldn’t we all, the Tugu Kunstkring Paleis is most probably the closest living and breathing museum with a culinary twist you will ever have the privilege of experiencing. Don’t hesitate to try.
Tugu Kunstkring Paleis
1 Jalan Teuku Umar,
Menteng, Jakarta, Indonesia
Tel: +62 (0)21-390-0898