Entering Lara Djonggrang restaurant on Jl. Teuku Cik Di Tiro, Menteng, Central Jakarta, one feels like they are stepping into an antique house and a museum at the same time.
Passing a great banyan tree with its aerial prop roots dangling in the front yard of the restaurant, visitors can see a large Ganesh statue as well as a Budha statue near the entrance.
Inside, the dimly lit restaurant fashions antique floor tiles, fountains and relief from temples.
Lara Djonggrang restaurant, named after the heroine in a Javanese legend, is one of the restaurants of Anhar Setjadibrata, owner and designers of Tugu Hotels, infamous for his love of historical antiques.
Conceptualize by his daughter Annete Anhar, the restaurant serves authentic Indonesian cuisine, based on royal journeys made by King Hayam Wuruk, who rules the Kingdom of Majapahit in the 14th century.
A replica of the statue of Lara Djonggrang at Prambanan temple was placed in the Lara Djonggrang dining area, a romantic candle-lit wine lounge, with long wooden benches and shadow puppets on the walls.
The tale of Lara Djonggrang is about a Javanese princess who refuses to marry prince Bandung Bondowoso who murdered her father. To avoid the marriage, she told Bandung that she would marry him if he could build 1,000 temples overnight. Assisted by demons, Bandung finished 999 temples before Lara Djonggrang tricked the demons into thinking it was dawn. She fooled the demons by asking her maid to pound rice to wake the rooster that crow at dawn. Filled with rage, Bandung cursed Lara Djonggrang into stone.
While the main theme of the restaurant was inspired by the tale of the princess, the restaurant had eclectic theme of Chinese, Middle Eastern and Javanese antique arts.
With a group of friends, I visited the restaurant and sat in a private chamber called the Soekarno room. Based on the Blitar Room in Tugu Hotel Malang, the room had paraphernalia of Indonesia's first president Soekarno such as photographs of him and his daughter former president Megawati Soekarnoputri.
We ate at a big mahogany dining table, once owned by Soekarno himself. The Indonesian flag was hoisted in the corner of the room while Indonesia's coat of arms Garuda Pancasila was hung on the wall.
A painting of the King of Mataram Sultan Agung, a leader admired by Soekarno, was placed in the wall.
Kare Tahu Terong (a light curry with eggplant fried tofu and potatoes) and Urap (mixed vegetables salad with shredded coconut). (JP/Prodita Sabarini)
The food lived up to the restaurant's decor. We had Kare Terong Tahu, a light curry with eggplant fried tofu and potatoes. The light savory taste of coconut blended well with the fresh and slightly crunchy green eggplant.
The Bebek Betutu was second to none. Succulent and tender, the duck was delectable. The battered and fried eel mixed well in the tasty honey sauce, while the meat of the steamed tilapia fish was a little flaky and dry but very spicy.
After indulging ourselves with wholesome food, we asked the wait staff for a tour around the restaurant.
The wait staff explained the details of each chamber in the restaurant. I was impressed by the painting and the decor of the La Bihzad bar in the restaurant, which was a tribute to the 15th century Persian painter Kamal-udin Bihzad. The mural on the wall that told the story of the punishment of the devil was painted by Bihzad's student Al-Marshad.
Meanwhile, the pillars and the ceilings of the bar were saved from 200-year-old temples in Malang that were about to be demolished.
The cuisine and decor combined, Lara Djonggrang is a lovely sanctuary from the city's hustle and bustle.
Other concept restaurants of the Tugu Hotel group includes Dapur Babah, Shanghai Blue and Samara.
Jl. Teuku Cik Di Tiro 4,
Opening hours: 11 a.m.-1 a.m. daily.