Sega Khas Cengkeh, a generous serving of red rice with an array of side dishes and tengkleng. (JP/R. Berto Wedhatama)
If a culinary pedigree is a good gauge of a new restaurant’s potential, then Cengkeh D’Gallerie in South Jakarta is definitely worth a try.
For it is a younger, updated version of Cengkeh, the fine-dining Indonesian restaurant that offered an enticing tease of “modern” Indonesian food on Jl. Juanda, Central Jakarta, when it opened in 2004.
I tried it out all those years ago, noting in a review that it was part of a growing movement to take homestyle Indonesian cooking and put it in a more gentrified setting. While getting rid of ear-splitting noise and exhaust fumes of traditional sidewalk stalls for an antique-filled, tastefully decorated shop-house may work wonders in the décor stakes, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, which Cengkeh has done. Several similar eateries that opened at the same time have since closed their doors, but Cengkeh is still going strong, serving up its elegantly presented and satisfying mixed rice plates from across the archipelago.
Those same dishes are now to be found in the bright, whitewashed environs of an art gallery on Jl. Barito, across the street from the old bird market. It is elegant in the Cengkeh tradition, but with a more relaxed, lively ambience. Soft music plays in the background, artworks adorn the walls and the central foyer leads to separate bookshelf-lined lounge and dining areas, bathed in light from the surrounding tall windows.
One gets the feeling that hurried urbanites could stop in alone for quick lunch, check emails over a coffee or a tumbler of its special ice tea in the lounge (WiFi is available) or, when time permits, while away a leisurely, conversation-filled afternoon with a group of friends.
It’s a younger, fresher update of its venerable predecessor, for sure, but the over-30s need not fear that they will feel out of place among a gaggle of tweens.
“We’re a place that welcomes everybody,” says Adri Martowardojo, one of the owners. “We have women coming in for their arisan lunch, and others who want to have a meeting here.”
A snack platter (JP/R. Berto Wedhatama)
The menu has been adapted to the new setting, with more snack selections in addition to the heavier main courses of the original Cengkeh’s offerings. Snack platters include tempe mendoan (fried tempeh in batter), beef- or tuna-filled rissoles and combro (fried cassava rolls stuffed with fermented soybeans). Main course items include freshly made black noodles in Balinese spices, Sega Khas Cengkeh, a heaping plate of red rice with an array of side dishes and Tengkleng, here served as a light, beef-based broth, instead of the daunting offal-and-everything-else soup of its Surakarta origins.
Adri describes the dishes as being served in a more attractive and appealing way than at simpler, no-frills eateries. But does that mean (as is always the fear) that the penchant for refinement and conforming to the palates of all has resulted in insipid, toned-down versions of the originals, robbed of taste and texture? Would Cengkeh (which means cloves in Indonesian) fail to live up to its potent name by skimping on the spice quotient?
“The dishes may be served in a different way, but we pay a lot of attention to the spices,” says Adri, adding that head chef Pepen has a “passion” for spices and mixes them himself to identify the best combinations.
“In fact, many of our diners say they find the food here much more genuine tasting than in other places.”
Those gathered at a recent media lunch agreed that little had been lost in the move up in the world. The snacks, served with a selection of sambals, were filling and tasty. The standout among the entrees was the Sego, a hearty lunch well worth its Rp 38,500 price. A bit disappointing, however, was the Tengkleng, which was overly sweet.
It’s still early days for Cengkeh D’Gallerie, and some menu items (breakfast in particular) are still not available. They will be added over time, Pepen said. Chic without being chichi (feel free to get sticky fingers eating the fried snacks), Cengkeh D’Gallerie is a cozy corner to recharge and relax amid the frenetic goings on outside, and indulge in reasonably priced Indonesian comfort food at the same time.
Jl. Barito I, No. 3, South Jakarta