I booked a table at Locavore before I knew who I was going to go with. I knew it filled up about 3-4 weeks in advance and so figured if I got a table, I could always cancel it. As it happened, it was only the week before when my friend Ruth mentioned she had been out to the sister restaurant Nusantara with friend Jerven the night before and that they had tried to get into Locavore but with no luck. “Well, it just so happens I have a reservation for next week, if you guys want to join?” Ruth is in there like a shot, and Jerven is well up for it too.
Between us we are one vegetarian, one gluten-intolerant and one keto-adapted but all share the same passion for good food.
So on Thursday evening, we head to Jalan Dewi Sita amidst the Kuningan celebrations and very excitedly take a seat at our table by the window. Immediately we are given the drinks menu but decide that, as we are going for the tasting menu with drinks pairing that it would be wise to go easy on the booze, and order sparkling water. The waitress comes over and explains that shortly we will be served some ‘snakes’. As she walks off we exchange glances. “Did she just say she’s bringing some snakes? Far out!” This is experimental cuisine at it’s most experimental!
At that moment some beautiful ceramic pots are brought to the table and I’m not sure if this is the serving vessel for our first drink, but the waitress tells us this is the first ‘snake’. At that point, we figure out that we are getting some pre-dinner snacks and the first one is a stunner. A Betelnut leaf, wrapped into a cone and filled with a sambal-like mixture is held in the opening of the pot and salt for sprinkling can be found in a tiny dish attached to the side. It’s beautiful and ingenious. We sprinkle the salt, fold the leaf and knock it back in one, rather like a tequila shot.
The next ‘snake’ is deep fried leaves with aubergine emulsion. The leaves are served artistically on a bed of the same leaves, uncooked, and the emulsion is piped onto the cooked leaves in small dots. The dark and smoky aubergine flavour bursts out. The waitress tells us what can be eaten and what can’t. Sometimes it’s hard to tell.
Yet more snakes. This time Balinese urap, which looks like stuffed vine leaves, but instead of mediterranean flavours, you get lemongrass, coconut and chilli.
Following this are turmeric pillows filled with lemongrass emulsion. I would like to sleep on them and inhale the delicious filling in my dreams.
The next snake is a black rice blini topped with a mushroom emulsion. It tastes incredible. This, for me, was ‘peak snake’ and we still hadn’t had anything from our tasting menu. We cheekily muse whether it would be considered rude to pay for our bottle of water, thank them for the ‘snakes’ and leave, but think better of it. If the freebies are this good, we can’t wait to try the actual menu.
The next dish to come out looks familiar. We are told that these rings of coconut, deep fried to look like calamari, served with a lime wedge and seafood mayo are called Coco-mari (you see what they’ve done there?). Very clever, well done.
So we are told, that’s the end of the ‘snakes’. But wait, the menu still hasn’t started, now we get the ‘amuse-bouche’.
Believe me, my bouche could not be more amused with what was presented. It was tomato sorbet served with a celery consomé. The concept is Bloody Mary in a bowl. “I LOVE bloody Mary”, I told our waitress, grinning like a Greedy Cheshire Cat. As myself and Jerven started photographing the dish, Ruth wryly commented that the sorbet was gonna melt. She had a point, this dish is best enjoyed hot/cold. It was amazing.
The next dish we are brought is a stack of round, pita style breads. Our waitress tells us that they are made from cassava flour and coconut yoghurt – WTF?? They are served piping hot and with three dips; a nut oil, dukkha and a pineapple sambal. The three of us cannot believe how good this bread is.
Now it really is time to start the menu proper, the dishes are served along with a drink pairing for myself and Ruth (Jerven goes for the “it doesn’t count if I sip other peoples’” option). It’s a banana leaf wrapped mackerel with a dipping emulsion made from egg yolk and burnt leek. It’s rich and creamy and, washed down with the vermouth cocktail is a fantastic start to the menu.
On course 2 we diverge and I watch jealously as Ruth and Jerven are served my pre-vegetarian-days favourite dish of steak tartare. My alternative dish is Surf and Turf. Prawn wrapped in spinach and served with a bone marrow broth. I question the vegetarianism of the bone broth but the waitress assures me there’s no meat in it. I’m not sure that’s the point, but let it slide in the name of research. And wow, it blew my mind. The tiny parcel of prawn is so packed with flavour and then the meaty broth (which is in fact gravy) packs another huge flavourful punch. Definitely not vegetarian, but definitely more so than steak tartare and I’m not jealous at all. We’re not communicating at this point but judging from all the eye rolling, I assume the steak is as good as my dish.
After the steak is another meat dish – goat leg which is deep fried and looks like it just falls apart. My veggie alternative is called Into the Sawah and takes all of the ingredients from the rice field. So, a small pile of risotto with rice from the Tegallalang terraces, containing snails and frogspawn, decorated with wild flowers and topped with a duck egg. Again, I’m not sure how vegetarian this is but figue a snail is the same as a prawn and frogspawn is the same as an egg and so give myself another pass. Anyway, the concept is inspired and it looks and tastes amazing.
Dish four is fish of the day and today it’s Barracuda. A small piece of the fish is served with Saus Gulai. The fish is so perfect and satisfying, you wonder why you would ever need to serve it in a bigger portion (and this coming from the greedy cat) and Ruth also remarks that the sauce isn’t even necessary.
As we polish off the fish, there’s a depressed silence and we’re all thinking; That was the second-to-last-course. Only one left. After such an epic meal, we are having trouble coming to terms with the fact that it’s almost over.
But then, as if reading our minds, the waitress comes over and tells us we will now be served our pre-dessert. Pre-dessert!? Yes, this is my kind of place!
Predessert is a delicious trio of glassy, gelatinous noodles, coconut mousse and a pandan cream. I mean, what better way to prepare for dessert than with another dessert? Then, the actual dessert arrives, it’s a combination of mango and rice. It’s cool, sweet and the crispy rice bits on the top are just wonderful. The accompanying cocktail is almost like another dessert, containing coconut milk and mango. You could almost call it a cold soup, but with the addition of pandan vodka, it went up to the category of dessert/cocktail.
For me, it usually cannot get better than chocolate when it comes to dessert, but this dessert was so good, my chocolate craving was gone.
Well, maybe not completely gone.
Once again, as if by some means of extra sensory perception, the waitress is back with, not just one, but FOUR post-desserts, including a fig stuffed with chocolate ganache, which is to be eaten last. It’s almost like they don’t want us to leave!
The table is laden with the different elements of this final course and the waitress explains them to us. Before you get to the chocolate there is fruit and before that, a huge wooden spoon filled with pandan cream, but to kick it all off, we have an edible flower containing rose-flavoured jelly, served in a vase. We’re told to fold the leaves and eat the whole thing. After doing so, we tip the contents of the vase into a champagne flute which contains a rose-flavoured ice cube and drink it. It’s theatrical, it’s unexpected and it has us giggling like children.
After stuffing that chocolate filled-fig into my mouth, I could not want for anything else and fully accept that the meal is all over. The bill is fantastic value for the 16 dishes we have enjoyed and will be remembered forever. The problem is, how do you top that?
The drinks pairing includes cocktails rather than wines, which I thought was inspired. Why mess about with costly imported wines when you can apply your alchemistic powers to the drinks as well as the food? The cocktails use small amounts of good quality spirits – allowing you to enjoy your tasting menu right until the end without getting shitfaced – such as rum and vodka, which have been infused with various elements. Apart from the last one, which accompanies dessert, the cocktails are not sweet and complement the flavours of the food just as well as wine. You can see the jars stacked on shelves in the restaurant in different shades of exciting colours, and it reminds me of the BFG and his bottles of frobscottle. Now perhaps you wouldn’t ordinarily order a drink whose two main elements were fermented cabbage juice and aromatic mushroom liquid. In fact, you may be hard-pushed to think of two flavours you would less like to find in a cocktail. However, the cocktail which was served with the steak tartare was precisely that, and it totally worked. Prepare to have your mind blown!
- Have the drinks pairing
- Order a pre-menu drink to go with your ‘snakes’. There are quite a few of them!
- Book in advance.
- Think about it anymore, just book it!
- Worry about going home hungry.