chilltime - Volume 1 Number 2 : November 2010
Indonesian Cuisine, Old and New
The venerable Payon and the new age Loving Hut show the sheer breadth of Indonesian food in Kemang
Payon, arguably the most famous Indonesian restaurant in Kemang and one of the best known in the city, stands out as a unique venue among the hustle and bustle of Kemang’s main street. Walking through its wooden gate, visitors are greeted with the striking sight of the main eating area, an open-air pendopo-style building, surrounded by calming fish ponds and gardens. The building is filled with subtle, understated pieces of wooden Javanese art. The whole restaurant complex is surprisingly large with another spacious garden area in the back providing private dining. Despite being situated alongside the noisy chaos of Kemang Raya, eating behind Payon’s walls creates the tranquil feeling of eating in an old Javanese village.
Although nighttime dining at Payon is attractive, with the candles and lamps ramping up the old world atmosphere, as the restaurant is open-air, mosquitos tend to be a problem. While staff do their best to keep the bloodsuckers at bay with fans and candles, you might want to consider visiting during the day.
Eating at Payon is an experience, one that starts with the menus themselves, which are encased in little wooden boxes that open up as an echo of the restaurant’s gates. The selection of dishes here is almost exclusively traditional Javanese staples, including variations on saté, ayam goreng, nasi goreng and rice plates. There are, though, a few Western dishes such as chicken steak in case you drag along any friends who are truly averse to Indonesian food.
Payon’s lumpia (Indonesian-style spring rolls) are an excellent starter, with thin crisp skin and a satisfying filling of minced meat and vegetables. Another dish, the ayam goreng Payon, is a little different from than your average Indonesian fried chicken. It consists of about half a chicken chopped into small chunks and cooked to a juicy, crisp finish. It does lack a bit in flavor, though, so a better choice might be the ayam goreng bawang putih (garlic fried chicken) which adds a layer of garlicky goodness to the dish.
One of their signature saté dishes, loyang saté, consists of beef skewers prepared in three different ways with various sauces. The meat is fine, but because the different types of saté are served piled together, the flavors and sauces blend into each other, making them hard to distinguish from one another.
Other specialities include an excellent rendition of iga bakar (grilled ribs in a spicy sauce) and their various rice plates. It’s mostly standard stuff you could find at Indonesian restaurants throughout the city, but the kitchen here is fairly consistent at producing high-quality versions of these classic dishes.
Payon is slightly pricey for Indonesian food, but with most dishes below Rp 50,000, it’s certainly not expensive by Kemang standards. The lovely location and well-prepared dishes make it worthy of being a regular haunt for any long-time resident. It’s also an excellent spot to bring visitors to the city for a healthy dose of Indonesian cuisine and culture.
Jl. Kemang Raya no. 17
021 719 4826
At the other end of the spectrum from Payon, there’s the vegetarian restaurant Loving Hut. Wheras Payon is a sprawling venue imbued with the spirit of old Java, Loving Hut is a cozy eatery that embraces modern, healthy takes on Indonesian cuisine. Part of an international franchise, Loving Hut –which also has a branch in Plaza Semanggi– has a diverse menu but specializes in vegetarian renditions of classic Indonesian dishes.
Located in the same building as 7-Eleven, next to Nu China Kitchen, the relatively new Loving Hut in Kemang is a small, unassuming eatery with white tables and chairs. As you enter you’ll see a poster with pictures of famous celebrity vegetarians such as Brad Pitt and Demi Moore. There’s also a TV showing the Supreme Master TV channel, created by Supreme Master Ching Hai, a spiritual leader who espouses the benefits of vegetarianism. She also helped create the concept behind the Loving Hut franchise.
The menu is heavy on faux versions of popular dishes that seek to recreate the same tastes and textures as the original, but without any ingredients derived from animals. You’ll find vegan versions of Japanese teriyaki, Thai tom yum, Western dishes such as burgers and spaghetti, plus much more
When we went, though, we were most interested in their takes on many classic Indonesian dishes. We started our meal with their “fancy nut saté,” their version of the ubiquitous saté with peanut sauce. Loving Hut’s rendition of the dish features faux meat skewers covered in a thick, rich peanut sauce accompanied with either rice or lontong. Although the fake meat, made from a mixture of vegetable proteins such as soy and wheat glutens, is still far from reproducing the flavor and texture of real animal meat, we were impressed that this meatless saté was able to reproduce a lot of the smoky, grilled flavor of the traditional dish, and the peanut sauce complimented it well.
Another dish we enjoyed was the “Jakarta golden soup,” their take on that most Jakartan of dishes, soto betawi. Although this golden soup lacked some of the complexity found in the best sotos, the vegan broth retains much of the characteristic richness of the dish. In fact, many might prefer Loving Hut’s version since it lacks the greasiness and, of course, the offal, such as lungs and intestine, that scare some people away from the original. It has a nice, clean taste and a creamy richness that makes it a satisfying meal.
One of our favorite dishes here is their version of mie ayam, here called “golden noodle soup.” Their noodles have a nice springiness and the broth has a pleasant earthiness and depth of flavor thanks to the generous use of mushrooms. It’s quite tasty, so much so that it doesn’t even need the little bits of faux chicken meat that come with it.
You’ll also find quite a few Indonesian rice plates on the menu such as nasi Bali and nasi Lemak, as well as a variety of tasty fruit drinks, some featuring healthy veggies like carrots and spinach mixed in. While the venue is merely utilitarian, the quality of the food should tempt even non-vegetarians, especially since most of the dishes range between a mere Rp 20,000 and Rp 35,000.
Anand Mathai Photos: Dissy Ekapramudita
Jl. Kemang Raya no 130E
(next to 7-Eleven) 021 719 7165
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