Disclaimer: In exchange for this restaurant review, I received one lunch at Bengawan, located on the 7th floor of the Keraton at the Plaza hotel, in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Though the disappointing aspects were few and/or trivial, before getting into the details, I should mention that the hotel website led me to believe that Bengawan offered a lunch buffet:
You are invited to an indulgent fine dining experience for breakfast, lunch and dinner, where our splendid buffet spread awaits.
However, the restaurant’s website – which was not the first search engine result – ultimately had the correct description:
The a la carte menu is available on:
- Monday to Friday from 12pm to 6pm for lunch
- Monday to Sunday from 6pm to 10.30pm for dinner
If you are in the mood for a buffet, it is available for breakfast, on Sundays for brunch, and for catered parties, which are a common occurrence at Bengawan.
With that riveting backstory out of the way, let’s move on to the food. Khika, the Director of Marketing Communications at the Keraton at the Plaza, was very attentive and helpful in planning my review, as well as in handling my request to change the date and restaurant.
Named after a river in the central Javanese city of Solo (Surakarta), Bengawan’s design aesthetic is almost entirely dissimilar from that of the rest of the hotel. The lobby is sleek and dark, with minimalist touches throughout. However, I felt that Bengawan had more of a South Florida late 80s/early 90s feel. As noted earlier in the post, this is a trivial issue, because the design of the chairs and tables has virtually nothing to do with the taste of the food.
In spite of the anachronistic restaurant motif, the ceiling was high, the windows were wide, and the atmosphere was bright and airy.
Unless you’re arriving by car at the hotel lobby (where the elevators to the restaurant are located), you’ll have to walk through the Plaza Indonesia (hence, Keraton at the Plaza) mall. It’s not the easiest place to access, but I think that’s a positive in this case, as it’s thus a quieter setting. Bonus: even though one might think the views aren’t too great merely from the 7th floor, they’re actually cool:
to think these twin towers used to be the E’X mall…this is the view north from Bengawan
Instead of eating breakfast that day, once I received confirmation that it wouldn’t be a buffet, I decided to check out the menu.
Bengawan serves a mix of Western, Indonesian, and East/Southeast Asian dishes, cocktails, mocktails, and smoothies. Admittedly, there was one specific item that immediately caught my attention, called rendang pizza:
Traditional “Padang” beef stewed in coconut milk and spices, tomato sauce, mozzarella and crispy fried onion.
Whaaaat?! Rendang, one of my favorite (of many) Indonesian foods, combined with pizza, the one meal I crave the most while away from home. Naturally, it was a must, but being familiar with Indonesian dairy and baked goods, I was incredulous at first.
Still, I have to give the chef credit for this – dare I say – fusion of cuisines. The rendang tasted just right, with the coconut milk making a not so overpowering appearance, and the cheese and dough were baked for just the right amount of time.
Thankfully, Bengawan chose the right pizza path (thin crust New York-style, not the all dough-no substance Chicago-style).
Wow, I couldn’t wait to talk about the pizza, completely ignoring the fact that the waiter provided bread upon being seated.
As I alluded to above, it’s not easy finding a good Western bakery in Jakarta. Even the most harmless-looking baguette or brioche has a good chance of being stuffed with meat floss, custard, or who knows what else. Indeed, I’d give most of the bread basket a pass, save for the quality multigrain roll, and the grissini, if only for their genuine crunch.
I was in the mood for a smoothie, so Khika suggested one with coconut, green chia seeds, kale, bok choi, spinach, banana, and pineapple. Darn good choice, too.
Realizing that it had been a few days since I had raw vegetables, I…took the easy way out and went with a Caprese salad, made with mozzarella, tomatoes, and in this case, mesclun.
The salad tasted fresh, the tomatoes were juicy, and the vinaigrette wasn’t too acidic. Although the mozzarella had a rather subtle flavor, it was infinitely better than this local brand. While we’re still on this topic, I’ll add that the presentation of each dish was appealing; in particular the salad plate was clean-looking and neatly prepared.
This plate was the main event. Supposedly invented only in 1970 on the island of Lombok (right next to Bali, to the east), ayam taliwang consists of grilled and fried chicken seasoned with garlic, chilies, and terasi, or shrimp paste. Inside of the banana leaf next to the ayam (chicken) is steamed rice. The two sambal, or chili sauces, on the bottom of the picture are red chili and garlic sauce on the left, and beberuk terong, or eggplant chili paste on the right.
Compliments to the chef for this one, too. I don’t typically order bones when I’m in a restaurant, but I almost wanted to eat the whole darn thing, considering how flavorful the chicken was. The sambal were also addictive, so I started putting them on the rendang pizza.
Bengawan clearly has some good food and an easygoing setting to offer patrons, but its service could use a bit of a boost. The waiter reeked of kretek, or clove cigarettes, and wasn’t terribly knowledgeable about my menu choices. That said, I’m adventurous with food, and enjoyed almost every morsel at Bengawan, so I’d try a few different items next time. Should you find yourself hungrily wandering the halls of Plaza Indonesia, you may want to know that:
The a la carte menu is available:
- Mondays to Fridays from 12pm to 6pm for lunch
- Mondays to Sundays from 6pm to 10.30pm for dinner