Food and Drink

Our ex­pert epi­cure con­tin­ues an un­der­cover op­er­a­tion to bring you the truth about Jakarta's din­ing scene. No spoon is left un­turned in the quest for hon­est, bal­anced re­views, from long-es­tab­lished favourites to the hottest new ta­bles in town.

Indonesia Expat - - CONTENTS - BY THE CL ANDESTINE CRITIC Our Clan­des­tine Critic has dined all over the world, ev­ery­where from three­Miche­lin starred restau­rants in Monaco to street stalls in Shang­hai – so this dis­cern­ing palate has pedi­gree. The quest for truth and the elim­i­na­tion of

GIA: Ital­ian Dal­liance

Valen­tine's Day looms again, with the in­evitabil­ity of a con­gen­i­tally re­ced­ing

hair­line. Whilst ev­ery pseudo-journo/ blog­ger in the city pan­ders to the day's com­mer­cial­ity by re­hash­ing press re­leases about spe­cial ‘ro­man­tic' menus, I – ever the an­ar­chist – have cho­sen to fight the good fight for those who find them­selves sans soul­mate this year (no com­ment on my own sit­u­a­tion. The Critic doesn't dis­close). In­stead of seek­ing a spot for din­ner à deux, I went hunt­ing for more fer­tile ground… some­thing suit­able for those do­ing a lit­tle hunt­ing them­selves.

My mind went im­me­di­ately to Gia. Opened a year ago in a ran­dom if grandiose of­fice build­ing, Gia's darkly so­phis­ti­cated in­te­ri­ors could be per­fect for an evening of food and flirt­ing. Hop­ing to start things off in the right di­rec­tion, I took them up on their of­fer of an aper­i­tivo – a pre-din­ner drink, usu­ally strong and bit­ter, in or­der to whet your ap­petite. I des­per­ately wanted them to get this au­then­tic idea right, but sadly it ar­rived af­ter the first of our cour­ses, and thus slightly negated the point. Still, it was a good drink. I'm usu­ally a sucker for a Ne­groni but was de­lighted to see its cousin on the menu, Lo Spritz Veneziano (Rp.115,000). An Aperol Spritz is Venice's sig­na­ture aper­i­tif: Aperol with Prosecco and a mar­i­nated olive. It was served beau­ti­fully, with a fancy, large sin­gle ice cube.

As I grap­pled with the ex­is­ten­tial cri­sis that is al­co­hol de­pri­va­tion, Ex­ec­u­tive Chef Tom­maso un­ex­pect­edly ap­peared to ad­vise us on the menu. I give him top marks for that. Not all chefs – in fact, hardly any – bother to do this; ei­ther be­cause they are not ac­tu­ally there, or be­cause they don't value in­ter­ac­tion with the cus­tomer. Chef Tom­maso had some off-menu spe­cials to tell us about. He spoke with pas­sion and sin­cer­ity – clearly this is a kitchen that cooks from the heart. First, Por­to­bello in Fon­duta (Rp.125,000) was a meaty Por­to­bello mushroom grilled with black truf­fle and parme­san ‘fon­due' – a rich, creamy sauce that con­trasted well with the earth­i­ness of the mushroom. Off­set­ting the sauce was a zingy mesclun salad with beetroot match­sticks and pump­kin seeds. The beetroot got a bit lost but the seeds were a nice touch, as was the fine aged bal­samic vine­gar driz­zled over the top.

We sipped and supped, all the while watch­ing the com­ings and go­ings of Jakarta's beau­ti­ful peo­ple out on the ter­race. In the evening this out­door space is prefer­able to the smaller in­door bar. It is lit up with twinkly lights, abuzz with cig­a­rettes and cock­tails. The crowd is a nice mix of well-heeled lo­cals and ex­pats.

Presently we were dis­tracted by more food. Pasta is the ul­ti­mate lovers' dish. Many a first date has hung in the bal­ance of a suc­cess­ful pasta – this one would have done the job nicely: Scoglio (Rp.155,000), a seafood lin­guine fea­tur­ing prawns, mus­sels and squid in a white wine, gar­lic and chilli sauce. The chilli had a good kick, and was also can­died on the side. The pasta was nicely al dente, but ad­mit­tedly I was hop­ing for more gen­er­ous pieces of seafood, even though the mus­sels were as sweet and fresh as any I've eaten here.

Tri­umph came in the form of Ag­nolotti Del Plin (Rp.190,000): braised beef ravi­oli in truf­fle but­ter with veal jus and fresh shaved black truf­fle. I am usu­ally scep­ti­cal of quite so much truf­fle on a menu, but the one place I can for­give it is with pasta – it's a match made in heaven. The ravi­oli were a gor­geous deep golden colour, which Chef Tom­maso later ex­plained is be­cause of the egg yolks in the home­made pasta. I ex­pected to be bowled over by the truf­fle sauce, but it was the beef that did it: there was so much flavour packed into those lit­tle morsels, which had been braised with wine and lots of herbs like sage re­ally com­ing through on the palate. De­li­cioso.

We shared a pi­atti se­condi of Den­tice Al Va­pore (Rp.205,000), a steamed snap­per fil­let with – sup­pos­edly – a put­tanesca sauce. Sadly though, this was a put­tana with­out the high heels. The key in­gre­di­ents were there: olives, tomato, ca­pers, gar­lic…but they were given such a light touch – pre­sum­ably for fear of over­pow­er­ing a gen­tly-flavoured, sweet fish like snap­per – that they lacked the salty pun­gency of a clas­sic lady-of-the-night sauce.

Desserts were in­trigu­ing. Over­all the savoury dishes are fairly tra­di­tional – there is sal­tim­bocca and osso bucco on the menu; noth­ing too out-of-the-box in the name of trendi­ness – and I re­ally like that about Gia. They're not pre­tend­ing to be nou­veau for the sake of it. Ex­cept with the sweets.

There was Bur­rata Pan­na­cotta (Rp.85,000), with cin­na­mon ‘soil', black pep­per and berry-beetroot jel­lies. The bur­rata it­self was great, and the meringue pieces were not bad. But the strange ad­di­tion of faddy ‘soil' seemed out of char­ac­ter, and the lit­tle cubes of jelly seemed like a case of tech­nique over taste.

Pasta is the ul­ti­mate lovers' dish. Many a first date has hung in the bal­ance of a suc­cess­ful pasta – this one

would have done the job nicely.

So too with Cro­statina Cioc­co­lato (Rp.95,000). The pas­try was good, and the dark, creamy choco­late fill­ing was de­cently flavoured but had an odd gritty tex­ture. The caramelised wal­nut on the top was suc­cess­ful, but I won­dered why we needed the glazed pop­corn (again, it seemed to be just for moder­nity's sake) and ‘crispy honey' went slightly un­no­ticed. There was also an­other ‘soil' – this time of choco­late brown­ies. What is soil, re­ally? It's just crum­bles of some­thing that was once a larger piece. Per­haps I'm too old to be im­pressed by this? In any case, I would say stick to what Chef Tom­maso does best: golden oldies like grandma's tiramisu, cooked with love.

All in all, Gia is a great choice for both cou­ples and sin­gle-and-min­gles. The at­mos­phere is ur­banely grown-up, per­fect for those look­ing to see-and-be-seen, but in a less ob­vi­ous way than at Loewy et al. Linger at the bar for an aper­i­tif, cast an eye around the room, and dive in to some of Jakarta's top Ital­ian fare.

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