Indonesian weddings are big affairs and all Jakarta‘s luxury hotels are in on the act – and the six month-old Raffles Jakarta is no exception. Last night it had a wedding that went on until 1 a.m., after which the event’s party planners took their Tiffany chairs and other paraphernalia away as other planners started work on tonight’s two weddings, setting up the massive ballroom, of course divided into two. As day dawns, women among the invited guests will start having their hair done, elaborately coiffed to go with the tight corsets that nearly all of them must wear to get into dresses that are coloured according to the wedding invitation. Tonight, one wedding, for a seated dinner, specifies spring green and pink. The other wedding, a more usual stand-up happening, is purple. At least people then know if they are going to the right wedding, says the gal.
Wedding set-ups cost around $80,000 and include photo venues. Add to this the cost of food (no alcohol). At tonight’s typical stand-only party, a red carpet walkway is laid in this section of the ballroom. An hour before, guests are waiting in line. At opening time they process in along the carpet, up four flimsy stairs to the stage, where bride, in European-style white, and groom and parents sit in regal chairs. Guests go past, pay respects, descend stairs the other side of the stage and head straight for chafing dishes groaning with food. This is heavy eating time, for a lot of people. My new friend Désirée Bonau was briefly a wedding planner back in Frankfurt and she says she hardly dares say that there an event for 100 was big. Here, a couple of thousand guests is commonplace.
I am going Jakarta tonight, in Raffles Jakarta’s Arts Café. We both start with the hotel’s signature Jakarta Sling, the hotel’s variant on its Singapore sibling’s Singapore Sling. Here the sling is North Sumatran passion fruit, star anise, Galliano, Grenadine, apple sour liqueur, sweet Vermouth and dry gin. I go on to my favourite Indonesian dish, Bakmi goreng, a plate of noodles, chicken, prawn, bok choy and egg. A group of young ladies totters, on highest heels, into the restaurant, all in black with scarlet flashing-light ‘ears’ on top of their heads: it is a hen party, and next week’s bride is recognisable by her short white veil (wonder if they have been shopping first? Like all modern Jakarta hotels, it seems, there is a first-class multi-storey mall connected to the hotel, accessed right outside Arts Café).
This luxury hotel might be related, brand-wise, to its exact-contemporary Fairmont Jakarta, and both have interiors by Hirsch Bedner, but they could not be more different. This one is owned by magnate Candra Ciputra, a fanatical collector of statement art by the late Hendra Gunawan, 1918-1983. Massive tiled recreations of his work (Gauguin meets Munch, with stylised banyan trees, sea and fish) soar 25 feet up the lobby, and by the 14th floor outside pool, garden and jogging track. The lobby lounge is Gunawan in Singapore. The artists’ preoccupation with the sea is shown by a Czech chandelier falling down from a broken ceiling to a carpet that looks like water, with fish. Walls are entire panels of Gunawan, half-hidden behind Singapore shutters. Gunawan is everywhere, in bedrooms – wall panels, and suitably multi-coloured rugs on champagne-coloured marble flooring. There are single-colour Gunawan sculptures in the lovely garden. My outstanding yoga session with Lin, for instance, was to a background a vivid orange Gunawan likeness of women with exaggerated hands and feet and, in the rear, a 50-foot green shape (like Singapore‘s Esplanade) that will be Raffles Jakarta‘s own theatre, opening, at second stage, along with its spa and more restaurants. I look for a book on Gunawan in my personal library, which is extremely well chosen – I have Raffles and the Golden Opportunity, by Victoria Glendinning; Tenun: Handwoven textiles of Indonesia; The 20th Century Batik Masterpieces, Tumbu Ramelan Collections, and 25 Tropical Houses in Indonesia, Amir Sidharta. That should keep me more than busy.
Only three days ago, in another land, the gal was privileged to sample one of the most imaginative dinners that the luxury hotel world has to offer. And now, here in the Indonesian capital, Fairmont Jakarta creates another all-time memory. Look at the image. It shows, from left to right, fresh water prawns with pork crackling, sambal fizz and kaffir lime; pork belly with forbidden rice and grain mustard icecream – and vegetable millefeuille with flattened rye puff pastry, vegetable cream and matcha green tea. The hand at the back, by the way, is a china shape holding another delight, as amuse. Notice how the main dishes are presented, including using cleaned river stones instead of a plate.
This was the first presentation of what was going to be a ten-dish tapas tasting menu devised by Andrew Zarzoza, chef of the hotel and well known not only for his amazing culinary creativity but also for being son of legendary hotelier Amadeo Zarzoza. This menu, by the way, is served at the appropriately-named View, inside-outside on the 22nd floor of the 32-floor building that houses the 380-room, nine month old hotel, and also 108 long-term letting apartments, and had it been daylight we would have been able to look down at the adjacent Robert Moore Jr-designed Senayan Golf Club, a great asset as hotel guests can play. As it was, we – the hotel’s Catalan GM Carlos Monterde and I – looked out at the twinkling lights of central Jakarta.
And we proceeded, through all ten plates. There was a boiled egg broken, in front of us, into a dish of sunchoke, puffed grains, mushroom and cassava. One of my favourites was the foie gras creation, with banana taco, but I also enjoyed table tennis ball-sized balls, green (filled with chicken liver parfait) which we put inside black balls, namely truffled brioche. It was not only maximum taste, throughout, but oodles of fun, which happened continually during my stay. In the main the Hirsch Bedner-designed hotel features lots of dark wood but the day-time only Peacock Lounge is a whimsical confection of palest pastels, white wicker chairs and a ceiling high arrangement of tea tins. There are also several leased-out restaurants, offering Chinese, Indonesian new-look, and Japanese food, and a jazz hang-out, and if you must have more, head down via shiny marble subterranean walkways to the mall, which has dozens of little restaurants plus a Harrods-like food hall, and Sogo and Marks & Spencer department stores.
All this has been planned and constructed, beautifully, by Kajima, who with Japanese thoroughness have also added residential blocks, with gyms and pools, and office blocks filled with the likes of Google. All buildings are joined by those underground walkways, which is really good for all concerned. I had two fabulous breakfasts in this luxury hotel, one in the 21st floor Fairmont Gold club lounge – more great views! – and one in the all-day Spectrum, which despite being on the second floor seems always to be busy with locals. After all this eating, not surprisingly, I had to rush back up to the fourth floor Technogym, which was also where I headed when I arrived, at midnight, and, guess what, there was still an attendant on duty (does someone stay all night as the gym is 24/7, though the lovely outdoor pool on the terrace next to it only opens at six?).
This is it, dear readers: salmon and crab boudin sausage, two bits of poached lobster with lemon slices, pickled Thai shallots and purée of salsify. Yes, it looks great in the photo and it tasted magnificent. Where was it? No, not in a Michelin-starred restaurant, not in any of the world’s best luxury hotels when it comes to gastronomy, but 33,000 feet up in the air. I chose this on British Airways‘ flight London Heathrow to Hong Kong, and thanks to the chef in the airline’s commercial catering kitchen, Mark Tazzioli, and the flight attendants who put it all together so beautifully in the A380‘s galley, the result was superlative, says the gal.
Some airlines’ butlers are getting a lot of attention – Etihad‘s are trained by The Savoy – a Fairmont Hotel. I do wish we had even more positive attention of the food. There really are some noteworthy airline dishes. Please let me know personally if you come across anything that is really outstanding – and it does not have to be haute cuisine. Just as I had one of my best-ever scrambled eggs the other day (admittedly with truffles, at The Lanesborough London, one of Oetker‘s premier luxury hotels) so on this flight I also had simple, plain scrambled eggs, not overcooked. Get it right, and, without wanting to paraphrase Yogi Berra, the memory is, well, memorable.