I’m picky when it comes to places to eat. Maybe I have my priorities a little muddled, but unlike the typical culinary tourist, the perfect flavors and taste sensations are not enough for me. What I search for is ambiance. So when I had the chance to have lunch at a restaurant in a restored 400-year-old Dutch warehouse in Jakarta’s designated tourist area, Old Town in Kota, North Jakarta, I was more than eager to go as Prodita Sabarini explains.
The plan behind Raja Kuring restaurant was to build a kitchen specializing in Sundanese cuisine and seafood and to provide visitors an entirely different food experience.
“Our guests will not only have a chance to dine but they’ll also get a glimpse of the old Jakarta as well,” Raja Kuring’s director Paulus Wijaya said.
“Restoration efforts are also a way to conserve historical buildings from falling to pieces.”1
It was with much excitement I jumped off the bus in front of the Bank BNI building in Kota and made a beeline for an ojek to take me to Raja Kuring. My stomach was grumbling.
Speeding through the refurbished area of old town Kota, tourists will see lines of unoccupied, tattered old buildings from this country’s Dutch colonial years.
Some buildings are completely dilapidated, with rotten wooden window panels and mold-covered walls.
But on arrival at Raja Kuring, the impression is quite different.
The 17th century structure is in good shape. Massive teak panel windows adorn the walls and accentuate the impression of an old warehouse.
On closer inspection, however, there has been a mismatch of efforts made to bring this warehouse to life again.
The automatic dark glass sliding doors do little to highlight the restaurant’s Dutch theme.
Work commenced in the late 1990s and the restaurant’s management spent billions of rupiah before they officially opened in 2002.
The final result is a beautifully restored exterior, but a restaurant interior design that does not quite live up to the magnificence outside.
Huge blocks of wooden pillars stand as the interior’s only attempt to reflect days gone by.
The walls are peculiarly covered with beige and red curtains, hiding all windows from sight and fake pine tree leaves with colorful bulbs attached dangle from the wooden pillars.
“Oh, they’re remains of last year’s Christmas decorations,” marketing manager Mariana said after I asked about the decorations.
“We haven’t had the chance to take them down.”
Upstairs there is a function hall for weddings, with a balcony adorned with pictures of the warehouse before it was restored and old photographs of the city of Jakarta.
“We used to place these pictures downstairs, however, it was too much trouble every time we held a wedding, as we had to take down the pictures and cover the walls,” Paulus said, before adding the curtains covering the walls were for wedding decoration purposes.
The restaurant’s initial target-market was Jakartans and tourists, but today it has proved more popular with soon-to-be -married couples.
The restaurant, which has a capacity of 2,000 people, is completely booked on weekends throughout 2008 for wedding receptions.
“We have around 250 wedding receptions per year on Saturdays and Sundays,” Paulus said.
“We sacrificed the theme of the Old Dutch building to fill market demands.”
Wedding Reception packages in Raja Kuring range from Rp 43.7 million to Rp 46.2 million for 500 plates.
And despite the decor, I thought the food was reasonably good. They boast 100 different dishes with prices ranging from Rp 20,000 to Rp 250,000.
One of the kitchen’s specialties, the spicy sour pomfret, is rich in spices and herbs — chef Kietek Phuat said he used generous amounts of red chilies, lemongrass, saffron and galingale.
The Aneka Rasa Prawn also gave a bite and had a distinct Indonesian flavor including terasi paste made of shrimp.
I also tried the Prawn and Tofu ala Singapore, with tofu produced in Raja Kuring’s own kitchen.
For people who are not too fussy about ambiance, Raja Kuring can be a good place to go for a fulfilling meal followed by some karaoke.
And I might just recommend it to the next friend who is getting married.
Restoran Raja Kuring
Jl. Kakap No. 5 Jakarta Utara 14440
Phone. (021) 661 0331, 661 0332