Saturday, July 5, 2014

Travel Report : Jakarta Weekend Getaway

I went to Jakarta for a short getaway last April and had a very lovely, relaxing time there. I've been wanting to share it ever since so this post is very much long overdue.

So...Jakarta. This capital city of Indonesia is often overlooked in the tourism game. It doesn't offer scenic vistas, it's not a shopping mecca (despite what the tourism board has been trying to tell you), and outside the many newly-minted mega shopping malls and the extravagant and towering buildings in the CBD, the people speak poor to downright non-existent English. I don't blame potential tourists for giving it a pass in favor for Bali or....okay, just Bali.

Established in the 4th century (yes, that is not a typo, 4th, single digit!), it has gone several transformations and endured so many regime changes and as a result, becomes so richly steeped in history. (Fun fact: Do you know that Audrey Hepburn's parents got married in Jakarta? Her mother even lived there for some time during her first marriage, she had her first two sons there.) But that's a topic for another post.

So, back to my weekend getaway last April, my intention was to just relax. I got my ticket from Air Asia and booked a room at Hotel Ciputra. I chose this hotel because it's fairly close to the airport and has a mall attached to it. This mall (and the hotel) was once one of the most popular hangouts in Jakarta. It's lost its charm for some people and as a result, is not as crowded as some of the new places. You wouldn't typically find pretentious upper class youngsters there which is quite simply the basis of its appeal. Instead, you'll more likely to come across middle to lower working class taking their dates or families for dinner. It's a slice of life, no gimmicks or the latest and greatest. It's really nice to just enjoy your time and blend in the background as life goes by around you.

I honestly forgot how much I paid for the room, maybe around $200 for 2 nights? This hotel and the mall attached to it have been around for quite some time so you shouldn't expect something exceedingly grand. I arrived at around 11am (check in time 2pm) but I was allowed to check in right away. I read somewhere that some of the room had just been renovated. Here's my room:

I loved it. My favorite part must be the full-height glass window overlooking the vast horizon of Jakarta's residential neighborhoods. Not many tall buildings in sight, no claustrophobic feeling! These are some photos of the view taken from my room. Isn't the sky so upliftingly vast and blue? On our second day, there were even fluffy white clouds floating in the air.

Here's the view at night. I've always loved looking at city lights, especially well past midnight when most people are sleeping. I really can't help it, it's like clockwork. I'd find myself up at 2 am, clicking away with my camera.

Once I got settled in, the only thing I did was eat, eat, and eat some more! I just popped in to the mall which was connected to the hotel and had a truckload of food there. Here's what I got:
Bakso Sapi Kuah : Beef Meatball Soup with some greens

Ayam Goreng Mentega : Fried chicken in sweet and tangy butter sauce

Mie Ayam Jamur : Dry chicken noodle with Mushroom

Mie Yamin Manis : Dry chicken noodle in sweet sauce

Bakso Malang Komplit : Mixed Meatball Soup

Es Teler: Dessert made of ice, young coconut strips, avocado, jackfruit, and sweet condensed milk

There's also a supermarket so you can stock up your hotel room with snacks and drinks minus the exorbitant price. (Warning though, the door connecting the hotel to the mall will be locked after 10pm or something and you'll have to go out of the mall and climb an external staircase to get back to the hotel. This is crazy, I don't see why they can't station a guard there instead of locking it, tourists who don't speak Indonesian may freak out!)

The room fare included a daily breakfast buffet which is held in Hotel Ciputra's restaurant called "The Gallery". Again, no crazy huge selections but the ones that they did offer, I enjoyed them thoroughly.

Fluffy and moist scrambled eggs

Look at the fluffy and moist scrambled eggs. Do not underestimate the ability of cooks in third world countries to whip you up some mean eggs dishes. I've had some of the best eggs I've ever had in various hotels in South East Asia. I once ordered poached egg in Surabaya, expecting to be served just a solitary poached egg when the cook delivered two perfectly poached eggs served on a bed of English muffin to my table yet a cook manning the eggs station in Swissotel Singapore overcooked my scrambled eggs to the point where smoke was fuming out of the skillet like crazy while I looked in horror (Granted, he could've been a trainee, but still?!)

Eggs station is usually the highlight of my breakfast but not this time. You see, I was craving some chicken porridge, which is one of the traditional breakfast food in Indonesia. In residential neighborhoods this is not something that's hard to come by but when you're staying in a rather upscale area, it's usually quite hard to get some. Luckily Hotel Ciputra serves two local food items everyday and they had chicken porridge that day.

Delicious traditional Indonesian chicken porridge

Funny story, I can't count how many times I came across chicken porridge or other local food items served as part of the breakfast buffet when I stayed in a hotel during vacation when I was younger, and I never once regarded them as legitimate. I'd usually dismiss them for being too 'clean' and soul-less, and therefore not as tasty as their sold-on-the-street counterpart. Yet there I was, gobbling up every last morsel of the chicken porridge with my spoon, bowl after bowl like a woman possessed. I can't help but wonder, though, was it really that good or has my taste changed so much that chicken porridge in a fancy hotel could taste so good?

I noticed something, though. Chicken porridge is something you have to put together yourself because otherwise the ingredients would become soggy, so the hotel will usually just prepare all the ingredients on the table and guests are left to their own devices to concoct the porridge as they desire. This might not be an issue if the guests are familiar with the dish but how about foreign tourists who may not know what to do with those things? They might miss the chance to sample this delicious dish!

I think it would be good if hotels could put up some kind of explanation about the dish and all the ingredients to educate clueless guests on how to whip themselves up some mean traditional Indonesian chicken porridge. Until then, I took the liberty to do the educating by putting up a crash course:


What it is: Indonesian chicken porridge is one of the most popular breakfast food in Indonesia. It is typically sold in the morning by street vendors in residential neighborhood.

The ingredients: The dish consists of a base, which is rice porridge that has been cooked with chicken bones to add some flavor to it and may be lightly salted, and the toppings, which are to be added into the individual bowl right before serving.
Flavorsome porridge
How to make: Simply drop a blob of porridge using a ladle and then put all the toppings and condiments on top. There are no specific sequence for adding the toppings and condiments in which to follow but general rule of thumb is, items with softer texture go first and slowly work your way to the crunchiest, for obvious reason. For example, here's how I made mine:
Array of Toppings & Condiments

1. Drop a blob of porridge about 1/3 of your bowl.
2. Add drizzle of salty soy sauce (there will be usually two types of soy sauce provided - the sweet and the salty one - look for one with thinner consistency between the two. It is concentrated so don't use too much, 1 tsp is about enough.
3. Add about 1/2 - 1 tsp of chili sauce for some kick followed by chopped parsley
4. Add 1 tsp spring onion
5. Add 1 tsp chopped Chinese-style preserved radish (this has texture and taste similiar to pickles only not as wet)
6. Add about 1 tbsp (heaped) sliced cakwe (pronounced chuck-weh, a Chinese fried dough)
7. Add the shredded chicken
8. Add quail eggs (you can have up to 3 pcs)
9. Add 1 tsp fried soy nuts
10. Add 1 tsp fried wonton skin (Note: Although there are some vendors that include fried wonton skin in their toppings, it is not really a common ingredient in this chicken porridge)
11. Add 1/2 tsp fried shallots
12. Lightly drizzle some sweet soy sauce on top of all the toppings as if you're marrying all the ingredients together. The sweetness of the soy sauce will also help counteract the heat from the chili
13. Put some melinjo crackers (you can crack them lightly into smaller pieces if you like) as the final touch
14. Start eating!

How to eat: Again, there are no hard and fast rules to eating chicken porridge but people would usually mix all the ingredients together lightly before eating. Some people mix the whole bowl together at once, other people mix only a mouthful for each spoon. You'll get an explosion of flavor and texture in every spoonful: salty, sweet, hot, chewy, smooth, herby, crunchy; you name it, it got it!

Mix 'em before you eat 'em

I also took the time to go to Bekasi, a town in the outskirt of Jakarta about 45 minutes by car if traffic is good. I grew up in this town and my family still lives there. They took me to see this new mixed property development on the other part of town that we seldom visit. I thought I barely knew the area but then things suddenly looked familiar and I just realized I spent quite a lot of time there when I was in high school for tutoring and extracurricular activities. Funny how I had never thought about those times in 10 years and it all came rushing down on me within seconds and suddenly, it's like I never left.

The development of course had a mall. It is unbelievable and quite eerie how glam the new mall is considering how quite Bekasi was when I grew up. Naturally, we went to the food court. They had this food court where they literally gathered various street food vendors with their original carts to sell the food on the premises. So many food, so little time. Here's what I got:
Mie Kocok (Noodle with Beef Cartilage in Clear Broth) and White Kerupuk
Mie Kocok: A Sundanese (an ethnic group in West Java) specialty, literally means Shaken Noodle

Cireng: Fried Glutinous Flour

Kerak Telor: Some kind of omelet with crunchy rice and sweet shredded coconut topping

Nasi Uduk: fragrant rice with fried tempe, tofu, chicken intestines, and 'Kampung' chicken

On my way back to Singapore, I managed to sneak in time to eat one last bowl of Indonesian meatball soup. I don't know why but these lately I find myself to be quite crazy about meatballs every time I'm back in Indonesia.
Bakso Malang Campur : Mixed meatball soup

Bakso Malang Campur

So there you have it, a weekend in Jakarta done the nice, easy, and slow way with nothing but good food, people-watching, and a whole lotta relaxing. If you're the type that doesn't care about impressing your gazillian Facebook friends and Twitter followers, and you're a respectful tourist who just wants to go low-pro and soak up various cultures, and if you appreciate good food and accommodation in a bargain, then Jakarta could be the place for you. If you need some pointers or recommendations, please feel free to email me or drop them in the comment section, I'll do my best to answer your queries ;-)

Monday, June 2, 2014

Blissful Things : June 2014

This has got to be the most eclectic Blissful Things entry so far. I seriously cannot think of a theme that ties all of these items together other than the fact that I heart them all. Clockwise from top left corner:

1. Jersey dresses from H&M. I have no idea how else I would've survived Singapore's scorching hot weather without these.

2. OPI Nail Envy + Essie Allure. I'm on a break from nail polish madness and this combo has been my go-to pick for producing a look that says "these nails are mine but better".

3.LeSportsac basic backpack. I have one which pattern is similar to this one. It is both girly and sporty at the same time, of which I am neither. However, it has been so convenient to lug this thing around and be able to fit literally anything into it without having to deal with sore arm or shoulder that I think I'm sticking to this backpack for the time being. Until I can afford something much more stylish but equally practical, that is.

4. Clinique Happy Heart. I douse myself in this before leaving the house each morning. It has cucumber note which is fresh but also makes it a little bit masculine.

5. Entertainment-wise, I just can't get enough of Brooklyn Nine-Nine and every second that comes between me and the latest Penny Dreadful episode makes my heart ache. What can I say, I love Gothic horror (Also, Hello, Dr. Frankenstein!).
As for music, I've also been listening to Beck's version of David Bowie's Diamond Dogs and Ariana Grande's Problem non-stop on my mp3 player.

6. Chanel Les Beiges compact powder. Love the glowing, natural finish of this product. It is however, very overpriced and the complimentary brush - while well-made - is rubbish.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Senso Sunday Prosecco Brunch - A Review

Back in February, during Chinese New Year this year, I wanted to celebrate a milestone in my journey of getting my life back on track. A buffet seemed appropriate, and I was feeling fancy so I decided I wanted an alcoholic brunch. The thing is, they are effing expensive. I was quite interested with the Champagne brunch at Ritz-Carlton but I thought I'd save it for later, when there really is a reason to be so extravagant.

Anyway, most Champagne brunches' prices go three digits these days so I was happy when I stumbled upon Senso's Sunday Prosecco brunch online. At $98++/pax, it was much more my pace.

Senso is an Italian restaurant that I'd never heard of until then. The fact that it is a stand-alone restaurant and not part of a hotel intrigued me. The location also intrigued me. It is located in a somewhat 'sleepy' street in Telok Ayer area. It takes up a row of shophouses and is actually more spacious than it looks.

So I called up to book a table a couple days beforehand and their staff called me on Sunday morning to confirm. So that morning my friend and I boarded the Downtown Line (Our first!) and alighted at Telok Ayer station.
Telok Ayer MRT Station

It was a short walk from there to Senso and we loved how mellow the area was. The restaurant's sign might be easy to miss because it's not too conspicuous but the place is actually not that hidden since it's facing an open field.

We walked in and found ourselves in some kind of a lobby. Very elegant and chic.

A man, whom I assumed was the maître d' then whisked us to our table which included walking around a small courtyard and into another building at the back. Other waiters were quick to get us to settle in, opening up the napkin and placing it onto your lap, helping hanging your purse by the table, and that sort of thing.

Then they poured us a glass of water and bubbly. They were supposed to have two options, the white or the rosé prosecco but sadly they told us they were having issues with the rosé shipment so we acquiesced and got the white one.

Honestly, we were quite taken aback by the formal atmosphere of the place. All the waitstaff were dressed in pants and waistcoats and the maître d' was in a suit. And since it's unlike the usual buffet, we were a little bit unsure of what we should do after we got settled in. We could see the buffet spread but it was confined in another room and we weren't sure whether we were allowed to start eating yet.
Buckets of Prosecco and the buffet spread in another room
Thankfully, a waiter finally came over and upon realizing it was our first time there, he then explained the rules. Basically, all the food is set up buffet-style except for the mains, which we need to order. All are unlimited but they do have three other mains that they charged for $8++ a plate should you wish to order them.
Senso Sunday Prosecco Brunch Menu

We proceeded to order the prawn bisque which was bland taste-wise but it did emanate a deliciously strong prawn aroma. We intended to order three mains to be shared between the two of us but the waiter stopped us and advised us not to order too much at once, citing culinary integrity. We thought this was a bit rude, perhaps he thought we'd have ordered more than three but tout ce que...

Anyway, without further ado, here's what Senso had to offer that day:

Selection of salads and cold antipasti:


Smoked salmon - which is a personal favorite of mine - I kept coming back for seconds! The slice is thicker than most smoked salmon usually served in buffets, perfectly cured and smoked, just squirt a slice of lemon to enhance its sweetness.

Good news for oyster lovers: Senso serves oysters. The bad news: I thought they weren't as fresh as they should be. Not sure which type they served that day and I'm not an oyster expert but I've had oysters before that were just heavenly; sweet with a nice bite to it and with very faint oyster smell. The oysters that day had quite detectable oyster smell which might be a put-off for some and not as 'springy'.

Juice Station
The juice station & bread bar:
Bread Bar

The dessert selection:

Seasonal fruit platter:

My personal favorite: Senso chocolates. Don't be fooled by their simple appearance, these little bite-size chocolate cubes pack a punch; not sickeningly sweet, smooth and creamy with a touch of bitterness from the chocolate and a rich coconut-like aroma.I just realize that day I eschewed other desserts in favor for these.

Meringue cookies, which always taste better in your head than in reality:

Onto the mains now. I actually ordered several mains but only managed to photograph some of them. The first two of the following pictures are from the unlimited list while the other three are the specials.

Here's Ribeye Steak with red wine sauce:

And the Poached Salmon with Lemon Thyme Cream:

We also ordered Seared Red Snapper with Arabbiata Sauce and Crispy Skin Duck Breast with Orange Sauce off the unlimited list. They were all without a doubt, delicious. The Crispy Duck is my friend's favorite, FYI.

And here are the specials which I think you definitely should get because they are really, really awesome. Here's Homemade Foie Gras Roulade with Mango Chutney and Brioche (Not pictured):

Here's Spaghetti with Italian Baeri caviar and Vodka:

And lastly, here's Pan-seared Foie Gras with Poached red Wine Pear:
 I definitely think these specials are worth the extra dollars. The two foie gras mains were just heavenly! The roulade was so smooth and flavorful, perfect to spread over the brioche. They also didn't skimp on the pan-seared foie gras and served you a cut with reasonable thickness so you can really savor the delicate fatty texture. And the simple and somewhat dull-looking vodka spaghetti was actually full of delicate flavor. I could never forgive myself for giving it the cold shoulder when it was delivered to our table.

They also have conveniently located bathroom:
Senso's Bathroom's Interior
 So, there you have it, folks. Thought it's nice to end it one more time with a shot of the menu and the bubbling glass of Prosecco.

All in all I spent about $350 for two persons, and that includes 3 extra mains at $8++ per plate. I mistakenly thought I'd get unlimited supply of the specials with the extra $8++, should've known though, 'coz it was too good to be true so just be careful about this.

To summarize, here's the pros & cons list of Senso Sunday Prosecco Brunch buffet:

- Alcoholic brunch with more reasonable price
- Delicious food of top-notch quality especially the mains because they're cooked to order
- Beautiful and unique setting for those looking to experience different atmosphere
- Easily accessible with public transportation

- Limited variety of food. You definitely don't go to Senso for quantity, you go for quality
- The super attentive staff could become a little bit too attentive it's annoying. If you leave your table to get some food, expect your napkin to have been folded into some kind of origami when you return. Every. Single. Time. This might be fancy for some but it's just not my cup of tea
- The oysters are not that delicious

Will I recommend this to anyone? A definitive yes. The different buffet style and the super - some might say over - attentive waitstaff may take some getting used to but once you're able to get past that, you'll find that Senso Sunday Prosecco Brunch is actually a very good deal.