Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Thanksgiving Sunday Brunch at Arts Cafe @ The Raffles Hotel

December is always the month I’m really looking forward to. Family gathering, Christmas celebration, gift exchange, and definitely thanksgiving! I don’t know what this month actually means to you but for me, it’s always the time for gathering, which means eating a lot, yes like REALLY A LOT of foods together. It’s been my family’s tradition since I was a kid that December should be celebrated by a giant feast.
This year is somehow different for me as I’ve been so busy lately and I’ve been tied up by deadlines. Weekdays were really exhausting with sleepless nights and cups of caffeine. Besides, I don’t have my family here with me as they’re staying in my hometown, 2.5 hour away by plane from Jakarta *deep sigh*. Okay, let’s stop complaining, when my friend told me last week that we would have an early Thanksgiving brunch together at Arts Cafe, I was extremely excited! Finally I can catch my breath for awhile and just spend the whole day sitting and having never-ending chats.

For you who’ve just heard of Arts Cafe, it is located at The Raffles Hotel, just next to Somerset and Ascott. Yes, it’s a newly opened 5-star hotel connected to Lotte Shopping Avenue so you can also access this place through this mall. First time stepping into the hotel, you could already feel its 5-star ambience with the classic high-ceiling decoration and the pampering cinnamon scent. I was immediately greeted with the warm service of the security, who immediately requested the hotel attendant to guide me to the Arts Cafe. They were just so professional, creating great impression for a first visit.

Entering the Arts Cafe, I could smell Christmas already. Trees, mistletoes, red socks, gift boxes, and many other decorations. The venue itself was not as big as the ones I usually found in other similar 5-star hotels, however I could immediately enjoy the atmosphere as for me, it was neither too formal nor too casual. It’s simply at the balanced level so you could get the luxury impression, yet still feel the homey circumstance.

In the morning, Arts Cafe is actually the breakfast venue for the Raffles hotel guests. While at lunch and dinner time, it serves both buffet and ala carte dishes. Special in Sunday only, Arts Cafe serves brunch buffet starting at 11.30am up to 3.30pm with the price of IDR 550k++ per pax. This was the one I tried at my visit to Arts.

As the welcoming dish, Arts cafe served very exceptional menu, which was various types of homemade chips including Salmon Skin and Squid Ink ones. At first, I didn’t even know they were chips and I though they were just table decoration instead. Surprisingly, the squid ink one tasted awesome, especially if you enjoyed it with the mustard dipping.

Similar to other typical buffet venues, there were several stations serving various types of foods, coming from different countries. The first one was Japanese station, serving colorful nigiri sushi, fresh sashimi, wakame salad, and iidako (octopus). The sushi and sashimi were good enough to come as starters, and the iidako was the champion! Besides, you could also find the selections of wine right next to this counter. I couldn’t take alcohol that much, so I picked the white wine as it’s sweet. For a non-alcoholic like me, it’s pretty satisfying. However, if you were alcohol intolerance, you needn’t worry as they did serve other choices of beverages which were part of the price you paid. I also tried their Raffles Jakarta tea, which was TWG tea, being customized only for Raffles Jakarta, bringing the combination of fruits and herbs taste.

Continue with the food, going to the center part of the venue, there were 3 stations available, each of which had different theme for the foods they served. The first one was ultimately my most favorite. For you who knew me, you might have made the correct wild guess. If you just thought about desserts, yes you did know me so well. There were many selections of cakes, starting from the traditional ones like Kue Lumpur, Pukis, Kue Lapis, Onde-onde, and many more; classic ones like chocolate fudge brownie, apple pie, cheese cake; until recently hip ones like red velvet, lemon meringue, carrot cake, and chocolate soil. Additionally, you could find choices of pies, bread, croissants, pizza, and bagels. My recommendation were the pecan pie and chocolate fudge brownie, which might sound too generic, but once tried could be mind-blowing. Another happiness was the special cake served during this Christmas season, the red lodge-shaped vanilla-custard-based cake served with chocolate and raspberry, which was not only good-looking but also mouth-watering. Not to forget, one of the most wanted dessert in any buffet, the Chocolate Fountain! I personally thought that Arts Cafe’s Chocolate Fountain was the most unique one I’d ever seen as it contained many layers and it separated between milk chocolate and dark chocolate. Ok sorry, you could drool now.


Moving to the second station, here they served various selections of appetizers like salad, fruits, cold cuts, and fresh raw seafood. Apologize in advance for those who don’t eat pork, but great news for those who’re mad of pork, because they served it here! As I belonged to the latter group, of course this was surely a plus point for me! They were sooo good that I had to hold myself, otherwise I would get bloated only by having the appetizers.

The third station located at the center was the one serving Asian dishes coming from various countries. You could find rice-based ones like Briyani Rice and Hainanese Rice, noodles like Spicy Japanese Udon, and different types of seafood and poultry including grilled chicken, beef bulgogi, steamed snapper, cereal pawn, stewed beef, and many more. From this corner, my choice went to the snapper.

Not yet finishing there, there were 2 other corners, serving poultry dishes. The first one was the station serving the special Thanksgiving menu, Traditional Roast Turkey with Trimmings. The taste was rich and luscious, bringing the combination of roast turkey with chestnut stuffing, brussel sprouts, roasted baby carrots, and braised leeks. Besides, there’s one component of this dish, the Chipolatas sausages, which satisfied my appetite the best although it’s only a complementary part instead of the main one. Moving on to the next poultry dish, they also served Baked Tenderloin Wellington served with black pepper sauce, truffle mashed potato, and sautéed mushrooms. Despite the fact that the turkey was actually the special one for this Thanksgiving celebration, this second poultry dish was the one successfully stole my heart. It perfectly suited my palate as the beef was juicy, tender, and well-seasoned. Besides, I loved the flaky pastry layer covering the beef as it’s tasty and the texture was just perfect.

Having told you about all the stations, now we finally arrive at the most interesting part. There’s actually one distinctive point Arts Cafe has, which’s not available in other similar buffet places, the Show Kitchen. This Show Kitchen usually serves 5 up to 10 dishes in small portion, which are all served with stunning presentation. They’re intentionally made as the best parts of the course the guest has in Arts cafe. The dishes are freshly made there and immediately served to the guest’s table. At my visit, there were 7 of them (it’s my bad that I only took individual picure of some of them :( ): Choquette with Truffle Cheese, Salmon Teriyaki, Vanilla Cauliflower Soup, Capellini Pasta Gorgonzola, Seared Scallop Green Pea, Chix-Breast Carrot Corn, and Foie Gras Terrine. 

Seared Scallop Green Pea

Foie Gras Terrine

I was not paid or whatsoever to write this, but all of them were just extremely too good to be true! I was already bloated when I had the rest 4 of them but I just couldn’t resist to finish them. It’s hard if you asked me to choose which was the best, but if I really had to, my pick would go to the Salmon Teriyaki and Seared Scallop Green Pea. The Salmon was so fresh and the Teriyaki sauce was flawless, bringing the right balance of sweet and savory taste. It’s beautifully served on top of simple sushi roll. The Seared Scallop Green Pea was also an addiction as the scallop had first-class taste. Usually, I thought that scallop was kind of tasteless and I had to have it with sauce to satisfy my taste bud. However, I had 180-degree different opinion with this scallop as having it by itself was already highly satisfying. But don’t get it wrong, the green pea did come as plus plus plus point for this dish. Top notch! 

Coming to the perfect end of the super heavy full course, we’re given two scoops of homemade ice cream, whose flavors were based on our personal selection. This was not displayed at the station, but it’s available upon request. The flavors provided were vanilla, chocolate, green tea, mango, blueberry, and coconut. My choice were green tea and coconut, but I did try all other flavors as my friends did intentionally pick different ones. For me, the top 3 were blueberry, coconut, and green tea. The first two ones were so refreshing as they’re more to sorbet-alike. However, if you opted for milkier one, then green tea would be totally you.

Overall, I really really enjoy my Sunday Brunch at Arts Cafe. Looking at the price, you might think it’s a bit pricey, but once you try it, the price does worth the taste and quality. I was fully satisfied with each dish served, the ambience, and the service. Will definitely come back here some time soon!

Taste: 8.5/10
Place: 8.5/10
Service: 9/10
Price: 8/10

Thanks for Reading! :)
Arts Cafe at Raffles Hotel Jakarta
Address: Ciputra World 1, Jl. Prof. Dr. Satrio
Phone: +62 21 2988 8080
Opening Hours and Price/pax:
Breakfast (Mon – Sun 6am – 10.30am)
Lunch (Mon – Sat 12pm – 2.30pm) at IDR 320k++/pax
Dinner (Mon – Sun 6pm – 10.30pm) at IDR 380k++/pax
Brunch (Sun 11.30am – 3.30pm) at IDR 550k++/pax

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Inputs & comments: jessicagaby@ymail.com

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Your Guide to Japanese Noodle Restaurants

Konnichiwa! Genki Desuka? Hi fellas! How are you?

Geez! It’s been exactly 2 months since the day I left Japan and came back to Indonesia :( . Yes, I have been terribly sad and I am still wishing that someday something could bring me back to this country, where I’ve left part of my heart (or may be almost whole of it). Okay, I start to be over-exaggerating but I can’t lie to myself that I miss miss miss Japan so so so much! The fresh air, the hectic trains, the amazing queue, the extremely nice people, everything. And most importantly, the scrumptious foods, which always come with stunning presentation.

I have been waiting for this time to come, the time when I can start writing my Japan food and travel guide for all of you who have been asking me to make this for tons of time. So here it is, my very first Japan food guide and as the very first one, I pick Japan’s most wanted traditional dishes (well, according to me they are for most of the tourists), Japanese noodles! I’ll share with you the list of all Ramen, Soba, and Udon restaurants I’ve ever been in Tokyo and its surroundings. They’re somehow different one to another as you know that Japan has several styles of noodles, such as Ramen, Soba, and Udon. Moreover, for each of them, the dish itself might be various, depending on the origin or the prefecture where it comes from. Please note that the order is just random, but don’t worry as I’ll definitely tell you if they are on my must-try list!

1.    Mutekiya Ikebukuro
1-17-1 Minamiikebukuro, Tokyo
Mon – Sun 10.30am – 4.00pm

My most recommended dish here is their signature, Nikutamamen (¥1,050). This Hakata style ramen, which is pork-based broth, is the best ramen I’ve ever tried in my whole life! So if you say you’ve tried the best ramen ever, please think twice if you haven’t tried Mutekiya. This is definitely a must-must try! The ramen is served with sliced roasted pork, flavored egg, bamboo shots, and seaweed with Mutekiya name printed on it. The best parts of this Nikutamamen are the extremely tender pork and the super rich broth. Trust me, you don’t even want to leave any single drop of the broth in your bowl. Warning, please expect approximately 30-minute queue, especially if you come during weekend or lunch time.

2.    Gogyo Nishiazabu
1-4-36 Nishiazabu, Tokyo
Mon – Fri 11.30am – 4.00pm, 5.00pm – 3.00am; Sun 11.30am – 4.00pm, 5.00pm – 12.00am

My most favorite dish from Gogyo is their Burnt Miso Ramen (¥880). Yes, the color is black and it’s literally burnt. You can see the big fire in the kitchen when you’re dining in the restaurant. That burnt yet tasty broth is basically the distinctive point from Gogyo Ramen.

3.    Yoroiya Ramen
1-36-7 Asakusa, Tokyo
Mon – Sun 11.00am – 8.30pm

Yoroiya serves shoyu (soy sauce) based ramen with clear broth. I tried this ramen stall when I visited Asakusa, the place where the famous Sensoji temple’s located. The queue was quite long as it’s been known as one of the oldest ramen stall. I had their Tamago Ramen (¥880), which was served with the double-yolk egg, their point-of-selling. However, personally I don’t think there’s something special with the taste and it’s just okay for me.

4.    Kagari Ginza
4-4-1 Ginza, Tokyo
Mon – Fri 11.00am – 3.30pm, 5.30pm – 10.30pm; Sat 11.00am – 3.30pm, 5.30pm – 9.00pm

If most ramen in Japan is served with sliced pork and having pork-based soup, Kagari is the solution for you who doesn’t eat pork. Yes, they do sell sliced pork as the toppings, but their signature dish is their Tori Paitan (¥980), ramen with chicken-based soup and chicken toppings. If I nominate Mutekiya as the best pork ramen I’ve ever had, then Kagari’s Tori Paitan is the best for chicken one. I’ve never eaten boiled chicken as tender and juicy as theirs. It was perfectly cooked, which you might see from its pinkish color. The condiments were also unique, as you would get salmon roe and mushrooms. For mine, I also added sliced beef as I was so tempted looking at those pinkish medium-well beef as well, which were proven so yummy. Same as Mutekiya, you have to queue here and it’s even crazier as it might take more than 1 hour since the stall can only occupy around 8-10 people.

5.    Ichiran
3-34-11 Shinjuku, 4-11-11 Roppongi, 7-1-1 Ueno, 6-5-6 Jingumae, 1-39-11 Higashiikebukuro, 2-8-8 Azabujuban, 2-14-10 Sangenjaya, 6-19-11 Haramachida, 1-3-3 Nishikicho, 13-7 Udagawacho, 3-12-22 Sakae (Tokyo)
Mostly opened for 24 hours

For those who have been to Japan, you must have known Ichiran as it’s probably the most famous ramen chain among tourists. First time coming to Japan, the only ramen stall I know was Ichiran as so many people were talking about it. Additionally, it’s available at almost every areas in Tokyo (they even have 3 stalls in Shibuya!) and most of the stalls open for 24 hours. If you’re a tourist just like me, you might find this ramen stall quite unique as there are walls between each guest, making you feel like you’re eating by yourself in a private room. Just like other chain restaurants in Japan, you just need to order your dish through the vending machine provided in front of the stall. However, you needn’t worry as you can request for additional order later.

Cut the story short, I finally try their Classic Tonkotsu ramen (¥790). I personally think the sliced pork were too thin and I needed to order more slices as I were not satisfied enough with the default one, which came with 3 slices of roasted pork and condiments. The broth was quite good, but to be honest it didn’t impress me that much. For me, it was delicious but not to crave for.

6.    New Tantanmen Noppo Ingen
1-1-7 Nishikanagawa, Yokohama

Another variant of ramen is served here, it’s the Tantanmen, the spicy ramen with chili and garlic-based soup mixed with eggs and diced pork. They basically serve only one type of ramen, but you can adjust almost everything; the spiciness level, the garlic amount, the eggs amount, and even the diced pork amount. I go for its level 4 and yes, it’s so spicy, even for Indonesian taste bud who usually can stand quite high spiciness level like me. It somehow looks simple, but the taste is actually awesome. It’s just different style to enjoy your bowl of ramen! One note, beware of the garlicky smell which might come out from your mouth after having this. My Japanese friend even told me that people usually want to have this at Saturday as they’ll just stay at home and meet no one at Sunday.  

7.    Yamatoten Abura Soba
1-5-1 Shinjuku Nishiguchi MB 3F, Tokyo
Mon – Sun 11.00am – 12.00am

Just couple of weeks after I arrived for the first time in Japan, Yamatoten Abura Soba established their very first brand in Pantai Indah Kapuk, Jakarta. I was so curious to try as they claimed themselves as Tokyo’s best Abura Soba. I tried to ask my Japanese friends, but surprisingly only some of them know Abura Soba and they do say it’s not that common in Tokyo. I then tried to find out where the original one’s actually located and luckily I managed to go there. For you who don’t know what Abura Soba is, it’s basically boiled thick noodle with specially made sauce, served with roasted pork. People sometimes call it as soupless soba as well. When you want to eat it, you have to mix it with the special oils provided with the amount recommended. I tried their Half-boiled Egg Abura Soba (¥750), and my tummy was pampered right at the first spoon. That’s my first time trying Abura Soba and it immediately became one of my most favorite Japanese noodle! Even when I went back to Jakarta, it’s one of my top-priorities to try.

8.    Nishiesyouten
Aqua City 5th Floor, Odaiba, Tokyo
Mon – Sun 11.00am – 11.00pm

Located at the Ramen Village at Aqua City Odaiba, this ramen stall is just one of the many ramen stalls available there, each of which sell their own specialty ramen. Nishiesyouten captured my interest as they served Abura Soba (¥700). Different from Yamatoten, this one’s richer in terms of toppings and condiments, and all of them perfectly suited my palate. The taste was pretty different from Yamatoten but I did like this one so much! So for you who have tried Yamatoten and want to have different version of Abura Soba, this could be your perfect choice. Besides, you can enjoy the beautiful view of Odaiba while having your delightful bowl of soba.

9.    Kazuga Tei
2-6-12, Dogenzaka, Shibuya, Tokyo or 7-10-14 Shinjuku, Tokyo

Another option for Abura Soba is Kazuga Tei, whose stalls are available in Tokyo’s 2 most famous places, Shibuya and Shinjuku. In terms of toppings and condiments, their signature Abura Soba is quite similar to Yamatoten as it’s not that much. However, the sauce is totally different. It somehow looks like cheese but please note that it’s not cheese. For you who love noodle with creamy sauce, this can be one of your to-have list. It’s quite hard to explain how the taste is because I can’t find any other food with similar taste, but simply said, it’s luscious.

10. Tsurutontan
3-14-12, Roppongi, Tokyo or 2-26-3 Kabukicho B1F, Shinjuku, Tokyo
Mon – Sun 11.00am – 5.30am

Different from the previous 9 restaurants, Tsurutontan is famous for their udon and highly well-known for their giant portion. Even the normal one is far bigger than your face. Actually they do serve other types of noodles like Ramen, but their udon is highly recommended. I tried their Tsuruton Zanmai (¥1890), which from the picture only you could tell that it must be super good. It’s clear soup based udon, served with beef, egg, prawn tempura and veggies tempura. You needn’t worry to be deceived by the photo as in Japan, the actual one is either same or even better than the photo. Don’t think that it’s overprice before you try it yourself. Looking at the super generous portion and abundant toppings, you’ll definitely think the price really worth the quality and taste. The udon has perfect texture and all the toppings come as flawless companion. One thing to note, they require each guest to order minimum 1 food/beverage. As the portion is so huge, I recommend you to share one for two and order only light bites or beverage for your sharing partner.

I still can’t believe that I finally finish writing my very first Japan food guide. Please be patient to wait for the next series as I have been extremely busy these days and it takes quite long time to make this type of guide as I want to make each of them as complete as possible. In case that you have any questions, feel free to drop me email and I’ll try to get back to you as soon as possible. I’m always excited every time I talk about Japan, especially all its foods! I really hope it can help you exploring Japan :).

Thanks for Reading! :)

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Inputs & comments: jessicagaby@ymail.com