Bali's intoxicating laziness was left behind after a mad dash to Johnny Taco's before boarding my flight to Jakarta. The last (and only) time I had been to Jakarta before was back in 2001 after a stormy, cockroach infested overnight ferry ride from Singapore. Back then we found the city flooded beyond recognition, cars literally floating by, people wading waist deep in murky waters. Our days were spent in the Jalan Jaksa area where all backpackers inevitably end up, eating Sate, drinking cheap Bintangs on the streets and making friends.
This time was completely different. I ordered an Airbnb in South Jakarta as I had read many articles and blogs that this part of town was the best for food and entertainment. I use the word entertainment in the loosest manner since this strictly muslim country does little to champion the cause of alcohol or bars. With a little bit of internet digging and some tips from my friend I set up a small list of things to do on my five days there.
I booked my stay at the gorgeous (and affordable) W Home Cipete, which was shielded from the traffic brutality in a quiet side alley, replete with a frontside pool and the calming promise of a good nights sleep. The days were spent using my Go-Jek app to hit up Ramen spots, bars and a burger place that was so highly recommended (and burgers were named after Metal Bands), that I couldn't resist.
My first night involved heading over to HARO by the rooftop, which promised "cocktails, eclectic music and fun".
Haro by the Rooftop
It took a while to figure out where to go, climbing the staircase being prompted along by two locals. I finally made it to the top floor and the bar itself was a pleasant surprise. A large warehouse-style bar with lots of bizarre decor, two shitfaced DJ's belting out guilty pleasures and a small group of Japanese men dancing awkwardly. The bartender witnessed my crushing disappointment upon informing me they only had beer, no liquor. The Norwegian half of me was partial to a little side-comfort. Anyhow, I bought a beer and headed out to the rooftop part and sat suitably distanced from others. Within five minute a Japanese man ran over and started asking me questions about why I was there, where I was from etc. We ended up having a jolly conversation and he wrote down some Ramen recommendations, along with a few glasses of his own sake he had brought from Japan. Splendid chap indeed!
The beer and sake had done it's job and left me with an intense need for meat. Suddenly remembering my friend Brennan's tip about the Metal burger place, I accosted yet another Go-Jek scooter, placed my helmet firmly on my head (no fucking around in this traffic), and pushed out way through the side streets and tiny alleys of Jakarta off to Lawless Burger. What greeted me was a spot that wouldn't seem out of place in New York or London. A trendy, rough-round-the-edges burger bar that sold beers, had a bunch of band stickers adorning the toilets and played Iron Maiden when I arrived. What's not to love.
Lawless Burger ($$)
I ordered the Black Sabbath burger, a beer and some fries and sat outside while the music made slight indents into the humidity. Solid burger, good fries, nice home-made sambal to mix with the ketchup or eat straight up, cold beer, friendly crowd sporting band shirts. My kinda place.
Duly filled to the brim with Moo-ing goodness, I felt the need to head back to my room and perhaps sip a glass of wine before watching a movie and falling asleep. Problem being this was Jakarta. Alcohol was apparently super expensive and difficult to find. I started walking back towards my hotel, and stopped a local on the street to ask if there were any liquor stores nearby. He pointed up the road and told me to continue for at least a kilometer and there would be a grocery store with a liquor store attached. I thanked him and kept to the far side of the road, since Indonesian roads hardly have side-walks. Upon walking almost 20 minutes and showing signs of fatigue I was about to throw in the towel until I saw a gay couple fussing over their tiny dog. I asked if they knew the liquor store and they said they were heading that way anyway and would drop me off. The 5 minute journey was filled with the usual pleasantries "Where are you from", etc, and the blasting of Katy Perry on the stereo. I thanked them kindly for the ride and secured a bottle of wine for cheaper than expected. Go-Jek, Helmet, Home.
Morning came in blissful waves, curling light transcendent in its origins filtered in and gently nudged life into me. I lie. The cleaners ignored my DO NOT DISTURB sign and knocked on. Frustration! Time for ramen.
Seirock-Ya Ramen ($$)
First on the list was Seirock-Ya which came highly recommended by drunk sake-man the night before. Again, Go-Jek, got there, found a table upstairs, ordered their standard ramen to which the waitress said "It's very salty", but I decided to risk it since i wanted to find out what was so special about this spot.
Catering to the majorities here, the ramen was without pork. In fact, the entrance boasted a huge sign reassuring punters of the possibility of enjoying a ramen bowl without the evil porcine slices. The soup was intensely rich (as you can probably see from the photo), in that weird way that sticks to the roof of your mouth. Not entirely unpleasant but not a winner. I struggled through 2/3 of the bowl before throwing in the towel. To add insult to injury the chicken slices were dry, something that is unforgiveable if you are going up against pork. Tail between my legs, I humbly walked out and got on my phone for some transportation.
Day 2 came with similar challenges although the staff respected my door sign and refrained from waking me until nature did. I showered and headed out to try the fabled Yoiko Ramen which Ramengvrl had waxed lyrical about in her Ramen Guide to Jakarta. The place itself is situated on the 4th floor of a condemned looking building, the kind of place no person in their right mind would expect to find sanitary food. However, walking up the dim-lit stairway following the signs you end up entering a veritable maze of rooms and counters offering unlimited seating options. I chose the room that was empty, and next to the kitchen. Ordered a Tonkotsu Ramen and a coke and sat looking out the dirty windows at the long serpent of traffic inching by.
Yoiko Ramen ($$)
I'll give Ramengvrl one thing: It was authentic. By authentic I mean, globules of fat floating on the surface like lost icebergs, delicate pork sifting in and out of sight, and chewy noodles keeping all in check. The taste was overwhelmingly fatty. I barely could eat a half the bowl, and had to fight to push back chunks of fat to get to the decent (if fishy) broth. Yet another "Japanese approved" place for sure, but something that pushes most Western palates a little too far. The irony being the best Ramen I ever ate in Japan, and recommended by ramen addicts there had silky, deep broth and buckets of flavour. No icebergs of fat in sight.
Christmas Day was upon us, well me. I'm not much of a celebrator of any holidays so I decided to find a pub, get wrecked and then eat a steak. Eastern Promise was a 20 minute scooter ride away, so I hopped on a bike and allowed him to steer me to my destination without cuts or grazes.
The pub itself was a tarted up British Pub with the proud words claiming it to be "Jakarta's Oldest English Pub". It was late afternoon and the pub was crammed with suited and booted revellers, ex-pats (immigrants) holding their local wives, local girls flirting with businessmen, the veritable drunk who everyone secretly felt sorry for, and the one loner (me) hiding in a corner drinking a nerve-dampening ale. After a couple of hours I felt the need to move on and headed to El Asador for an above average steak and some Argentinian red.
el asador ($$)
Slouched at the table, all eyes on the ragged son of a bitch with shorts and a t-shirt (ON CHRISTMAS EVE) I managed to blow a weeks budget on a pretty decent steak and some red wine. The restaurant had exemplary service and the waiters didn't look at me pityingly, only the clientele. With all that excitement and spite intermingling I deemed it sensible to head back to my quiet room and gaze into the hypnotic allure of a laptop screen before sleep robbed me of reason.
My final full day in Jakarta arrived, much to my dismay. If i'd have known i'd like it so much I would not have booked onward tickets, but duty called and I embraced the day in the hope that the final bowl of ramen would be THE ONE!
Tired of breathing in every car and motorbikes asshole, I decided to splash out and hire an Uber taxi to take me the 35 minutes (or an hour in traffic) to Ikkudo Ichi Ramen! Raved about on many articles and blogs, I suddenly stoked the fires of hope and gazed out the car window focused on the meal ahead. Thankfully (for me) this restaurant served pork, so the full enjoyment factor could be turned up to 11. I walked around the gigantic mall a few times before finding the restaurant, with an insane line waiting to get in. Good sign, bad start. Thankfully the waitress looked at me and signalled 1 (the loneliest number) to which I nodded and she beckoned me and asked if I mind sitting at the counter. By all means no! I do not mind. I took my spot, ordered their recommended bowl and sat fidgeting like a schoolboy anxiously watching everytime the kitchen door opened to see if my food was coming. After an exceedingly long wait, well the place was packed, my bowl arrived and heaven stood still for a moment. I could just tell from the look that this was going to be a winner. My heart leapt. Tears erupted from barren pores. My hands shook as I held aloft the spoon and dipped it beneath that glossy, tanned pool of goodness.
Ikkudo Ichi ($$)
The soup was perfect. I almost let out a yelp. I hurried to taste the noodles. Perfect. The pork. Perfect. The egg. Perfect. Then sat back, took it all in and proceeded to savour every last droplet until the bowls nakedness shone through. I gladly paid, walked off the calories for a half hour and then headed back to my hotel to pack my bags, open a bottle of wine, stare out the window at the beautiful garden and reflect on my week in Jakarta.
Despite the pollution and the traffic, it is a place I'd love to return to because I know for a fact I didn't even scratch the surface.
All these recommendations are just personal opinions based on my palate, things change, chefs get fired or replaced, places open-close, relocate, so take it all with a pinch of MSG and discover your own gems too. But please do try a few of these, they have been researched exhaustively.
"Tastes are subjective, so take everything with a pinch of salty tears"
CITIES / Places