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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Restaurant Review: Potato Head, Pacific Place Mall, Jakarta

June 25 (Jakarta Globe) Potato Head co-owner Jason Gunawan is no stranger to Jakarta’s food and bar scene, though some of his fans are confused about his background. The night a friend and I dined at his latest project, I was amused to overhear a diner at a neighboring table tell his guest the restaurant was owned by “some foreigner” before going on to mention Gunawan’s previous three eateries. He was right about the restaurants, the genesis of which parallels the evolution of Jakarta’s dining scene, if not about Gunawan’s nationality: He is proudly Indonesian, though he studied in Melbourne.

Gunawan’s first culinary venture, Casa, was probably the first of its kind in the country. Opened in 2006, Casa was a cafe-cum-bar serving brunch through to dinner and early morning drinks. He followed that with Loewy in Kuningan, more of a bistro bar, and Canteen, a cafe in an Aksara bookstore.

Having sold those businesses, Gunawan teamed with Ronald Akili and executive chef Sandra Budiman to open Potato Head. Launched with a soft opening four months ago, the restaurant had its grand opening on Saturday, attended by a large number of food, art and design enthusiasts. We returned on Wednesday to get a closer look at, and taste of, what was on offer.

Situated on the outer edge of Pacific Place in South Jakarta, the restaurant has a sizeable outdoor area separated from a walkway by shelves bursting with potted plants, including a great many fresh herbs that are well utilized by the kitchen. Large comfortable sofas surround the front tables — all reserved the night we chose.

Inside, one first notices a huge mural by Eko Nugroho, a Yogyakarta artist who is gaining international acclaim. Opposite is a well-stocked bar, and seating is available both downstairs and on an upper level.

But we are here primarily for the food and the substantial menu doesn’t disappoint. For starters, we decide upon a trio of mini flatbread and a serving of nori-wrapped prawns. The flatbread come served on a wooden platter and consist of seared Tasmanian salmon in a spicy, sour fruit salad; crispy Peking duck with cucumber and scallion salad; and sliced beef with caramelized onion. The salmon is well-matched with a sprinkling of what appears to be unripe mango and Spanish onion, and the crisp, fresh cucumber and scallions set off the earthiness of the duck. The prawns are also delicious, wrapped in nori and a thin batter then fried and served with a spicy dipping sauce and a fresh mesclun salad.

The extensive cocktail list had been recommended by friends, particularly the coconut daiquiri. The cocktails were crafted by Grant Collins, acknowledged as one of the world’s best mixologists and the host of a Discovery Channel program on cocktail making around the world. They are certainly tempting, but we decide on wine instead and choose a Geoff Merrill sauvignon blanc. The selection of wines is excellent, with a few well-chosen representatives available by the glass.

Choosing our mains takes some time as the menu spoils us with choice. Life is easier for my fish-eating vegetarian friend, who chooses a Caesar salad, unfortunately not the roast vegetable salad I was salivating over. I’m equally tempted by the Wagyu beef burger a young diner was enjoying when we arrived, as well as the grilled salmon and the penne with baby lobster in a garlic and tomato cream sauce.

Eventually, I go for comfort food and order the marinated half organic baby chicken, served with garlic mashed potatoes and mesclun salad. It truly is like my mother’s cooking, but then again, I was very fortunate to have a professional chef for a mother. The chicken is grilled to perfection and almost falls off the bone, and the marriage of the creamy mash with the crisp mesclun greens is perfect.

The dessert menu offers much also, from an assorted cheese platter through creme caramel, apple and berry crumble and a sticky toffee date pudding, but we have eaten our fill for this visit. Sitting outdoors surrounded by Jakarta’s soaring buildings, it is obvious we are in Indonesia’s vibrant metropolis, but we feel we’ve found an enclave with a global flavor all of its own.

Potato Head

Pacific Place Mall G51A, SCBD
Jl. Jend. Sudirman Kav. 52-53
Tel. 021 5797 3322