The folk Javanese music – gamelan — softly plays from the ceiling speakers over the spacious dining room. In front of us are empty rows of tables and chairs, arranged in unbroken symmetry and casting shadows in perfect uniform. In those stretches of tables, only ours are occupied with people in what seems to be an informal meeting accompanied with glorified Indonesian food.
“The Sayur Asam is amazing,” we unanimously agreed. Enrica, our host and 1945’s marketing associate, comments on how this is a guest favorite. On our tables are four seemingly normal Indonesian dishes — Martabak Telor, Sayur Asam, Nasi Goreng, and Ikan Pepes — but their taste and appearance tell another story.
A quick glance can tell you that 1945 spent a lot of time in preparing their presentations. When viewed vertically, the shape of their Wagyu Beef Martabak Telor resembles a rose – made possible with puff pastry – with garnish and cube-shaped sauce on the side. A meaty red lobster, cut-in-half, sits on top of the Nasi Goreng adorning the staple Indonesian dish with a crown jewel. Taste-wise, our highlight is the Sayur Asem, with its incredibly savory broth, pieces of cut octopus and shrimp, mushrooms, vegetables, and its spices. For a moment, I caught myself absorbed in one thought: “This is Indonesian food.”
“The concept of 1945 is to take an ordinary Indonesian dish and infuse them with creative [and often unconventional] cooking techniques that surprise the guest,” Enrica explains. “For example, our Ikan Pepes uses puff pastry in place of wrapped Banana leaf to make the dish fully edible.” And in a shocking twist of culinary expectation, my knife cuts through the ‘leaf’ with ease; a second later turning into an incredibly satisfying crunch. The other dishes also share the same quirk of looking similar but being different while still familiar to the Indonesian taste: and anyone claiming to have ample experience in Indonesian food would be pleasantly welcomed when they dine here.
And to me, that’s what really works about 1945.
But, in the middle of the plot twists of gastronomical experiences, there was a bigger issue that needed to be discussed.
“Truth is, Indonesian food is not seen as on par with, let’s say French or Mexican cuisine,” Ruby started. “There was one time in Mexico where I was served a ‘Mole’, which is a classic Mexican dish consisting of dozens of spices. I had the opportunity to meet this radical chef who would put 50 other spices into this Mole, and waited 3 years for the fermentation to take place before serving it. So I was there, sitting in front of a plate with the fresh Mole in the middle and the 3-year-old Mole surrounding it.”
He continued: “What I ate there was not food, but an experience – as if I were to travel back in time and taste two different versions of Mole. It was a trip.” Here, I feel like I was witnessing that famous flashback scene in Ratatouille. “And that’s what important to achieve, I think: that every Indonesian dish in 1945 has a story that accompanies it – so that the customers feel like they’re experiencing a treat that they cannot find anywhere else.”
To paraphrase, a love letter to 1945 and Indonesian culinary, would be like this: “1945 is one of the candidates that could introduce Indonesian cuisine to a broader, more diverse audience – and it could potentially bring Indonesian food to a more respected place in the food world. All it takes is a bit more creativity, boldness, patience, and of course – time. Then finally, in the near future, we can start seeing results.”
And as we nod in agreement, we hoped that near future is not so distant.
Fairmont Jakarta, 3rd Floor
Jl. Asia Afrika No. 8, Gelora Bung Karno, Gelora, Jakarta Pusat, Kota Jakarta Pusat, Daerah Khusus Ibukota Jakarta 10270