At ESA, Reflections of a City’s Culinary Footprints

by Runi Cholid
7th February 2024
ESA at SCBD Park traces the city's culinary heritage through a lineup of finely crafted contemporary dishes wired around 'lidah orang Jakarta', or a Jakartan palate.

What does it mean to be a ‘Jakartan’? Is it about having indigenous Betawi ancestry, a permanent residence in the city, or perhaps a particular penchant for code-switching between Indonesian and English? For ESA, a new and rising restaurant at SCBD Park, part of that answer lies in one’s palate.

“While conceptualising the restaurant and studying the market, we noticed something we had taken for granted: this notion of lidah orang Jakarta or a Jakartan palate. That’s something many people talk about but have never taken seriously,” said chef-owner Aditya Muskita, a familiar face among the city’s gastronomes for his work as Potato Head’s chef de cuisine, and more recently as head chef of his own private dining pop-up BETA.

Aditya commands the expansive open kitchen while his founding partners, longtime friend Jessica Eveline and gastronomy author Kevindra Soemantri manage the floor. Together, the dynamic is that of three friends hosting an intimate dinner party at home—and the casual, light wood-toned interior designed by Surabaya-based architecture firm Gunawan x Gunawan (Kantor GG), who usually specialises in private residences, certainly helps. 

At ESA, this idea of a Jakartan palate becomes the grounding philosophy that steers their menu direction. Dubbed the ‘New Jakarta Cuisine’, dishes transform beloved recipes into something completely new by rewiring them around flavours that, while not necessarily native to the area, allure with a distinct familiarity that can easily be embraced by those who were born and raised in the cosmopolitan city. 

There’s the standout Surf and Turf 1.0, a snack that reimagines the classic Hong Kong prawn toast into bite-sized tarts that burst with surprising freshness. Completely abandoning its original form’s typically greasy nature, the dish is supplemented with a touch of smokiness from house-made wagyu bacon topping and a subtly spicy finish from the fermented chilli in the prawn, corn and sesame oil mixture.

This debut season, titled Heritage, is also where the team taps into their diverse backgrounds and upbringings to reflect the city’s melting pot character. In Chef Aditya’s case, the Foie Gras Parfait with ‘Hoisin’-glazed Fried Dough snack and the Aged Duck Breast Glazed with Black Rice ‘Brem’ main course represent his memories of growing up in the kitchen and cooking for his parent’s Chinese restaurant, Oenpao Asian Food.

The former is an uncannily harmonious assortment that, despite the addition of luxury ingredients of pure foie gras as a condiment and a complex cashew-based, hoisin-like sauce for the glaze, still retains the easy pleasure of munching on its inspiration: the Bandung street snack of odading. Whereas for the latter, ESA ditches the typically French-leaning fine dining custom of small plates by serving the dry-aged duck with a warm plate of Nasi Hijau (lemon basil-infused rice), duck sausages, salted greens, sambal and pickles (made of chayote) in true Indonesian style of mixing up multiple dishes together in one meal course.

At a time when Jakarta’s status as the nation’s capital is hotly contested, ESA understands that the momentum is there to try and formulate the city’s identity beyond its governmental function. To do it through food is as honest an effort as any—speaking to not only Chef Aditya and Jessica’s long experience as restaurant professionals but also Kevindra’s documentarian perspective towards the city’s culinary history.

With a visibly relaxed approach to fine dining, ESA highlights its grasp of Jakarta’s dining culture by emphasizing its reach beyond mere gastronomy; where intimate social interactions and a fine balance between familiarity and novelty found in its finely crafted dishes coexist seamlessly.