Pot Boy Aru may be hidden in plain sight, but it is easily the crown jewel of the buzzy lifestyle compound ROW 9. Since its opening, diners–mostly discerning young crowds–have been cosying up to the establishment’s intimate dining area, roughly the size of a modern studio apartment including the open bar.
Pot Boy Aru opens at dusk and divides their dinner reservation into two sessions: the first once the doors open and the second from 8 pm till late. No matter the time of your visit, glance over to the next table and you’ll likely find their staple signatures BDSM Chicken and Street Skewers.
The former, brined and deboned soy milk-marinated chicken (hence the titillating name) is rubbed with a combination of turmeric, Indian curry and Chinese fermented bean curd before going into the deep-fry. It is then plated with charred scallion slaw and pink crackers that frame the main star like an abstract sculpture. But the savoury kick of the tender protein truly lifts off when paired with their homemade pickles.
While the latter is surprisingly modestly named, it makes up for it in taste. Each portion comes with three skewers and in each, a trio of hanger steak, chicken and lamb thigh cubes, all rubbed with spicy cumin and served unfussily with a handful of chopped parsley and tzatziki sauce on the side.
First-timers will find the unapologetic flavours in these unassuming dishes thrilling. It’s as if the establishment is getting pleasure from shocking the diners out of their gastronomical complacency. For example, the Cashew Green Salad carries a spiciness that is antithetical to a typical plate of tiresome salad.
While there seems to be a method to the madness, Albie Trisura, Bianda Nevansky and Gianni Setijadi Porto (the three of Pot Boy Aru’s nine founders who developed the menu) referred to it as “chaos cooking”. The latter is a term coined by Eater magazine, which described it as “not just fusion, but aggressive, weird, troll-y fusion that’s also thoughtful… and actually good.”
Still, to call it “chaos cooking” may be selling the food short, after all these flavours are the culmination of the nine founders’ past and deeply personal experience from living overseas while being informed by their Indonesian roots. The result is both familiar and foreign, comforting and startling at the same time.
There’s an accessibility to such an approach that diners are less likely to feel pressured into having background knowledge of the food they’re digging in. The same approachability also extends to the dining area, which resembles the dining room of a host. If one were to enter Poy Boy Aru through the heavy industrial door at the back, there’s a sense that you’ve just crashed into a packed dinner party.
As the evening progresses (especially if you’ve reserved your spot at the second dining session), don’t be in a hurry to leave. In fact, this is the best time to soak up the convivial ambience of Pot Boy Aru and kick back with cocktails. Of course, it won’t be Pot Boy Aru without mischievous names, like the Pornstar Martini (verbena-infused vodka, purple passion fruit and puree, vanilla syrup, lime juice and a shot of sparkling wine). The establishment is also one of the few in the city that has an extensive range of natural wines.
After washing the food down with a couple of cocktails and as chatters of the crowd turned into a warm buzz, the founders of Pot Boy Aru (just like the food, unassumingly camouflaging themselves amongst the crowds across the corners of the establishment) might just move the tables aside and invite the guests for a spirited drinking game (think beer pong) to end the night on a high note.
If you were to leave Pot Boy Aru the other way and through the front door, the sensation of going through the tight corridor gives the feeling of leaving a knockout party. Once you’ve ejected yourself out of the premise, facing a different crowd by the busy Blok M intersection, it’s hard not to think of your next visit back to the embrace of Pot Boy Aru again.