The layers of flavour that encompass Nusantara’s culinary heritage have always tempted chefs and restaurants to put their own stamp into its deceptively simple spread of comfort dishes and traditional liquor. Such is the challenge that Ismaya Group wants to tackle in their first modern Indonesian restaurant, SEMAJA, as well as their artisanal bar, NAAGA.
Situated in the neighbourhood of Menteng, every detail in the earth-toned interior designed by Bitte Design Studio highlights different elements of the nation’s heritage—from the batik patterns imprinted on the wall, traces of rattan weavings on the dining chairs and the ceilings, as well as the macrame installation of the country’s mountainous landscapes. A similar thread follows to their indoor backyard area, encased by greeneries that take after Indonesia’s tropical forests, where breezy afternoons move slowly after one enjoys their meal.
The interior teases a glimpse of what’s on the plate, inspired by the flavours picked up by Executive Chef Patrick Ramon throughout his journey across the nation. “Whenever I travel to a region in the country, I like to stay over at a local’s house as a guest for a couple of days. I would take notes of the food they serve to me, from how they make their sambal to what they drink after a meal,” he shared.
His findings culminated in Semaja’s series of signature dishes, lavishly named Rajamangsa or ‘feast of the kings’, where storied local fares from Aceh in North Sumatra to Rote Island in East Nusa Tenggara get a contemporary twist. Take Kerupuk Opak Kuah Sate Padang, his favourite childhood rice cracker treat growing up in Pekanbaru, fashioned into a bite-sized taco filled with a scoop of vermicelli and beef jerky, and drizzled with spicy and savoury satay broth. Classic options like Bebek Goreng Garing Kuah Kuning Madura has its own charm: crisp outside and tender inside, the fried duck is served with its signature yellow turmeric sauce and a refreshing carrot salad.
One may already be sated with Semaja’s hearty dishes, but an evening of traditional-inspired drinks awaits at Naaga. Just a flight of stairs from Semaja’s backyard brings visitors to a high-ceilinged bar reminiscent of the colonial era watering holes, set with a touch of traditional elements from the gunungan ornament (an iconic, mountain-like figure that signifies a change of chapters in Wayang performances) on the stained glass windows. Crafted by Beverage Manager Reza Tonky, their selection of signature cocktails combines native ingredients with a theatrical flair.
Poured out of a smoky ship-in-a-bottle, Pinisi is inspired by tales of South Sulawesi pirates who travelled the seas for gold. The first sip launches a smoky aroma that adds a layer to the rich bittersweet blend of arrack, kecapi ferment and the classic D.H.T. Ambonese banana syrup. For those who prefer something light and cheerful, the tropical Cendrawasih might suit the palate, weaving native Papuan ingredients to the colourful tipple like the bitter coconut liquor swansarai, the sweet matoa cordial to the luscious buah merah (a red fruit native to Papua) and pineapple bubble.
While offering different experiences, Naaga and Semaja took off with the same inspiration, evident in their ability to add excitement and newness to flavours distinct to Indonesia. With its inventive approach to showcasing local liquors, it’s no surprise that the recently opened bar already has a regular flow of cocktail enthusiasts sampling their signatures. Meanwhile, downstairs at Semaja, diners get to re-explore their hometown food with a twist, while equally discovering new flavours from corners of the archipelago.