Inside the Box of Shikaku and Bar Kotak

by Cindy Julia Tobing
24th February 2023
Neighbours on the second floor of Bimasena building at The Dharmawangsa, Shikaku restaurant and cigar bar Bar Kotak satisfy diners craving for Japanese cuisine and nightcrawlers searching for a spot to unwind with fine-crafted tipples.

Here is the situation on the second floor of Bimasena building at The Dharmawangsa: those wanting to satisfy their cravings for freshly-sliced sushi, grilled skewers and a searing bowl of udon can feel at home at Shikaku, a traditional-modern Japanese restaurant that sits on one corner of the floor. On the other corner is Bar Kotak, a Nusantara-themed bar serving refined cocktails, barrel-aged Boulevardier and a tight collection of Cuban cigars. Perhaps, though, you might just find yourself indulging in both. 

A formidable square printed on a noren curtain marks one’s entrance to Shikaku, where black walls and wooden fixtures define the lines and shapes of the restaurant’s sophisticated minimalist design, as seen from the open kitchen bar to its two private rooms. Shikaku also means ‘square’ in Japanese, and as if deeply attaching itself to the intrinsic value of the symbol, the square can be seen almost everywhere—engraved on the menu cover, moulded on the cupboard, and even on the shochu glass holder. 

Led by the chefs who worked at Shikaku’s Tokyo outlet in Aoyama Grand Hotel, the offerings are what one would expect out of authentic Japanese cuisine. Overlooking The Dharmawangsa’s lush pool area, guests eat in quiet contentment as they indulge in hot appetisers like the crunchy Ebi Shinjo where minced shrimp are sandwiched between lotus slices and lightly fried; the hot bowl of Udon Beef served with thin beef strips and soft-boiled egg in dashi broth (classic Japanese seafood broth); and even the local twist of Unagi Nasi Goreng with slices of grilled eel, fried egg, paprika, lotus root and lettuce over steaming fried rice. 

The ‘square’ agenda follows to Bar Kotak (also means ‘square’ in Bahasa). Giving a distinctly different impression from Shikaku, Bar Kotak is a Nusantara-themed cigar bar that basks in its intimate and privy quality. But the intimidation is toned down by the bar’s surprisingly laid-back decoration, as designed by Sidarta and Sandjaja Studio. Set like a really cool living room, furnished with high-brow art books and chic table lamps, as well as a curious painting of President Soekarno at the centre, Bar Kotak ultimately draws a lot of the younger clientele as well, in counterpart to the older audience that the bar initially aimed for. 

At the bar, tipples stretch from in-house cocktails and beers to a lineup of shochu. And when it comes to drink creations, there’s nothing too intricate or fancy, as concluded by bar manager, Rio Satrio. “When others go for complicated concocting methods, we pare it down by going back to basics.”

The Arjuna surprises with a spicy finish, where amaretto is mixed with saffron-infused agave and passion fruit with a layer of foam on top. Meanwhile, the Tokyo Club is smooth but complex. A riff of the classic Penicillin, the deceptively mild drink mixes Jasmine tea-infused scotch, ginger-honey syrup, fresh Palembang lemon juice and lapsang souchong tea. 

Being a cigar bar, Bar Kotak has the preconception of being a men’s only club where serious talks or business dealings are done under dimmed light. But forgo that outdated image, and replace it with a chill den that feels comfortable and current, as seen from young professionals dropping by to disconnect after work or a chicly-dressed group having a girls’ night out. The trip around the square may start from Shikaku, then straight to Bar Kotak for drinks, or maybe the other way around—there are no rules. Either way, one can easily make the night count at the two establishments and find many reasons to return.