If diners go in blind without a peek at its social media account, a question that lingers might be what kind of food Contra serves in its elegantly-designed room.
Set on the second floor of a white boxy building on Ciranjang street, a luminous-looking bar welcomes patrons as they enter the premises, blending well with the space’s clean and modern interiors that nod to the Mid Century-inspired design. On the third floor, a private space they call Penthouse resembles a sunny loft set with a communal table and a living room.
But up to this point, there are still no clues that reveal its genre, that is until one grabs the menu and screens the list of antipasti, primi and secondi, from plates of fresh pasta to selected cuts of USDA Prime steak.
At Contra, Italian American cuisine takes centre stage with Los Angeles-based chef David Almany developing the menu. Known to take on Italian cuisine with an emphasis on regional ingredients, the dishes he develops naturally lean toward his California roots. “Which is why a lot of our food is California-inspired, the type of Italian food that you would find in L.A.—there’s a summery, light feel to it. A lot of people who came here also said that they feel like they’re there [in L.A.],” noted Contra’s co-founder Andrew Hong, who’s a long-time friend of the chef.
The ambience of the room—adorned with a clean combination of green tiles, natural and muted light, as well as plant accents—might add to the vibe that one is dining at one of Southern California’s happening restaurants. But as intended, the focus still goes to what’s spread on the table.
Infused with seasonal truffle brown butter and showered with aged Parmigiano Reggiano, almonds and breadcrumbs, the Grilled Asparagus is a simple antipasto that can easily pair with the flavours of other main dishes. The straightforward plate of Spaghettoni balances the prominent flavour of its aged Pecorino Romano cheese with the addition of guanciale, a type of Italian cured meat from pork cheek, while the 1,000g Porterhouse steak and Crispy Chicken Milanese set out to be a perfect sharing dish.
From wine to cocktails, Contra also applies the same integrity to authenticity to its lineup of drinks, which was curated and developed by award-winning sommeliers Wicien Widjaja (co-founder and wine director) and Teguh Alexander (head sommelier). Original cocktails like Mr. Somm are a collaboration between its head sommelier and head bartender, concocting the sweet dark notes of red wine with whiskey, cinnamon and lemon for a refreshing twist.
Contra may not ‘look’ the part of a restaurant that serves Italian food—and that may be the point. True to its name, Contra wants to contradict what’s already out there and what people know of Italian restaurants in the city. At the same time, it is also about providing a pleasant environment that can pull diners to return. “Personally, a place is nice when you don’t constantly notice it—it’s when you’re just enjoying your time, your company and of course, the food and drinks,” closed Andrew.