[As with all of our posts, please click on any image for an enlarged view]
Jl Batu Tulis Raya No. 45
“So where we going for dinner?”
I asked one of the people I was traveling with, who had been to Jakarta many times before, whereas for me it was my first ever visit to Indonesia.
“I know a seafood place,” he replied, “I go there everytime I am here”.
With that kind of reassurance, I figured we can’t go wrong and boy was I right! Pondok Laguna (Indonesian Food) was this lively, entertaining restaurant situated on a very narrow side road which made for an interesting exercise in parking a large SUV we were driving in. Fortunately, the two fellows manning the parking lot right in front of the place got us a spot right away, after much gesturing and shouting to our driver, that enabled him to squeeze the vehicle into a very tight space.
Entering this place, you are immediately taken back by how busy it is, and the streams of water flowing inside the restaurant. It kind of felt like some resort until you went up the stairs to the second floor (unfortunately, the main floor was packed but in hindsight, with the airconditioning upstairs, I wasn’t complaining on this very hot and muggy day), which felt more like a regular spartan space, cafeteria-like in a sense. It was clean though, so no complaints there, as I could already smell the fantastic aromas coming from various tables around us.
We began with an appetizer of balls of fried tofu stuffed with shrimp (tahu kipas), which were so deliciously brown and crispy on the outside with the batter just the right thickness, yet filled with juicy, meaty pieces of shrimp on the inside. A touch of curry flavor here as well, but the shrimp flavor stood out as it should. I need to find this locally, as I can still taste these morsels of heaven. I think I must have ate a half dozen all by myself.
Pondok Laguna is best known for its deep fried Gurame fish, made obvious by a large replica of the fish as their main signage outside as well as on their business card. It was so crunchy and packed with flavor, with a tinge of saltiness that made me crave for more and certainly I ate more than my share, including the brittle bones. I was told it was cooked by placing it in a large vat of boiling oil, which enabled it to keep its upright shape and stand on its own on the plate instead of simply lying flat. It had its head intact, and I could even see a little angry expression on its face, but that didn’t deter me from eating him whole.
Looking for a bit of a kick, we also ordered up a nice fish head curry (kari kepala ikan) which was served with this interesting woven wicker, funnel-shaped basket filled with steamed white rice. I’ve had a few excellent fish head curries in places like Singapore, and this one certainly held its own, though seemed to have a little different flavor than others I’ve had, very “coconutty” and creamy texture. The meat was tender and flaked right off the bones, swirling into the rich curry soup which it was swimming in.
Rounding out our meal, we also had a plate of large grilled shrimp, as well as what I think was a sour vegetable soup (sayur asem). Both of these were excellent as well, though being my first time having the soup, I am not sure what the standard is here. Sorry, no images taken of either of these two items.
Service was interesting, mostly young teenagers. The drink couriers used this large serving cart on wheels with very simple tags for delivering the right glass to the right table. I think they must have gathered a bunch of orders at once before wheeling it out, as it did not come out lightning quick and the top tray was packed by the time it reached our table. Had one of those coconut drinks right out of the shell, very nice taste and can’t go wrong with the presentation.
After this fantastic dining experience, the next time I am in Jakarta I will no doubt say,
“let’s go to Pondok Laguna, I go there everytime I am here”.