If Chef Isep Hidayatulloh can make it all the way from Indonesia to Mumbai just so the good people here can partake of the flavours of Indonesia, can’t I travel mere miles to experience the flourish of his culinary brush? Of course I can. Alas, I missed the opening ceremony at Pondichery Cafe, Sofitel BKC thanks to the demands of my hectic travelling schedule. But I did make it there on a Saturday afternoon with a friend in tow.
The festival ran from 9th to 18th October and those who bagged invites for the opening ceremony were treated to authentic Indonesian dance performances, or so I heard.
The second we entered Sofitel, we were greeted by the colourful banner proclaiming the Flavours of Indonesia festival.
Sagar, the affable restaurant manager made sure we got a cozy table not too far from the tempting buffet spread. My friend chose to sample the Indian delicacies first while I made a beeline for the Indonesian treats. Between us, we managed to sample both the vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes on offer.
The seafood soup deserves a mention for the simply divine broth that it was. A clear soup with generous pieces of fish, squid and prawns, its warm goodness set the tone for the meal to follow.
If there’s one thing that has an undeservedly insipid reputation, it’s salads. Taste the Indonesian salads on offer at Sofitel Mumbai and I guarantee you, you’ll change your mind. I had the urap, a steamed but crunchy vegetable salad, spiced up with some seasoned, grated coconut. The dish reminded me of South Indian vegetable preparations and felt very fulfilling.
My friend: Although I was quite ready for the main course, I decided to indulge myself with a starter – freshly skewered chicken satay in peanut sauce. I didn’t enjoy this as much as the rest of the meal – the chicken didn’t taste fresh and tender and I realised that the oily after-taste of peanut sauce didn’t do much for me.
On one of my trips, I’d tried nasi goreng (Indonesian fried rice) though my heart’s desire – nasi lemak remained unfulfilled. The fantastic spread consisting of salads, soups, main courses and desserts didn’t have nasi lemak but it had something as impressive – nasi udak (rice in coconut milk) which my friend teamed with the heavenly tonseng kambing (lamb with sweet and sour spices). The dish symbolised everything I like about Asian cuisine – a pleasant obsession with coconuts and a flair for combining sweet and sour flavours.
The rice had a hint of sweetness; it wasn’t suffused with coconut milk; it had simply been steeped in a small amount. According to my friend, the lamb was soft and succulent which was great; chewy meat can completely ruin the allure of non-vegetarian cuisine. The flavours didn’t seem too removed from Indian lamb dishes and Chef Isep later confessed that he had indeed tweaked the dishes slightly to suit the Indian palate.
Apart from my lovely company, crispy prawn crackers kept my friend company during the meal. For dessert, I had the Indonesian sweet rolls dadar gulung, while my friend attacked the Indian and European ones with gusto. Dadar gulung are cute looking crepes with a sweet coconut filling. I have a massive sweet tooth so it’s hard for anything sweet to rub me the wrong way but these rolls were really something. Soft and satisfying, they gave me a lot to chew on.
This was when the cheery Chef Isep Hidayatulloh made an appearance and told us sadly that he hadn’t seen anything of India during the entire duration of the Flavours of Indonesia festival. Such is a chef’s life, I tell you. “Every island in Indonesia has a different cuisine,” he told us and then posed happily for some pictures.
Sagar, the restaurant manager has my vote of approval as he was the one who suggested the supremely scrumptious mojito. I’ve had mojitos more times than I can remember but I don’t recall it being this flavourful ever! It goes without saying that I didn’t stop at one. Though the Flavours of Indonesia festival has ended, there are still some great reasons to visit Pondichery Cafe at Sofitel Mumbai – the lovely French music, the attentive staff and the fantastic desserts for starters. Priced at Rs 2,600 per head for a lunch buffet (Monday to Sunday), this one may not be light on the pocket but the ambience more than makes up for it.
I was at Sofitel on invite. If you wish to invite me for a restaurant review, please email Ankita@trailstainedfingers.com
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