Sun, 13 Mar 2005

Shangri-La's Satoo offers fulfilling indulgence, breathing space

Chisato Hara, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

A din of animated conversation wafts up the curved staircase leading down to the new Satoo restaurant at the Hotel Shangri-La Jakarta.

At bottom, the space opens up suddenly to the right, into a cosy deli in orange, mahogany and off-white, lined with glass cases of chocolate truffles, cookies, freshly baked breads and delicate, yet rich, cakes.

Straight ahead is a textured sandstone wall bearing the restaurant's name and underneath, its motto: Indulging the Senses.

Satoo is a derivation of the Bahasa for "one". As Communications Director Ratna Sjamsiar Idris explained, the spelling was altered to give a more contemporary feel, as it offers an international menu -- but it is also one-of-a-kind in more ways than one.

Attendants in gold-and-orange tunics welcome with a smile and lead the way in to Satoo -- formerly the Coffee Garden -- and the bright, lively atmosphere of the cafe-restaurant is now palpable.

"During the week, we generally have small groups of professionals having a business lunch or a quick bite to eat... You won't see many children then, but at the weekend, it's mostly families with children and entire extended families here," said Ratna.

The restaurant expands to the left and into the hotel garden in a kind of greenhouse wing, where guests sit at garden tables lit by natural light that filters in through aqua-tinted glass. To the right are the open kitchens: Dessert, Jamu, Indian, Continental, Asian, Noodle and Pasta, Cold Kitchen, Sushi and BBQ/grill. There is also a full-service bar, and the walls are decorated with wine bottles from around the world, ethnic ornaments and earthenware.

While the restaurant was about 80 percent full on the Thursday The Jakarta Post visited, it still felt roomy with its high ceilings -- even with guests rising here and there to fetch their next course -- offering a space to breathe in this otherwise traffic-cramped city.

"The restaurant is 1,408 sqm, and we have a seating capacity of 425, whereas the Coffee Garden could seat only 260," said Communications Coordinator Gloria Vera Kristie, or Oya.

"We can say confidently that we are the largest cafe- restaurant in a five-star hotel," said Ratna. "And Satoo is certainly the only restaurant in town that can boast eight open kitchens."

It's clear that Satoo takes pride in the freshness of its ingredients, prepared in sight by chefs in white uniforms topped with a black painter's beret.

"We like to think of them as a kind of artist that works with a palette of fresh ingredients. Personally, I think the chef's berets make them look like Pablo Picasso," she added.

Authenticity of the cuisines on offer is also a concern at Satoo.

At the Chinese barbecue section of the Asian kitchen, for example, is chef Chen Gui Ming from Guangzhou, China. Just four months in Indonesia, he speaks only a little English and a smattering of Bahasa, but his expertise with the cleaver is in no doubt, as he wields it gracefully behind a hanging row of glistening Peking Duck.

At the Indian kitchen is newcomer chef Dimple Sharma, who mans the tandoori ovens. The menu rotates daily, with three curry dishes as well as vegetarian fare, and what Indian course is complete without naan and other unleavened breads, hot from the oven?

The pastas are also freshly made, with fettucine, angel hair and spinach ravioli all waiting to be plunged into boiling water at a guest's command. Guests can choose from a selection of sauces, including basil pesto, tomato pesto and bolognaise from a simmering wok.

While the Cold Kitchen offers an array of cold cuts and salads -- including gado-gado, and the Sushi counter features Japanese side dishes such as buckwheat noodles, Satoo's special touch is its Jamu Kitchen.

"It is Shangri-La's policy to provide something unique to the host country. While we thought initially of Padang food, we decided on jamu in the end, because the herbs and spices in jamu are directly connected to this country's history and existence," said Ratna.

The jamu concoctions are created by Ibu Pariyem of Solo, who has been making the health tonics since 1965. Before coming to Satoo, Pariyem, like all traditional jamu ladies, sold her tonics door-to-door, a basket of multicoloured bottles strapped to her back.

Other specialties include the Capi XXL -- a Capirinha for four served in a jumbo Martini glass -- and an ice cream teppanyaki -- homemade ice cream folded around sweet fillings on a chilled marble slab and served with a sprinkling of toppings.

At Rp 120,000++ for adults and Rp 60,000 for children, the lunchtime buffet has enough to keep a guest going back for more until dinner -- but it may do to remember that the dinnertime buffet is Rp 145,000 for adults.

Satoo is open from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m., and while the buffet may close at 10:30 p.m., it also has an a la carte menu for those with a late-night cravings. For midnight owls and early risers, the deli is open 24 hours a day. The restaurants two semi-private rooms -- and soundproof, at that -- can be booked for business meetings and other functions.

Reservations are not necessary, but Ratna recommends large groups and families to call at least three days in advance for weekend visits, as walk-in guests may have to queue on a waiting list.

Satoo has been open only about two months, but obviously, the word has spread quickly -- the restaurant is vibrant with hundreds of lunch-goers tucking into their meals amid the buzz of excited voices.


Chef Sharma fires up Tandoori Kitchen

A native of New Dehli, chef Dimple Sharma has come to command Satoo's Tandoori Kitchen from the Holiday Inn Bangkok.

"Bangkok life is faster," said Sharma, who has been in Jakarta for only a month -- it is also his first time to live in Indonesia.

Trained at the Pusha Catering College in Chandigarh, Sharma infuses his dishes with a quiet passion -- and all are guaranteed authentic Indian food.

He appears shy, but said he appreciated his Indonesian guests and their enthusiasm for his native cuisine.

"I have a lot of interaction with the customers. They ask a lot of questions about the ingredients in the dishes. They really like Indian food," he said.

The Indian menu was added to Satoo specially, upon demand from the Coffee Garden's regular clientele.

"We ran a survey to see what improvements we could make, and what our guests really wanted," said Ratna. "When the surveys came back, the majority had indicated they wanted authentic Indian food -- so we brought in Dimple."

Tandoori cuisine is traditionally the domain of men, and according to Sharma, only about 2 to 3 percent of all tandoori chefs in India are women. And at home, it is Sharma who serves tandoori dishes to his family -- his specialty is chicken tika masala.

As for his name, Sharma said his mother named him so.

"Because the most famous Bollywood actors all have dimples," he said, the corners of his mouth rising into a dimpled smile.