Wed, 24 Aug 1994

Exploring northern frontier style Indian food at Hazara

JAKARTA (JP): Declaring that Hazara is a good restaurant is like stating that the comets crashing into Jupiter last month were a nice sight. The new Indian restaurant combines delicious food, superb service and a soothing atmosphere to give the diner what they deserve.

The Jakarta branch of the highly praised Singapore restaurant officially opened last month and promises to liven up the city's eating scene not only with new tastes but also with innovative style.

Walking through the antique carved door and down the long corridor you enter another world. The interior is decorated in authentic Indian antiques and the faint smell of sandalwood wafts through the air from strategically placed candles. The dinning room is spacious and according to the owner, Parvinder Singh, follows Zen principles to ensure harmonious dining. This may account for the warm feeling that is evident by the happy hum of the customer's conversations.

Balance aside, the rustic tables are arranged perfectly to enable you to eat in private while enjoying the relaxing surroundings accented by the sound of the fountain which has been cleverly made from a large bronze rice bowl.

In addition to the wonderful atmosphere, Hazara offers excellent northern frontier style Indian food prepared by expert chefs.

The Raan E Hazara, or baby leg of lamb cooked in the tandoor oven is their signature piece. It is cooked overnight in a mixture of spices and bay and is very tender. It is a great dish to base the rest of the meal around.

The menu is divided into Tandoor and Handi dishes with sections of poultry, lamb, seafood and vegetarian entrees. There are also the traditional side dishes, bread and a variety of desserts.

The Shorba of the Day, in my case chicken, was a very generous portion of soup served in a rustic brass pot. It was filled with tender chicken pieces cooked in fresh coconut milk and spices. The Kachumber, or garden salad, was very fresh but much spicier than expected.

For the main course the Murgh Makhni, or butter chicken, was first roasted in the tandoor and then cooked in a creamy sauce to give it a wonderful smoky, almost barbecued, taste. The Machli Tikka Rampuri, boneless fish pieces, was beautifully prepared in mustard oil maintaining its natural juices.

The quite extensive vegetarian selection offers everything from cottage cheese to black lentils. The Paneer Shashlik, mouth watering homemade cottage cheese with bell peppers, tomatoes and onion barbecued in ajwain flavored yogurt is a delicious accompaniment to any meal.

After such a meal dessert was almost impossible, but a unique, traditional rice pudding garnished with nuts and a hint of rose washed down with Hazara's aromatic coffee served to round it all off.

All the produce and most of the ingredients are bought locally to ensure the freshest possible meal; the only imported item being a special secret spice brought in from India. The high level of authenticity of the food is maintained with a twice yearly food audit by noted Indian food critic, Mr. Jiggs Kalra.

The drink list is impressive yet well priced. It includes Indian cocktails, a variety of beer, a good selection of wine form countries as diverse as South Africa and Germany and of course lassies. If a drink you want is not on the list, with a little warning the staff at Hazara will most likely find it for you.


What really makes Hazara such a treat is the service.

The attentive staff are well drilled by the manager, Miss Shoba, from Singapore. She has them trained to such a degree that your every wish is quickly carried out, but there is never anyone hovering over your shoulder or pestering you. Parvinder emphasizes that his staff are taught to relax and have fun. This makes for a light, cheery atmosphere. The Jakarta director, Haidhi, says they employ "table radar" to ensure that all runs smoothly. It does.

The excellent service and the friendly atmosphere are a direct result of the business philosophy of Parvinder and his friend Haidhi. They take the time to talk with the customers and are directly involved in the day to day management of the restaurant.

Parvinder Singh, a computer manager by profession, and his New Zealand fashion designer wife Lisa risked everything when they started up their first restaurant on Boat Quay in Singapore two years ago. With an initial investment of S$500,000 they built up their business to include another restaurant and finally a holding company. With determination and the sound use of dynamic management and training techniques they were then able to expand their business to Jakarta and have plans for Kuala Lumpur, Melbourne and maybe even Amsterdam.

In Jakarta, the business is directed by Parvinder's long time friend Haidhi Angkawijana and his wife Audrey Cheong. Like their Singapore counterparts they jumped in to the business from a totally different field, plastics.

There is nothing plastic about Hazara however. The combination of good food, tremendous service, loads of atmosphere and excellent management makes it an enjoyable place to eat. As Haidhi states; "We are aiming at fun but fine dining." I believe they have achieved if not surpassed their target.

-- Bradely