Sun, 08 Apr 2001

Restaurant guide a delicious treat

Jakarta Good Food Guide 2001; By Laksmi Pamuntjak; Penerbit Djambatan, Jakarta, 2000; Rp 95,000

JAKARTA (JP): After only a few days in my possession, this book already bears the thumb-print smudges and dog-eared pages which denote it as much, much more than the average read.

It's fair to say that Jakarta foodies, those who are on a continual quest for the next good meal in these much-maligned gastronomic parts, have seen nothing like it before.

We can give thanks that Laksmi Pamuntjak has come up with the definitive guide to where to head to get what you want on the culinary front -- and those places to give a wide berth.

Gorgeously illustrated with photos by Yori Anwar of the best of Jakarta's restaurants, the guide is written in a pithy, confident style which tells it like it is. Want to know where to get Indian? French? A steaming bowl of soto, Indonesia's own take on chicken soup but with a whole lot more added for good measure? Breakfast bites? They and then more are all here, rated by a battalion of reviewers and whipped into editorial shape by Laksmi herself.

It must have been a labor of love for all concerned, particularly Laksmi, who bears more physical resemblance to the slender Julia Roberts' character of the food reviewer in My Best Friend's Wedding than the stereotype of the gross gourmand never able to get enough of a tasty morsel. She acknowledges in her introduction her love of food ("it's the first thing I think of when I'm not sleeping"), and her ground work several years ago when she contributed reviews as the anonymous Epicurus to this publication.

Anything to spoil this tasty literary broth? Well, there are a few typos, one or two Opening Hours left blank and the lack of an index (plus a couple of non-restaurant ads), but those are minor quibbles in considering the overall excellence of Jakarta Good Food Guide 2001. The reader may not agree with all of the reviews, but that, as Laksmi notes herself, is the subjective nature of the game. This is a delicious read, a must-have for long-time residents of the city and anyone planning to spend more than a couple of days in these parts. (brc)