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Restaurant Review: The Golden Curry Kinara Jakarta

The whiff of the fire burning from the mouth of oil torches at the entrance gate reminded me of something medieval. It was the scent of raw, unpolished beauty. The faceless mannequins donned in heavily embroidered deep purple and burgundy sari dress looked like they were performing a welcome dance, the movement transpired by glitters reflected from their golden sequins. At the top of the winding stairs, girls in colourful Indian attire complete with the tinkling charms around their ankles greeted me with big smiles.

“Please follow me,” one girl said. She showed me to a wooden table for four, at the centre of the room, overlooking the glass paned kitchen. I sat down, inhaled the rich aromas drifting in the air; and observed the ambience of Kinara, an Indian restaurant on Kemang Raya. Golden pillars and window frames outline an aristocratic Indian atmosphere with a touch of Gothic design, surrounding a trickling water fountain. Classical music flowed from an acoustic guitar and violin played by two men in bow ties. No complaint from me so far. It was breathtakingly beautiful.

Warm Papadums in a basket arrived a few seconds after I was seated. The freshness of mixed herbs and plain crisps smothered in coriander mint dressing and sweet-tangy clove-infused pineapple chutney made the best start for an Indian dining experience. I ordered Mango Lassie, a smoothie blend of yoghurt and fresh mango, to accompany my dinner. The ripe mango in the cultured mix creates a slightly fermented taste that I adore. Love the edge! Mango Lassie is also good for a food reviewer, since it has the cleansing effect if you consume it in between dishes (though sometimes a bottle of wine makes me more creative with words).

I placed my order. A very polite waiter wearing a traditional tunic, who spoke excellent English, wrote down my choices. I swear he was reminiscent of an Indian butler from an ancient era (all he needed was the turban!).

“About 70% of the food we serve is North Indian style, while the rest has the style of Eastern India, from Calcutta to be precise, which is really good with seafood,” explained Vivek Deora, Kinara’s General Manager. “Basically, we would like to invite our guests for an experience of a bygone era – our emphasis is to exemplify the true spirit of contemporary and royal Indian cuisine in Kinara,” added the American-raised General Manager.

Lamb Seekh Kebab was my first appetiser. The minced lamb had been rolled, skewered and grilled and was covered in green and bright orange specks from coriander leaves and chilli. The kebab was tender and carried the fragrance of the spices and charcoal smoke. My second appetiser, Jheenga Nisha, arrived shortly. The grilled dish consisted of four tiger prawns that had been marinated in yoghurt and spices. The prawns were fresh, firm and had a hint of lime flavour. Unfortunately, one of the prawns was slightly oversized by my standards. I like my prawns to be of medium size – not too big and not too small. If a prawn is too big, I find it tends to loose its sweetness.

My main course was an array of dishes selected by Sunil Marwah, the Indian-born executive chef. They were Tikka Bemisal, Lamb Rogan Josh, Dal Ka Kamal, Bazabatta and Garlic Naan. The boneless chicken pieces in Tikka Bemisal were smothered in a creamy, velvety mixture of tomato gravy, yoghurt, and honey andsprinkled with red chilli and fresh coriander leaves. According to Sunil, the Lamb Rogan Josh was a speciality of the house. The lamb cubes had been simmered in curd with Kashmiri herbs. The morsels were simply succulent. Kashmir, a cold region in India, is also known as saffron country. Saffron has a strong influence on Kashmiri cuisine as well as a mixture of spices: star anise, fennel, clove, cinnamon and cardamom.

A lentil dish is an obligation in Indian cuisine. The black lentils in the Dal ka Kamal, had been soaked overnight and cooked to death for 18 hours. It was the best black lentil dish I have ever tasted. A mouthful of fluffy naan, which had been fried in clarified butter, topped with the earthy flavoured lentil dish. The chicken or lamb morsels provided just the right combination of dishes. Bazabatta, an Indian version of ‘Fried Rice’, was made from firm pulao rice from coastal India, cooked with herbs, green peas, beans, carrots, tofu and mushrooms, and sprinkled with fried shallots.

“We use Indian philosophy – Ayur Veedic, or the balance method of cooking – behind every dish we serve. All ingredients are combined in a balance according to each of their uses. Thus we create balanced dishes that taste wonderfully complex and are also good for your health,” explained Sunil Marwah, who learnt his cooking abilities from Indian master chefs whose knowledge has been passed down from generation to generation. Sunil, who has also worked for various five-star hotels in India, further explained, “We mostly serve Northern Indian cuisine, because the dishes are better known internationally. A lot of Northern Indians have migrated all over the world and spread knowledge of Northern Indian cuisine to the international community.”

Kesar Kulfi, a traditional Indian ice cream, was served as my dessert. I love ice cream, but I don’t think the Kesar Kulfi was the star that evening. The yellow-coloured ice cream was neatly sliced like a banana. It was a bit too hard for my taste and had a powdery consistency. But still, when the ice cream melted in my mouth (finally) it gave a sweet aroma with hints of cardamom, nutty pistachio and almond. The combined flavours brought me back to the royal ambience of the golden palace.

A perfect closing sentence? Not yet.

Before I end this article, I really have to say one more thing. I would have enjoyed my food more if only I could have crossed my legs under the table (women!). Right, I think the table was about 3 centimetres too short for me. And I know that a lot of restaurants have also made this very same ergonomic faux pas. But again, for the (mostly) heavenly food served in Kinara, I probably won’t mind eating the dishes while squatting on the floor for that matter. Probably.