FRV Travel takes a trip down a Kemang memory lane and revisits casa on the second floor of Aksara books.
By Erza S.T.
We are always happy to find a new restaurant, but over time we are happier to find out that these restaurants can actually survive. Some of the survivors eventually become Jakarta food institutions by proving themselves consistently good in doing what they do. Casa in Kemang, just above Aksara bookstore, sits in this category.
Back in 2001, Kemang was really a happening area where most of the expatriates resided and the finest establishments were nestled. It was in the same year that a new building designed by famous architect Andra Matin become the site of the first Aksara bookstore. It was groundbreaking as this bookstore was the first one in town that adopted a modern approach, combining it with a nice café on the second floor, thus creating a totally new concept.
Around four years ago, this minimalist, bright and glass-enclosed café on the second floor changed its name to Casa and transformed itself into a retro 50’s laid back kind of place with Herman Miller Earnes chairs, a teak DJ console and other modernist Indonesian furniture from the era. This new vintage look was immediately popular among Kemang residents, especially the yuppy crowd who regaled it as their hangout spot. The management maintained the William Wongso (who originally invented W Sandwich + Grill before Casa) menu selection.
However, last June 27, the management decided to give Casa a mild makeover and took over the control totally. Meaning that we finally have to bid fond farewell to old favorites such as flaky pizzas, roti prata, and baba au rhum as Casa is now serving their own menu selection.
Out of curiosity, I decided to give Casa a visit after some years of absence. All the right elements that made me fall in love with Casa in the first place are still there. The beige Vespa motorbike at the entrance, the wooden floor, the chairs and that retro look are all still there. It is even better as they made such a great job on the facelift of the bar. All of these are a great comfort to me, especially after such long and heavy traffic to reach the Kemang area these days.
Casa’s menu selection now has a lot of similarity to Canteen in Pacific Place and Plaza Indonesia as the same group runs them too. Nevertheless, Casa has some specialties that Canteen doesn’t have, especially on their cocktail menu. I was quite thrilled that they managed to keep one old favorite from their heyday called “Mellow Mellow”. Made of crème de casis, cranberry juice, strawberry, lime and Irish whiskey, Mellow Mellow was one of the favorites back then. Right now though, new cocktails such as ‘Stardust’ (with star fruit juice) and their latest invention ‘Rule My World’ (coffee cocktail) are Casa’s signature cocktails.
Food wise, Casa is serving comfort food with a selection of pastas, sandwiches and Asian fare such as kung pao chicken with rice, Japanese curry and oxtail soup. But for something different and fulfilling, you might want to try their own rendition of Balinese Nasi Campur that comes with yellow rice and mixed with other dishes such as stir-fry soybean patties, shredded fried chicken, shredded dried beef, steamed marinated tofu, urap (blanched vegetables tossed with a mixture of spices and grated coconut), Bali’s chicken satay, pindang telur (egg boiled in a guava leaf), and of course sambal mantah (Balinese condiment of hot chili peppers, shallots, lemon grass, fish paste and lime). Or you can easily choose their ‘Mac & Cheese’ for something simpler.
In this WiFi-equipped cafe, the wine list is short but exquisite, clearly built for performance that surprisingly comes in at an affordable price range. Service is generally good though sometimes can be unfocused.
Overall, I still enjoyed my visit to Casa as much as my first experience going there years ago, though slightly sad for losing my favorite cocktail ‘Casa Royale’. With its charming vintage ambiance, I can actually imagine Casa as a place where Belle & Sebastian meets Iron & Wine while Bebel Gilberto sits in the other corner sofa with her new beau Didie Cunha enjoying a nice moscato with Erlend and Eirik – the boys from Kings of Convenience. It is that kind of place where time no longer has importance.
Jl. Kemang Raya No. 8b
Tel: +62 21 719 9289