“We’re coming to Jakarta, and you’re going to arrange dinner for us, and God help your head if it’s not good.” Under such pressure, VE HANDOJO opted to go to Eastern and Oriental.
What was it that made me want to dare myself to bring a bunch of demanding hard-to-please, gender-confused friends to the then newly-opened E&O? It was just the second week after the Thai restaurant opened their doors, thus making the reservation a challenge due to both high demand of tables, and reservation handlers who were still on a “soft opening” level of service. However, I moved mountains and made phone calls to dozens of usually-ignored names on my phone book to secure a table there because of one thing. Or, actually, one name. Will Meyrick.
I was introduced to Chef Will Meyrick almost a decade ago when he was in one of his first kichens in Bali. He was doing Thai then. Later on, he moved to start Sarong – an Asian experience heavy on Indian food, which immediately became a must-go destination. His next venture, Mama San, was heavy on Chinese, and tables filled very quickly. I had no doubt then to bring my flock to E&O though every time they asked me what the food would be I could only say, “Something Asian, something-something.”
“I have been cooking Thai for fourteen years, actually, so with E&O I decided to go back there,” explained Will then as I sat with him two months after my first dining experience in E&O. “How was your experience here?” he asked.
I came because of Will’s food, and Will’s food alone. And, I ended up getting a lot more than I bargained for.
Well, despite the “soft opening” hiccups, each dish was satisfying. I was too busy enjoying everything to notice that the interior design was kind of tired and predictable. I came because of Will’s food, and Will’s food only. And, I ended up getting a lot more than I bargained for. “How did you do it?” I asked.
Chef Will once again visited Thailand for a month for in-depth research on the food from every region before creating the menu. He went to the streets and rediscovered the original flavours. He cooked with Thai grannies. He wanted to make sure that no matter how chic and “urban” E&O would look, each plate would be served with authentic flavours.
E&O’s menu, however, won’t shock patrons with hardcore Thai expectations. There are Vietnamese dishes smattering about the menu, and subtle Burmese influences. Occasionally, Indonesian dishes will pop-up as well. However, northern and central Thai dishes dominate proceedings.
The betel leaf starters – with chicken or salmon – never fail to open a good night out. It’s a feast of vibrant flavours in one big bite. Then cool down a bit with a bowl of southern hot and sour fish soup. Enriched with tamarind leaves, turmeric, chillies, lime leaves and coriander—the soup was a harmony of refreshment.
Get your mouth spiced up again with pad prik khing shrimps that comes with chillies, wild ginger, holy basil, and long beans. It’s gonna make you sweat, swear a lot, and end up being addicted to it. For tummy fillers, do not skip the grilled pork skewers, marinated in ginger, garlic, white pepper, and soy.
Finally, for the sake of world peace, please try the life-changing durian panna cotta. Together with sticky rice, this bulky dessert is actually my biggest reason to fight the maddening Jakarta traffic to be in this all-day dining E&O again, and again.
There is hardly a Thai restaurant with an updated style that caters to hip Jakarta diners with taste. As of today, my still intact head can tell you that E&O fills that gap perfectly.