Walking in from the car-lined street at the posh Jacksons Landing end of the street, 1945’s well-dressed dining room is warm and welcoming. and beaming with Indonesian artefacts that seem to want to tell stories. The sense of being taken away to another time or place is omnipresent – in the spice-infused air; the friendly and exotically attired waitstaff; the artefacts adorning the walls; the dining crowd even.
The menu is stunning – from its stately wooden encasing, to the vast number of appetisers and mains, along with soups, rices and condiments. It’s quite daunting and not at all a typical menu, so advice from those in the know is valuable. The waitstaff can certainly assist, but so too the set menus – in this instance, the Grand Rijstaffel.
To drink, there’s a range of traditional (and infinitely amusing to the uninitiated) Indonesian beverages featuring milks, teas, jellies, fruits and other fascinating ingredients. 1945 also has its own boutique wines – a chardonnay and a shiraz – produced from organic Hunter Valley grapes; surprising in its drinkability and match to many of the foods on offer. I know that's a put-down of organic wines, but in my head I expect watery or muddy, not twinklingly enjoyable.
Relived of the task of choice, we are still surprised with the lightning-fast arrival of food, and even more impressed with the spread that sits before us. On top of an elevated wooden board (a mini table if you will), 15 menu items mind their own little territories of the vibrant banana leaves. The question of where to start arises momentarily, to be hastily quashed by the fear of rapidly cooling food.
At the heart of the meal and board are Nasi Koening, a bright turmeric rice with flavours of lemongrass and bay leaf, and Nasi Oedoek, a lightly coconut scented rice – both domes topped with Seroendeng, a captivatingly sweet and crunchy sprinkle of spiced coconut. Circling the rice is almost every protein, flavour, spice and cooking method on the menu – oh, where to start?
While the variety is head-spinning, I'm immediately drawn to the Ajam Panggang Ketjap, a fall-off-the-bone chicken drumstick with drool-worthy sweet, charred marinade and the grilled pork skewers, Sate Babi, smothered in a sweet and nutty sauce. A particularly saucy rendition of the famous Indonesian beef curry, Rendang Daging, is creamy with coconut and none too spicy.
So exquisite are the skewered jumbo prawns of the Oedang Panggang Goerih, grilled in a spiced coconut marinade, that the shells deserve scoffing too, while the Tjoemi Goreng Tepoeng of crisply battered, tender squid could do with a bit more excitement.
They've also got a way with vegetables here. Terong Belado is a slightly odd coupling of a long purple eggplant, fried and split to reveal its soft innards, and filled with a chunky chilli spiked tomato sauce. A favourite is the Sambal Goreng Kentang Buntjis, green beans with fluffy cubes of potato, heavy with lemongrass and galangal and served at room temperature.
Perkedel kentang daging (left) and perkedel djagoeng (left)
The golden brown deep-fried Perkedel Djagoeng fritter comes tightly packed with corn kernels, while the Perkedel Kentang Daging is a starchy and light, perfectly formed pattie of potato and minced beef.
Condiments are served alongside the platter, delightful atop the savoury crunch of the Kroepoek Oedang, giant prawn crackers that are thick and not a touch greasy. Atjar Bening is a refreshing pickle of julienned cucumber, carrot and shallot with a smidgen of chilli, while Tempe Teri Katjang Goreng is a crowd pleaser – soybean, anchovies and peanuts fried with bay leaf and galangal – a complete surprise in its sweet taste and chewy texture but deliciously decadent and moreish, like something I could have as an afternoon treat.
Balancing out the meal is an earthenware bowl of a tart, spicy tamarind soup, Sajur Asem, which is nourished with groundnuts, green beans and a corn cob floater.
The grandiose meal is plenty for two healthy appetites and ends on the sweet note of the popular South-East Asian dessert cendol, or Es Tjendol – a pleasing glass dish of short, green pandan noodles swimming in a pool of coconut milk and shaved ice flavoured and coloured by palm sugar.
Despite all that food, I find the rijstaffel is a surprisingly quick way of eating a serious variety of big flavours while taking a short journey through regional specialties of Indonesia. Its flexibility means that big and light appetites, carnivores and herbivores, chilli lovers and haters, groups or intimate couples can harmoniously share rice at the table.