Blending Italian Food With French Flair . . . in Jakarta
Most chefs dream of opening their own restaurants, with the freedom to put their ideas to practice and impress their guests.
The same holds true for Indonesian chef Karl Billion, who studied at Le Cordon Bleu Ottawa Culinary Arts Institute in Canada. He worked in hotels and resorts in Canada, the United Kingdom and Dubai before returning home to Jakarta.
After working for top-notch restaurants here, he decided to open his own restaurant, Illuminare Ristorante e Bar, last week on Jalan Wolter Monginsidi in South Jakarta.
Jalan Wolter Monginsidi has always been known as a haven for foodies, as the leafy lane is lined with Japanese, Korean, Chinese and seafood restaurants.
Illuminare, however, is the first Italian restaurant on the road.
“It’s always been my dream to set up my own restaurant in South Jakarta,” the chef said. “In my opinion, foodies in South Jakarta have more discerning tastes and don’t mind paying a lot for very good food and drinks.”
Karl came up with the entire menu himself, with 65 items including salad, soup, pasta, pizza, steak and desserts.
“I’d worked with a lot of Italian chefs during my career and learned from them,” he said.
But Karl puts his own creative twist on the Italian offerings.
“It’s an Italian menu cooked with French cooking methods,” he said.
The main difference between those methods, he said, is that Italian cuisine is usually cooked in a high-temperature fire, while French cuisine is cooked on low heat for longer periods of time.
“The long duration of cooking at low heat allows all the ingredients to emit their true natural flavors and aromas,” he said. “So I don’t need to put any additives into my cooking.”
All the breads, sauces and creams at Karl’s restaurant are homemade to guarantee their consistency. The restaurant also imports most of its meats, vegetables and cheeses from Italy and Australia.
When I visited the restaurant with a friend, we started our meal with a dish called insalata mediterranea con mozzarella bufala (Mediterranean salad with buffalo mozzarella).
Served on a platter, it was a delightful mix of fresh arugula, lettuce and tomatoes on plump slices of tender and tasty buffalo mozzarella. A dash of olive oil was added to marry the flavors.
Our next dish was the formaggio escargot tostato alla griglia (grilled cheese and escargot). The look of the dish itself was not very appealing. It was served in a small earthen pan covered with white and yellow melted cheeses and a side of garlic bread. But when we poked into the pan, we discovered the escargot, warm and moist under the layer of cheeses. They had an appetizing aroma of singed garlic and a savory buttery taste.
The restaurant also boasts a wide range of pizzas. Most of them have interesting names and unusual mixes of toppings, such as pizza edea pazza (crazy idea pizza), which combines prawns, calamari, chicken loins and beef pepperoni.
“For me, the crazier the idea, the better,” Karl said with a laugh. “The customers will get a new culinary experience that they’ve never had before and they’ll remember the restaurant.”
We had the inventive pizza agnello all’arrabbiata, a thin, crispy pizza topped with mozzarella cheese, Australian lamb slices and fried basil leaves. The arrabbiata sauce was piquant and added a new, exciting flavor to the pizza.
“It [the pizza] is a favorite among our Indonesian guests,” he added. “They love the hot and tasty flavor.”
A visit to an Italian restaurant would not be complete without pasta, and Illuminare’s fettuccine with carbonara sauce was a delightful sample.
The dish was presented like a mountain on a plate, with a pile of noodles on the bottom, flanked by luscious salmon slices, shavings of Parmesan and fried basil leaves on top. It was a beautiful combination of rich tastes and textures.
“I’ve mixed the carbonara sauce with egg yolks to make it sweeter and more condense,” Karl said. “The sweet taste of the sauce is the perfect complement to the salty flavor of the salmon.”
The chef knows his customers. He even tailors some of the dishes to suit their tastes.
The braciole di agnello Australiano alla griglia (grilled Australian lamb chops) may not look special at first glance, for example, but the restaurant put a lot of effort into transforming it into an appetizing dish for Indonesian customers.
“Most Indonesian people love to eat lamb,” said Karl. “But they don’t like its strong, gamey smell.”
To get rid of the lamb’s natural aroma, he marinates the meat in balsamic vinegar for hours and grills it with mint butter sauce and truffle oil.
The result is wonderful. The lamb retains its tasty flavors and succulence, without any trace of its offensive smell.
The restaurant also serves fresh juices, wines and cocktails.
It is officially open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. from Sunday to Thursday, and 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.
“Most of our guests stay until half past four [in the morning] on weekends,” Karl said. “They enjoy themselves and feel at home.”
Illuminare Ristorante e Bar
Jl. Wolter Monginsidi No. 33, South JakartaTel. 021 720 6366
Salads start from Rp 50,000 ($5.50) Appetizers start from Rp 32,500Pastas start from Rp 70,000Pizzas start from Rp 67,500Steaks start from Rp 95,000