My work and travels have brought me to Indonesia many times in the past several years, and inevitably, I became such a huge fan of our Southeast Asian neighbor’s cuisine because of its diversity and its regard for contrasts, textures, and heat.
When I’m in Jakarta, I always try to pay Restoran Garuda a visit. While I absolutely enjoy roughing it in the city’s street food lanes, especially the ones near the Menteng and Thamrin districts in the capitals’s central area, I also love the assurance of quality and consistency that Garuda offers. It’s a chain restaurant that specializes in West Sumatran cuisine, which is also known as Padang food.
Padang regional cuisine is a good representative of the entire archipelagic country’s rich culinary traditions. Basically, when people outside of the country think about Indonesian food, it’s usually the dishes made with coconut milk and chilis that come to mind. That’s trademark Padang. Other than these two ingredients, its staples are rice, beef, turmeric and other spices and herbs, such as ginger and the ubiquitous galangal.
I was overjoyed when I heard that Garuda was going to open a branch in Manila. Their location is strategically placed in front of the Indonesian Embassy in Legaspi Village, Makati, so people who are looking for the spot will have a landmark that is very hard to miss. They are still currently on soft-open, and one can expect their operations to still be a little rough around the edges.
I went on a late afternoon with a friend who was visiting from Bacolod. The menu is quite comprehensive, and it highlights the restaurant chain’s specialties.
For starters, we ordered satay padang ayam (P290), which is grilled chicken skewers cooked Padang-style. Padang satay differs from the rest of Indonesia’s other regional satays because this variety is first rubbed with a dry marinade and then doused with a creamy and rich curry sauce upon serving. Other Indonesian satays are served with kecap manis or commonly, peanut sauce.
The chicken satay sticks were moist and tasty, and they were grilled to perfection. My only complaint about the dish is the amount of meat on each skewer, which is pretty measly even for Indonesian standards.
We also ordered the gado gado (P255) , which is a salad of boiled greens and vegetables served with a spicy and herby peanut sauce. It is meant to be eaten in room temperature or at least slightly warm, but somehow the gado gado that we got was cold and seriously lacking in volume. Wrong serving temperature and small servings notwithstanding, the peanut sauce was excellent and it reminded me of the really rich peanut sauces that they would ladle generously onto your plate in Bali. In Indonesia, you would order a gado gado to whet your appetite and to fill your tummy. In Garuda, the serving portion for this yummy salad was a bit disappointing and was barely enough for me, let alone if shared with another hungry person.
For our mains, we had the nasi goreng packet (P295), which is a set meal of chicken satay sticks with peanut sauce and fried shallots, a helping of nasi goreng, fried egg, pickles and kerupuk, prawn crackers that Indonesians eat with every meal. For the price, it was quite underwhelming. The nasi goreng had that smokey flavor that I am looking for that can only be obtained by tossing it in a very hot wok.
I understand that they are still on soft open so I will give the sluggish service a pass for now. I have also learned that it is not fair to pass judgement on the first visit, so I should refrain from passing any considerable critique until my next Indonesian fix with them. However, it needs to be said that the first impressions kind of fell flat.
It was a great lunch and I enjoyed the food. I wasn’t completely blown away, but it was good enough to warrant another trip, and only because I am intrigued by their other dishes. The staff didn’t appear to be fully knowledgeable about their offerings, but nothing that several sessions of product knowledge training can’t fix. I like the vibe of the place, though. It feels like somewhere yuppies my age would hang to destress after work.
The prices are a little over the top, and it may scare away potential customers. P400-500 per person seems to be quite a lot of money for casual dining, but I do hope they bring it down just a little bit so that a wider audience can enjoy the experience and the food.
Have you tried Restoran Garuda? What are your favorite dishes? How was your experience? Do share your comments and feedback in the comments!