Jakartans are natural born optimists. They take everything in their stride, from monster traffic jams to terrorist attacks, and love nothing more than kicking back at the end of the day.
Luckily for them, the city's dining scene has never looked better. Australian restaurateur Luke Mangan, whose Salt Grill is one of the city's most acclaimed venues, says the local appetite for new experiences means the dining scene is constantly evolving.
"Salt Grill has proven to be very popular not only with the Aussie expats that live in Jakarta, but also with the locals," Mangan says.
He describes Jakarta as one of south-east Asia's best kept secrets. "It has a diverse range of food, culture and nightlife; I love exploring it every time I visit," Mangan says.
If you are heading to Jakarta, put these venues at the top of your must-try list.
EASTERN & ORIENTAL
The first Jakarta outpost for Aussie chef Will Meyrick, the man behind popular Bali eateries such as Sarong and Mama San, is stylish, playful, and sophisticated. The decor is colonial chic with a twist, while highlights of the pan-Asian menu include a soft shell crab salad with rose apple and shredded coconut, and crispy pork belly with tamarillo and tamarind sauce. The cocktails are as much of an attraction as the food: try the E&O bir pletok, a reworking of Java's favourite spicy home brew.
Despite its location directly opposite the antique stalls of Jalan Surabaya, Giyanti can be a bit tricky to find, tucked into a peaceful courtyard behind a row of shops. Still, coffee lovers are advised to make the effort. The Giyanti crew take their coffee so seriously, they only dish it up from Wednesday to Saturday. The rest of the time they are busy roasting their beans, which they source from growers across the archipelago. Look for varieties such as Sumatra blue batak, java preanger, and toraja sapan. If you like cake with your coffee, they also make a mean apple pie.
CORK & SCREW
This wine bar inside the Plaza Indonesia hits all the bases. Sleek fitout: check. Tempting nibbles: check. Comprehensive wine list? Heck yes – the iPad list runs across 56 pages, 800 labels and almost a dozen countries, so you are bound to find something that appeals to your palate. No less an authority than Wine Spectator magazine has given it two thumbs up. A bottle of wine, a plate of salmon belly carpaccio or duck confit salad, and someone convivial to share it with: that's what we call a good night out.
Its sensational skyline views and sexy fitout are enough to make Salt Bar and Grill Jakarta's date venue of choice; all that, and you get Mangan's culinary credentials into the bargain. Opt for one of the velvet banquettes and order up a delicate onion tart or some crispy skinned barramundi. Dessert of choice is the licorice parfait. On a budget? Lunch is great value, with two courses for about $15, or three for $18.
The irresistible iced espresso – cubes of frozen espresso served in a long glass, topped with milk – is reason enough to visit Caffe Milano. However, this relaxed Italian eatery has plenty of other treats in store, from the breezy terrace shaded by a cheery yellow awning to the rustic Italian fare. Chef Luca Pezzera hails from Bergamo and features plenty of regional recipes, including casonsei, a dumpling-like pasta, served with pancetta, butter and sage.
Walk into Skye Bar and you are literally on top of the town. Perched atop Jakarta's tallest building, Skye Bar is one of the city's few rooftop terraces. Try to nab one of the lounges by the pool (sorry, no swimming allowed), but there is really no such thing as a bad seat. Choose from a selection of classic cocktails and tempting mocktails (try the apple virgin mojito), or head straight for the dessert menu, where mango tarte tatin sits alongside parmesan ice-cream.
The decor – all leather banquettes, subway tiles and copper ceiling panels – suggests you are stepping into a classic Parisian bistro. The menu, however, leans more towards American favourites such as fish tacos and mini-burgers with blue cheese. It's an intriguing mix, but what keeps the in crowd coming back night after night is the creative cocktails, including an enticing blend of black cherry vodka, grapefuit liqueur and peach bitters.
Qantas operates five services a week from Sydney to Jakarta, with connections to all other Australian capitals, flying the new A330 aircraft. See qantas.com
With contemporary interiors and butler service for every room – not to mention a verdant rooftop complete with jogging track – Jakarta Raffles offers modern luxury at surprisingly reasonable rates. Rooms from $US225. raffles.com/jakarta
Ute Junker travelled courtesy of Qantas and Raffles Jakarta.