It is no secret that I like good food. I mean who doesn’t? It is no secret that I also like bad food. Feel free to come observe me at Cici’s all-you-can-eat pizza buffet for $4.99. However, if I am going to shell out for some fancy food, it really needs to be top notch. But if I can eat all that I want for under $5, I don’t care how undercooked that brownie is (the gooier the better, tbh).
Once I committed to visiting Jakarta, I grew very determined to like it. Why? Because everyone told me I wouldn’t. I mean, how silly, a bunch of people who don’t know me deciding whether I will or will not enjoy a place. In an effort to ensure I have the best time, I Googled “best restaurant in Jakarta” and Namaaz Dining showed up. After perusing the website I was sold based on key words like “17 courses” and “molecular gastronomy.” After delving a little further in the depths of Instagram, I saw fun quirky photos and I knew I had to attend. The price was high for Indonesia (1,250,000 IDR, just under 90 USD), but very affordable for a meal of this caliber in the US. You must reserve online in advance and if you don’t receive an email confirmation, be sure to follow up! This was the most elaborate meal I have ever attended alone (and quite frankly not alone), but I am used to doing things solo at this point.
Namaaz Dining designs their menu according to a theme. I attended their 8th season with the theme of cinema. As Cinema season at Namaaz is wrapping up soon, I will hopefully not spoil the meal for anyone with my very thorough (read: long) and honest review of my experience: the good, the bad, and the WTF.
The experience was broken into two parts. Part 1 involved rapid fire delivery of each dish and a personal explanation by a staff member. Part 2 slowed things down a bit, erm significantly. Each course was brought out and then we all waited for a corresponding presentation and explanation on the projector screen with the occasional live action theatrical number. They only served water to drink as to not interfere with the flavor profiles of the food…I mean, I thought that is was food and beverage pairings were all about, but who am I to know that?
1. The Potato Chip Tree
The first dish arrived to the bare table adorned with a candle and a centerpiece. I was promptly made aware that the purpose of the evening was to notice that things may not be what they seem. The waiter placed an enormous root vegetable on the table with potato chips wedged inside. It looked like a tree. It was pretty. He then lit the candle and told me to dip the chips in the candle. Ok, why not! Not much can be said about course one being chips and dip. It was good, but it was not fine dining. The chips were a tad big for the tiny shot glass that housed the candle. No worries, I made a big crumbly mess breaking the chips apart to dip.
2&3. The Stack of Rocks
The next dish was served upon a pile of rocks. There appeared to be a chili, but oh, no, it is not what it seems! That chili was in fact chicken. OK…This was a super delicious bite. And the tiniest rock it was resting on? The waiter informed me that was the next course and I could eat that too! I joked about whether or not you could eat the two other gigantic rocks in the presentation. I’m hilarious. He said no in the event I were being serious. I honestly cannot remember what the rock tasted like or anything about it…
Rating: Good, Bad
4. Yet Another Rock…with dipping sauce
This one was the least clever presentation of the night, which is totally fine because I only care about good food. Unfortunately the taste didn’t match up on this one either. It was a rice ball with a mashed potato dipping sauce and a red bean dipping sauce. I am all for the carb on carb dipping, but this flavor profile was simply lacking all around. Not too mention the texture was like eating pebbles…funny really.
5. The Magic Popcorn
Ok, let’s start keeping track: this is the first dish (of many) that used liquid nitrogen or dry ice. The waiter came to the table with a napkin and a bowl of liquid nitrogen. I was hoping it wasn’t meant to be soup. He said, “you see that centerpiece?” Awww, here we go. The centerpiece looked like a vase of black sand with a lump of coal. He covered the vase with a napkin, forced me to say “abracadabra,” shook the vase and the lump of coal miraculously became a single piece of popcorn…beef flavored mind you. He dropped it in the liquid nitrogen to ensure I would break my teeth on it and then served it on a little saucer. I must add that about 50% of the time the server for the course would stand by and watch me eat. I don’t know if this was because I was alone or they were concerned I would mess up the instructions as the only non-Bahasa speaker in the house.
Rating: Good enough really
6. Paper Ice Cream Cone
I know, this course must have been delicious by the way I have titled it. This course began with a gift…It was clearly a book (we all know when we are receiving a book) wrapped in brown paper. I was instructed to open it and find what was “hiding” inside. It was a tiny little square of paper with words and flowers printed on it. Pretty really. I was then guided to fold it like a cone and place it in the holder that magically appeared atop the book. The server left and then returned with the actual dish…a cone of gado-gado (veggies in peanut sauce and one of my absolute favorites in Indonesia) with a rice cracker on top. I was told I can eat the whole thing. And I did. But I must point out this dish was texturally abysmal. I have eaten my fair share of paper as a child and the non-edible stuff was far easier to chew and digest than this sweet, edible, chewy monstrosity. Not to mention the sweetness of the “paper” overpowered which could have potentially been delicious gado-gado. Five minutes later I had it broken down enough to swallow, but I was convinced I just ate this dish wrong and I didn’t have any supervision for this challenging course.
I am not numbering this because I truly hope it was not a course, but I am counting as I am writing and we can find out the final tally together at the end. I am going to call this the turning point of the evening for me. This was the moment I went from impressed to skeptical. They brought out a little vessel of RUFFLES BBQ POTATO CHIPS (the wavy ones). Like 100% straight from the bag. Ok, maybe they weren’t Ruffles…but definitely a competitor. Now get this. The instructions were hold your nose and eat a chip. And now release your nose. Wow, did you notice the difference?!?!? Like I have been holding my nose and eating since they day my mother decided to put fruit and meat into the crockpot together and serve it for dinner. This is not a unique concept. Everyone knows you can’t taste shit if you hold your nose. Why is this happening at a fine dining meal with potato chips no less. Anywho, rant over. The waitress then departed the table and told me to enjoy my chips. Thanks?
7. The Cotton Ball
Well if that doesn’t shout delicious…After recovering from the chip fiasco, I was presented with a lollipop looking dish which was actually tempe disguised as a cotton ball. The server also had the nerve to ask me to hold my nose again. The funny thing is this dish was so bland that there wasn’t really a difference between holding my nose and not. You know when you remove a sense, your other senses are heightened? This really allowed me to get the full effect of EATING COTTON. It’s not nice. I wish they recalled that cottonmouth is a very unappealing side effect to many medications. Cottonmouth is also a side effect of Course 7.
8. Drinking Soup
This course was a sourish soup in a little flask (Erlenmeyer, not the fun boozy ones) with a straw (shame shame) and some peanut-like jelly wrapped around it. You were supposed to bite the peanut stuff and drink at the same time. It was pretty and tasted fine.
Rating: Good (enough)
9. Actual Soup
This was bomb. My absolute favorite dish of the night. This beef soup was so tasty and they went ahead and made it hokey by serving it with an edible cracker spoon. The spoon was essentially flavorless, but the soup itself was so delicious that I don’t even care.
This is how we kicked off the second part of the evening: they served three tiny parallelograms and kicked on the projector for some music and instructions in Bahasa. For this course (honestly hope this wasn’t a course either) I received my own personal translator. First I was told to eat the white shape and then the red one. The server then asked which was sweeter. I honestly didn’t taste the difference so I just picked a color. And GUESS WHAT! They were the same, omg! Another hokey, contrived sensory experiment. The brain thinks the red one is sweeter because it is red or something I don’t care about. He then told me to bite HALF of the final chocolate parallelogram while Song 1 played. When the song changed I was allowed to consume the final half. These things were tiny…I am not sure how you are supposed to assess flavor when consuming something the size of a thumbtack. He then asked me which half was more bitter? And I said they were the same. WRONG. Apparently the music effed with my senses and there was a difference. Now this was something I couldn’t just accept. Maybe the red and white were the same, but I refuse to believe that this teeny, tiny piece of chocolate had two different levels of bitterness on each half. Like how did this guy know I bit the chocolate precisely in half? And what if I flipped it as I picked it up and ate the wrong half first? This forced my skepticism to continue and I was super done with these kindergarten experiments. Maybe if I were under the influence of alcohol my brain would have been more accommodating of such nonsense.
10. The Bird’s Nest
This is the part of the evening where the dishes started corresponding to different movie genres which included some nonsensical video clips and D-list acting by the staff. I am pretty sure the theme of this dish was romance…Why? I don’t know. One of the servers came out and started shouted and then they showed about 10 minutes of an Indonesian movie before serving this egg and nest looking dish which was really just rice.
Rating: I don’t care
11. Murder Scene
I do love murder. Try traveling alone and making friends with that opener. By murder I really mean true crime. There were a lot of moving pieces to assemble this dish. It started with the mirror-esque platter and the splatter of “blood” sauce which was actually shrimp paste sambal. The bits kept coming one by one. A gigantic roasted chicken leg. A hammer (what!) An edible glass bottle with sweet soy sauce inside. A server came and broke the bottle with the hammer. I mean, I would have liked to be the one to smash things, but oh well. This was also an incredibly delicious dish. However, the glass bottle was made of sugar. This also taught me an important life lesson. Write this down folks. Just because something is edible doesn’t mean you should eat it. I learned this over and over throughout the course of the meal as they added creative, visual components that completely destroyed the balance of the dishes. Hmmph.
Preparation for a Dessert Course
Guys, I can’t even at this point. The server came by with a frozen flower (more liquid nitrogen was used for this) and hung it from a conveniently placed hook above the table. There was also a flask filled with liquid. I was told the flower will start melting (hellooo science) and it was imperative that I made sure the drips went into the flask. I took this task very seriously and it was quite a challenge as the flower dangled at least two feet above and the opening on the bottle was merely a centimeter. After a quick peek at the other tables, I noticed their vessels of liquid had wider mouths. I concluded that the staff did an assessment of all the diners and determined I would be the most successful at this assignment and provided me with the most difficult container. Challenge accepted.
12. There is a QR Code on my Dinner
I am sure you can tell by my tone which seems to be rapidly unraveling that I am a little over this evening. There was another film on the screen for another theme. Was this the one with Hitler? I can’t remember. Honestly the whole night was riddled with probable copyright infringements and off-color humor. It was probably 9:30pm at this point and I was getting antsy. This was some sort of beef tendon curry…with a QR code (why!) Very tasty and very “why the hell is everything so disjointed and forced?”
13. The Dead Guy
This next dish was from the Indonesian island of Sulawesi and they highlighted the tradition of dressing their dead loved ones in white cloth and feeding them and basically treating them as if they are still alive. Now there is a coping mechanism. So of course it was only logical to have a staff member dress in white cloth, roam around all of the tables in the restaurant and proceed to DIE right beside my table. I found this strange but accepted it since the dish–Beef Papiong–was quite yummy. However, HOWEVER…this dead guy proceed to stay there for the remainder of the meal and by the time the final course rolled around he was audibly snoring.
14. An Egg
Dessert time. Finally. This is where my hard work of getting the melted flower drops into the liquid was meant to be recognized, but NO ONE said I did a good job. As the flower drops hit the liquid, they turned into little gel balls which the server called caviar. Um, no. He strained all of my “caviar” out of the liquid and took the smallest scoop and placed it inside an egg shell. The remainder of the caviar was to be discarded. The dish was meant to look like an egg, presumably because it was served inside an eggshell. It was a texturally strange mango “sphere” with the caviar (apparently “torched ginger” flavor, whatever that means), palm sugar, and chili sauce. We must also recall that this dish was meant to relate to a movie genre…this makes no sense and I am not wasting the brain power to recall what genre would be the most logical.
15. The Flying Saucer
Hello dry ice. Hello UFO. This was clearly sci fi themed. Eye roll. The dish itself was cucumber noodles with watermelon sauce. Apparently the fog was pandan flavored. Yeah ok.
16. Chunky Soda
This course was tonic and some chunky fruit with a big straw. In case you didn’t know, tonic water glows in the dark under a black light (due to the compound called quinine…once a chemical engineer…nevermind, not a statement worth finishing. I did learn this in college, but not in class…at an outerspace themed rager we threw at my house). Anyway, everyone knows tonic water isn’t delicious and whatever fruit compote sat at the bottom was nearly impossible to suck through a straw without bursting a blood vessel.
Before the final course of the evening, it was important to recognize those who attended this meal as a birthday celebration. This was everyone in the restaurant except for me. They lifted a curtain and revealed a drumset and I truly felt like I was at Chuck E. Cheese. One person beat the drums half to death and the remainder of the staff sang happy birthday in high pitched voices with a tone that made me concerned for the overall wellbeing of their vocal cords. About 8 identical birthday songs later, we moved on to the final course of the evening.
17. The One with the Raincoat
Ah, let me start by saying I am glad we have reached 17 and the BBQ chips and parallelogram niblets were not considered courses. If anyone wants my opinion, they should be removed from the program entirely. Has anyone ever been provided a raincoat at a restaurant? I could only think of the nightly cleanup they must endure. This dessert had many chocolatey components including the super frozen elements that were basically activated to shoot all over the place like unconfined poprocks, hence the raincoat. Now, the dish itself was delicious, I loved this dessert. I also think I would have loved this gimmick had the rest of the meal not been so weird and hokey. Mind you the dead guy is still lying on the floor snoring.
Final Thoughts on Namaaz Dining
I like weird, but this was weird. Really, really weird. You would think that having a theme would add cohesion to the evening, but it was so incredibly disjointed, choppy, and non-sensical. The dishes did not naturally relate to the theme and everything felt forced and overdone (like a quarter of the courses involved some dry ice or liquid nitrogen magic). A couple of the dishes were total winners, but the rest prioritized “creativity” without paying attention to flavor. As I mentioned, the price was steep for Indonesian standards, but had every dish hit the mark, this would have been a great value in my opinion. However, due to the number of subpar dishes and sheer chaos of the evening, I don’t really recommend this experience. It would take a flawless concept to not have some boredom during a meal lasting over three hours. Maybe Season 9 will be better?