The F&B scene in Jakarta has gotten more exciting in the past couple of years, with more variety of cuisines opening in the capital, including those hailing from the Mediterranean.
When it comes to Spanish restaurants in the capital, we’re mostly exposed to the ones that offer tapas. That, or paella, the rice dish from Spain’s Valencia region.
Doing things a little bit differently from its predecessors, Mare Nostrum, the newest restaurant at Grand Sahid Jaya Hotel, is serving food in large portions that are meant to be shared. Right before COVID-19 grounded everything to halt in early March, Coconuts was invited to the restaurant’s grand opening, where we tried several of their fabulous dishes.
Our interest in Mare Nostrum was piqued when we found out that their menu was designed by Eduard Xatruch, Mateu Casañas, and Oriol Castro — the Michelin-recognized trio behind two of Spain’s famous restaurants, Compartir Cadaques and Disfrutar Barcelona.
The three chefs previously held senior positions in the creative culinary team of the Michelin 3-star restaurant El Bulli, which was run by renowned chef Ferran Adria for years until its closure in 2011. Among epicures and within the world’s dining scene, El Bulli was well-known for its molecular gastronomy.
Their collaboration continued at Compartir in the town of Cadaques of Spain’s Girona province, which opened in 2012, and Disfrutar in Barcelona two years after — the latter currently sitting at number nine in The World’ 50 Best Restaurants (this year’s event has been postponed to 2021). Awards shared by the three included two Michelin stars and their collective rank as the 5th best chef in the world last year.
Mare Nostrum marks the trio’s first venture outside of Spain, and they are the restaurant’s gastronomical directors. The restaurant — meaning “Our Sea” in Latin, taken from the Roman name for the Mediterranean Sea — is inspired by the food and culture of the region and the city of Barcelona, where the Disfrutar trio and Mare Nostrum’s managing partner Marc Mallolas come from.
Little did we know that it would be our last fancy dining experience. This was before the Large-Scale Social Restrictions (PSBB) protocol was first introduced in the capital, not long after officials confirmed the first COVID-19 cases in Indonesia.
The first thing we noticed upon entering the restaurant was that it was so large, so airy, and so bright. The restaurant is divided into three parts: the main dining area, the lounge, and private rooms, which can house a total of 200 seated guests. Soft pink dominated the interior of the main dining room, while blues of different shades reigned in the lounge area, both accentuated with gold here and there. The overall look of it all is chic and — for the lack of a better word — so 2010s millennial. We liked it a lot, though, and even took photos of the restaurant from various angles.
We began our starters with Tomato Bread (IDR45,000++), homemade sourdough topped with fresh tomato sauce and sprinkled with coarse sea salt, which elevated our appetite with its mixture of sweet, tangy, and salty taste.
Before our meals were served, we had a chef demonstration of their Strawberry and Tomato Salad (IDR120,000++), which was said to be the recommended starter dish. We initially doubted that the sweet and sourness of strawberries and tomatoes meeting the salty and savory taste of basil oil, parmesan foam, pine nuts, and balsamic vinegar would go well together, at least for our personal taste. But hey, it’s the creation of Michelin starred-chefs, and we unsurprisingly found ourselves hooked by this dish— so yes, we would recommend this for your appetizer.
So far, the two items above had a noticeable crunch of coarse sea salt.
But the star of the starters lineup should be Vitello Tonnato (IDR200,000++), which consisted of roast beef under a blanket of aired tuna sauce topped with pickled vegetables and pistachio nuts. To enjoy it, you have to scoop the roast beef and the sauce with a slice of baguette crisp. We felt that the creaminess of the tuna sauce easily balanced out the saltiness of the roast beef.
Still on the starters, we were served the Open Face Omelette with Prawns (IDR140,000++), which the chefs cooked right in front of the guests— ours was made by Chef Casañas. It was overall a pleasant dish and the shrimps were fresh, but compared to other starters, this lacked the kick for our Indonesian taste buds.
Moving on to the mains, we were served a paella dish called Vegetable Rice with Pesto and Burrata (IDR480,000++) — comprising dried Carnaroli rice, fresh vegetables, burrata cheese, and pesto sauce. When mixed, the al dente medium-grained Carnaroli rice, the fragrant pesto, the burst of savory creamy burrata, the crunchy broccoli and corn made a perfect harmony of texture and taste on our tastebuds.
As for dessert, we were served two different kinds of sweets. We enjoyed the Liquid Chocolate Bonbons with blackcurrant sorbet (IDR95,000++) immensely, as the bonbons— which tasted slightly minty — just exploded in our mouth and the blackcurrant liquid filling was sweet and sour with a hint of basil. If you want something lighter in terms of texture and sweetness to conclude your meal, the Crema Catalana (IDR95,000++), which consisted of strawberries layered with mango sorbet and brûléed cream, should be your pick.
Dining in the time of COVID-19
Mare Nostrum unfortunately had to close its doors for dine-in only a couple of weeks after its grand opening due to COVID-19. After it was closed for more than two months, Mare Nostrum reopened in early June for take away and delivery services, and back to full operation since June 8 in accordance with a schedule laid out by the Jakarta Provincial Government for the transitional period of PSBB or the so-called “new normal.”
Mallolas told Coconuts via Whatsapp that Mare Nostrum has imposed standard COVID-19 health protocols during the course of the new normal, including cleaning the establishments with disinfectant liquids, mandatory temperature checks and hand washing before entering the restaurant for customers and staff, imposing physical distancing between visitors, and requiring face masks for staff who serve the customers, among others.
As for the concerns of the shared plate menu, Mallolas said that they ensure the experience will remain safe amid the pandemic.
“For example, the Creamy Chicken Croquetas comes with four pieces in each serving, so it can be shared for four people or can be enjoyed alone. Each person [on the table] will get their own plate and cutlery, so every customer will take their portions to be enjoyed by themselves, that way is safe and hygienic,” Mallolas said.
That said, we highly encourage you to ask for additional utensils to take your portion of the dish to your plate should the restaurant not provide the dish with one, just in case!
Additionally, Mare Nostrum has slimmed down its menu to only include dishes that can be served in accordance with COVID-19 protocols — which sadly excludes the Liquid Chocolate Bonbons. Hopefully, things will return to normal once more so we can all gather to enjoy Mediterranean-inspired dishes and share the plate with our loved ones without fear of getting infected.
Opens 11am-10pm daily
Grand Sahid Jaya 18th floor, Jl. Jendral Sudirman Kav. 86, Central Jakarta
Transit: MRT Setiabudi Astra, TransJakarta Karet
RSVP through Chope or Whatsapp/call at +62 812 8762 0750
Mare Nostrum’s Coconuts Directory listing, and Instagram