Coconuts Critic’s Table – I was heartbroken to find out that my favorite Mexican restaurant in Jakarta, Taco Local, had closed the doors of its Panglima Polim location late last year. But I soon learned that Taco Local would rise again, like a phoenix rising from a pool of guacamole, to reopen at a new location called Pelaspas just slightly further south in Dharmawangsa.
But as excited as I was to hear of Taco Local’s rebirth, I was even happier to hear that the Mexican cantina’s creator (and one of the best chefs working in Jakarta today), Sebastian Subakti, has also unleashed his latest culinary venture, Bao Ji, in the same location.
The “bao” in Bao Ji is a Chinese word meaning steamed bun (which you might be familiar with from bakpao or mantao) and so Baoji’s menu is based on taking these buns and filling them, sandwich style, full of deliciously rich ingredients.
Bao Ji hardly invented the bao sandwich – bao wrapped around pork belly and chicken can be found at several other Chinese restaurants in town. But Baoji’s sandwiches are on a whole different level. Now doubt inspired in part by the pork belly buns that helped world-renowned chef David Chang build his Momofuku food empire in New York, Baoji’s bun sandwiches each have layers of taste and textures that work together to create some some serious flavor bombs.
Take Baoji’s version of the roasted pork belly bun (Rp 49k). If, based on previous bao experience, you expect it to be some petite bite-sized thing, you’d be quite mistaken. The super-sized bao bun comes filled with two seriously thick slices of pork belly that have been braised to melt-in-your-mouth consistency. The sublime fattiness of the meat is enhanced with a heavy schmear of savory dashi mayonnaise and the crunch of pork crackling
Intensely rich but with enough nuance to make every bite interesting, this dish is definitely a star. My only slight critique would be that the steamed bun rarely makes it to that last bite intact, usually falling apart under the friction of all the other substantial ingredients (but then I would never count being messy as a serious criticism against a delicious dish).
Basically all the bao sandwiches here are gut-busting belly pleasers. For non-pork eaters, the soy chicken and prawn versions are both fantastic, though I’d have to say my second favorite is the version that replaces the roasted pork belly with slices that have been coated in panko and deep-fried (what can I say, I’m a sucker for deep-fried fattiness). The meat manages to remain meltingly tender beneath its crispy coat and the sandwich also benefits from the kick of candied ginger.
There’s much more to the menu then bao sandwiches though. Some of the shareable starters are worth making your way to Dharmawangsa as well, including crackly crisp KFC (Korean Fried Chicken), moreish ginger-spiked chicken liver mousse and elegant, greaseless cakwe fritters stuffed with shrimp and salted egg yolk (one of the trendiest ingredients in Jakarta at the moment).
The food at Baoji is awesome and reasonably priced, which alone would keep me coming back. But it has also quickly become my go-to spot for pre-partying down in South Jakarta thanks to the fantastic drinks. The cocktails here are inventive, refreshing, very reasonably priced compared to the competition (at only Rp 70k each) and – most importantly – strong.
One of my favorites is the Merchant’s Daughter (filled with watermelon juice, lime and lemongrass infused gin), which I keep ordering, despite it’s slightly-embarrassing to say name and bright pink color, because it tastes so damn good (and I can start getting tipsy off of just two or three).
Baoji’s white-tiled interior and neon signage gives it a bit more of a refined look than its next-door neighbor and sister establishment Taco Local, but they are both very casual and comfortable to hang around in. Service can get a little backed up when the venue is crowded, but it’s worth the wait and the staff always delivers.
One of the best things about Baoji is that you can feel free to order from Taco Local’s menu as well while you’re eating there (and vica-versa) meaning you can live the dream of eating awesome nachos and pork belly buns in the same meal. You can also order from the healthy food cafe (SNCTRY) and coffee shop (But First Coffee) located in the same complex.
(Just a quick word on the new Taco Local – it might be even awesomer than before. The space is bigger, the plating is slightly more sophisticated but the flavors remain bold and on point as ever. A must try new item on the menu is the huevo crocante, which takes a light and crispy tortilla and tops it with guacamole, beans, cheese, your choice of meat and a fried egg. Brunch lovers may cry with joy after taking a bite.)
Great food, great drinks, more great food from Taco Local and the cool casual vibe all add up to making Bao Ji one of my favorite new restaurants in Jakarta and one of my favorite restaurants, period. Check it out while it’s still under the radar because I feel like pretty soon it’s gonna be hard to get a seat here on a Saturday night.
They also do special themed “Kitchen Takover” dinners once a month on Tuesdays with guest chefs which I am very much looking forward to checking out soon.
Pelapspas, Jl. Dharmawangsa Raya, No. 4
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