During the past decade I have been amazed at the number of 'Jakarta-Surabaya' attempts to establish a restaurant in Bali, themed or otherwise, often with very significant investment. Similar has been other restaurants that were copies of successful versions in Singapore or other cities of the world. Virtually all have met the same fate, total failure. Most have long gone a few remain, just hanging on. I am talking about significant stand-alone restaurants, not the fast food variety or the massive places designed purely for large Asian groups of the multi-bus variety, although many of those have also been and gone.
Likewise, there have been a few Bali restaurants who have attempted to duplicate their success in Jakarta and have met a similar fate, although the majority of those were only one-off franchises, from which you can not expect the same result as from hands-on involvement.
Bebek Bengil also tried the franchise route in Jakarta a few years ago but learnt from that exercise. This time around they have established a full branch of Ubud's iconic restaurant, even moving key staff, from top management down, from Ubud to Jakarta to preserve the original authentic Balinese presence.
Situated in Central Jakarta, at Menteng, even the building is called The Ubud Building. Spread over two floors, the eerie rear courtyard with Balinese gardens, statues and dining bales could almost be in Bali, except for the fact that the entire area is surrounded by tall buildings, never allowed in Hindu Bali where no building can be higher than the tallest coconut tree. Not many coconut trees in central Jakarta. As most of the key staff here are Balinese, having been transferred from the Ubud restaurant, there is no problem if you want to speak Balinese!
The menu is virtually the same as that offered in Ubud, just a few items missing including the Pork dishes. Specialty of the house at Bebek Jakarta is the same as it is in Ubud, Crispy Duck. That is the dish that they invented and the one has since been copied by just about every other warung and local restaurant in Ubud. The duck is first steamed in Balinese spices before being deep fried at high temperature to quickly crisp the skin. The BB secret, lost on most of the others, is to keep a degree of tenderness in the flesh, whilst crisping the skin to the point that even the bones can be crunched in the eating. Crispy Duck is an acquired taste, but one that has proved very popular over the years.
As I like dishes with strong flavours I was immediately attracted to a new dish on the Jakarta menu. It is yet another one that has been created by the owner, Ibu Agung Raka Sueni. It is a version of Bebek Pelalah. Now pelalah is most commonly chicken, the bird first being stuffed with spices and roasted, then shredded when cold and tossed with chilli and lime. BB?s version of Bebek Pelalah is completely different with the roasted bird cut into chunks, rather than shredded, and combined with a tomato based sauce, also with chilli and lime.
Other duck specials on the menu include one of the great dishes of Balinese cuisine, Bebek Betutu. This is a classic dish and stands up with the 'best of' of any major cuisine. The bird is stuffed with Balinese herbs and spices, including shallots, garlic, lemongrass, candle nuts, ginger, turmeric, lime leaves, kencur root, and many others, then wrapped in beetle nut leaf, and steamed over embers for a long extended cooking period. The resultant flavour of the now yellow coloured and amazingly tender flesh is unique and one of the great delights of dining in Indonesia. Due to this long cooking cycle only a full bird is served and it must be ordered for a minimum of 2 persons at the table. It also must be ordered one day in advance to facilitate the detailed preparation. The chicken version of this dish, Ayam Betutu, is also available but with the same ordering restrictions.
There is also a traditionally roasted duck served with a sweet chilli sauce and unique versions of Nasi and Mie Gorengs, both with that special crispy duck added. For a starter there is a Duck Melon Soup. Other starters include Chicken Soup, Chicken Wings and a Moroccan Chicken Salad. The Crab and Prawn Salad is topped with thousand islands dressing and the Baby Octopus Salad is tossed with red wine vinegar and lemon cumin dressing.
Whilst most will only visit Bebel Bengil to eat duck dishes the restaurant has to cater for all members of the table so there are a few general items as well; Lemon Chicken, Chicken Breast in a tangy BBQ sauce and Chicken Kebabs in pepper sauce. There are also Lamb Kebabs, a dish that has become very popular here, lamb on a skewer, covered with a mushroom sauce, served over yellow rice. The Lamb Kebabs at Bebek Bengil are not minute pieces, sate style, but large tender chunks of meat. It is an excellent dish if you want to eat other than duck.
Bebek Bengil also offers a Balinese version of the classic Indonesian Rijsttafel [from the Dutch 'rice table'], with many small tastes, including a cocktail and dessert. This also can only be ordered for 2 or more persons.
Opened in 2009 and still going strong it is obvious that at last a Balinese restaurant has succeeded in cracking the Jakarta market.
The Duck has arrived in Jakarta!