Dynamic and ever-changing, Jakarta prances and pirouettes at the center of the nation’s modern lifestyle. Nevertheless, the pace of modernity has not wiped out the historical heritage of the city. The early 20th century mansion on Jalan Raden Saleh, which today houses one of the capital’s most exclusive restaurants, is one of the numerous sites that still stand strong, defying the often destructive wave of modern development.
Paying homage to times long gone, the Oasis restaurant draws its guests back to the gracious living of the colonial period.
Both the mansion and the interior of the restaurant radiate with an ambience of luxury and elegance that stands tribute to the country’s romantic history.
Despite its advanced years, the well-preserved mansion retains its former glory.
Built in the late Gregorian era, the facade resembles a grand theatrical stage with an imposing circular canopy and slender white pillars.
A flight of stairs leads to the restaurant’s main entrance where an 18th century brass gong, acquired from an ancient palaces in Central Java, welcomes the guests.
“One of the girls from the reception area sounds the gong as the guests walk in,” said O’om Mucharam Endi, general manager of the Oasis.
The exclusive restaurant has seen its share of important guests. Both heads of state and royal dignitaries have dined at the Oasis .
“We’ve hosted former US President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the King of Spain Juan Carlos and the King of Bahrain in this restaurant,” O’om said.
The restaurant’s loyal Indonesian guests have included presidents Suharto, BJ Habibie and Megawati Sukarnoputri, as well as sitting head of state Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
“They all order our rijsttafel, ” said Ewald Falk, the restaurant’s Swiss executive chef, referring to its rice table, a specialty menu in which rice and 12 traditional Indonesian dishes are served one by one by Indonesian girls dressed in a traditional kebaya (blouse) and kain (sarong).
“ Rijsttafel originates from the Javanese keraton [palaces],” Falk said. “But, it was the Dutch that made it so popular.”
The Oasis offers rijsttafel for dinner, while a la carte selections are available for lunch.
“We’re really very proud to be able to serve such a unique Indonesian tradition in such a fine setting,” O’om said.
And a fine setting it is. Yellowing pictures of the heads of states, as well as their thank-you notes and special menus, grace the walls of the restaurant’s anteroom.
Called the Kalimantan Room, the lobby’s walls bear traditional masks, spears and armor from the region.
The adjacent Topeng Bar also features an impressive array of art and antiques, including paintings by world-renowned Indonesian artists such as Affandi and Hendra, as well as traditional wooden masks from Papua, Bali and Kalimantan.
The main dining hall, the Sumatra Room, boasts a display of vintage handwoven, gold embroidered Sumatran sarongs.
On one of its walls hangs a masterpiece by Dutch artist Robert Deppe portraying the Dutch humanist Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466 – 1536) astride a horse in a stained glass window.
“Every evening, a vocal group from North Sumatra, dressed in the traditional attire of ulos [North Sumatran sarongs], sings for our guests while walking from table to table,” O’om said.
“They can sing anything from traditional Batak songs to Japanese and Western songs. Our guests really love them.”
Adjacent to the main hall is the Terrace room, where guests may dine and enjoy an unobstructed view of the restaurant’s manicured lawns.
From the room’s floor-to-ceiling windows, guests can catch glimpses of Italian marble and wooden statues from Kalimantan adorning the garden.
But, the most coveted sight in the restaurant are the private quarters of the Dutch millionaire, F. Brandenburg van Oltsende, who commissioned the construction of the mansion in 1928.
Located upstairs, the bedroom of the millionaire now functions as private partitioned dining rooms that can accommodate up to 40 people.
“There used to be a beautiful old painting above the bed,” O’om said. “But, for propriety’s sake, we had it removed to the lounge area.”
The restaurant’s inception dates back to 1968, when Hotel Indonesia bought the mansion and converted it to a restaurant.
“At that time, Hotel Indonesia was the only hotel with international standards in Jakarta,” O’om said.
“There was often a very long queue at the reception desk. While the guests were waiting, they could enjoy their meals and relax at the restaurant.”
In 1970, PT Transindo Enterprises took over management of the restaurant and besides minor renovations, the company has left the mansion intact.
“We’ve never changed the building in any way,” O’om said. “It’s so full of historical value.”