A huddle of taxi drivers is always a good sign.
I'm talking about taxi drivers at eating establishments. Surely with free transport at their disposal, their endorsement of any restaurant is worth noting?
There's a group of four taxi drivers outside Immanuel, a simple and barely furnished cafe that serves homestyle Indonesian food. It's not our first stop for the evening. Feeling in need of sustenance after a night of cryogenic cocktails, our thoughts had turned to cravings for deep-fried chicken, specifically the soft bone chicken that Amanda had posted about recently, served at ATL Maranatha in Kensington.
The trek to ATL Maranatha is fruitless, with the lights on but the door locked and seemingly closed for the evening. We turn around and end up at Immanuel in Ultimo, the original site of ATL Maranatha which still serves soft bone chicken despite the change in owners.
Patrons have to fill out their own order pads, and there's an element of novelty watching Suze take pen to paper.
Es Campur $3.50
Shaved ice with mixed fruit and jelly
topped with red syrup and condensed milk
The menu is a laminated A4 sheet, printed double-sided with accompanying photos. We're bemused by the honesty on the menu which lists under the pandan dumpling drink Es Cendol, "traditional Javanese drink/dessert - hard to explain, try yourself!". We're told that unfortunately they've run out, so Simon orders the Es Campur instead, a refreshing drink of shaved ice, red beans, coconut jelly, red syrup and condensed milk.
Ayam kremes $6
Specially seasoned crispy fried chicken with homemade chilli on side
There's a broad selection of Indonesian dishes available, a range that includes Soto Ayam Indonesian chicken soup ($8), Coto Daeng Daeng beef soup with added tripe ($8), Bakmi Indonesian-style noodles with diced chicken and mushrooms ($7) and Empek Empek Indonesian fish cakes ($7.50).
We focus on the fried chicken instead, ordering all four varieties in offer, with two extra serves thrown in for good measure.
Ayam RicaRica $6
Shallow fried chicken smeared with extra spiced chilli
The Ayam Kremes is a chicken maryland marinated and deep-fried, served with a strew of deep-fried crumbs. The chicken is juicy with a faint sweetness in the chicken skin.
Ayam RicaRica is a little oilier, presented with a dense paste of fiery chilli sauce on top.
Ayam Lunak $7
Shallow fried soft bone chicken (edible bones) with homemade chilli on side
It's the Ayam Lunak that we're all looking forward to, lured by the promise of edible bones in this soft bone chicken. The Maryland joint has a distinctly flatter appearance, coated in a thick batter and topped with more of those deep-fried golden fluffy crumbs.
The side of the fork goes easily through the bone, a little disconcerting at first. It's a strange sensation to feel the bones crumble in the mouth too. Flavourwise, we comment that there's a distinct taste of chicken marrow. You can certainly taste the chicken bones, which have a slightly odd metallic resonance.
Ayam Panggang $6
Indonesian marinated flame BBQ chicken with homemade chilli on side
The Ayam Panggang is the last chicken variant to arrive, and it ends up being the table favourite. Dark in colour, the chicken has an incredible smoky charcoal flavour, and the kecap manis marinade adds a salty sweetness.
Each piece of chicken comes with a small salad garnish of lettuce, cucumber and tomato although noone else touches this except for me. The dishes of chilli sauce also remain largely untouched as there's already plenty of flavour in the chicken themselves.
Cah Kangkung $8
Stir-fried spinach with fresh cut chilli and tomato
There's plenty of chilli in the Cah Kangkung, so much so that Minh and Suze can only manage small and modest amounts of it combined with mouthfuls of plain steamed rice. It's a fiery combination of water spinach with chilli and tomato, providing an endorphin rush for chilli fans.
Nasi Goreng Ikan Asin $8
Indonesian fried rice with salted fish
Nasi Goreng Ikan Asin is a mountain of Indonesian fried rice. The rice is sweet and spicy, and tiny morsels of egg, shallot and salted fish add extra flavour. It's an enjoyable dish but one that is incredibly oily, evidenced by the pool left behind at the bottom of the plate.
Our gluttony of eight dishes between four is undoubtedly excessive. The next table holds four Indonesian women and between them they share two pieces of fried chicken and two bowls of Sayur Asem, a sour soup with corn, long beans, nuts, tomatoes and savoury jackfruit ($4.50).
No matter. I end up with two takeaway boxes of leftovers, put to good use for dinner and lunch, and dinner again. At $15 a head, it's a supremely cheap meal given how much we'd over-ordered. Taxi drivers - they know a good thing or two.
And because I always love fried chicken, what's your favourite spot or recommendation for a fried chicken fix?
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2/02/2010 01:48:00 a.m.