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Thursday, May 20, 2010

1945, Pyrmont

"Everyone thinks the woman in the painting is my grandma!" laughs 1945 head chef and co-owner, Natasha Roesli.

The women is Raden Ayu Kartini, one of the first and foremost pioneers for the women's movement in Indonesia. Each year, her birthday is celebrated in a national public holiday. "Our restaurant is run by three women," Natasha explains, "so we are all about girl power!"

1945 is more than just girl power. It's a step back in time to the Dutch East Indies tradition of rijsttafel or rice table, a time when the exotic spices of Indonesia were shown off in a decadent banquet that numbered forty small dishes or more. The year 1945 refers to the year Indonesia declared independence and whilst there are a few restaurants still serving rijsttafel in Indonesia, this is the first restaurant to do so in Sydney.

1945 menu

We're handed menus that look and feel more like wooden artefacts, solid wooden structures with two doors that open up at the front to reveal the multi-page menu. They complement the overall feel of the restaurant, a combination of Dutch and Indonesian decor that matches stiff linen and lemon butter walls with traditional wooden carvings and antique copper chandeliers.

The restaurant is in the former premises of Blue Eyed Dragon, which has relocated further up the road, instantly recognisable in its layout but significantly altered in ambience. Mood lighting and hushed tones make this quite an intimate venue, ideal for quiet dinners for couples or small groups.

The menu choice is somewhat dizzying. On offer are 28 entrees and mains, 12 sides and condiments, plus six more daily specials on the blackboard. Set banquets are the easy option, but tonight I'm dining with Ellie, Mr J, Billy and The Pom, and everyone is determined to customise their own meal.

Roedjak air $5
Finely grated exotic fruits with pandan sugar and lime juice

Drinks arrive quickly as we hem and haw over our options. Ellie's roedjak air is refreshing with lime, the bottom of the glass filled with microscopically fine slices of fresh lime.

Bankrek $6
Sweet spicy drink made of brewed ginger, fennel, cinnamon and cloves

Bandrek is the kind of drink you crave when you're sick, a heady aromatic concoction that is spicy with ginger, fennel, cinnamon and clove and sweetened to almost a thick syrup. I savour every mouthful.

Our waiter recommends that we order five small dishes in order to have a complete meal, and as we agonise over our decision, we snack on crackers for "thinking music".

[front] Emping bitternut crackers $2
Kropoeak odeang prawn crackers $2

The crackers are served in traditional baskets, the attention to detail both heartwarming and endearing. Emping bitternut crackers are brittle with only a faint bitterness to their mostly nutty flavour. Kropoeak odeang prawn crackers are a little more familiar, like thick prawn crackers with a heavier density and more pronounced prawn flavour.

Our meals arrive in a somewhat staggered order and in varying styles of plating. Ellie and Mr J have their dinners delivered on large and impressive round wooden trays set with banana leaves. The rest of our meals arrive on smaller shallower trays, presumably due to the number and style of dishes we'd ordered, but we still feel a little crestfallen at the comparison!

[clockwise from bottom] Sate babi $3
Grilled pork skewers spiced with cumin and coriander

Sate ajam $3
Grilled chicken skewers served with ground peanut sauce

Pangsit goreng $5
Crispy deep-fried dumplings of pork and prawns
served with sweet and tangy chili sauce

Ajam panggang ketjap $6
Grilled sweet and spicy chicken with a dash of lime

Sambal oedang petai $6
Prawns and sator beans stir-fried in tomato-based
lemongrass chili sauce

Almost everyone orders the sate babi pork skewers, reasoning that these are harder to find than the usual chicken or beef. The pork is tender and smoky, smothered in a thick and spicy peanut sauce. Mr J, who has ordered the chicken skewer as well, declares at the end of the night that the pork was definitely the winner.

[clockwise from bottom] Sambal oedang petai $5
Prawns and sator beans stir-fried in tomato-based lemongrass chili sauce

Smoor daging $5
Beef chuck stewed in a blend of aromatic cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves

Sate babi $3
Grilled pork skewers spiced with cumin and coriander

Pangsit goreng $5
Crispy deep-fried dumplings of pork and prawns
served with sweet and tangy chili sauce

Pepes tahoe $3
Spiced mashed tofu with basil and mini whitebaits
grilled in banana leaves

Petai are the beans from the tree that Aussie school kids used to raid to make "stink bombs". The beans have a distinct bitter taste, although here their flavour is offset by the use of spicy sambal, the tomato and lemongrass pairing well with stir-fried prawns.

Pangsit goreng $5
Crispy deep-fried dumplings of pork and prawns
served with sweet and tangy chili sauce

Pangsit goreng are like deep-fried moneybags, wonton wrappers filled with minced pork and prawn and deep-fried to a golden brown.

[clockwise from left] Nasi pandan $2
Steamed jasmine rice infused with pandan leaf

Nasi koening $3
Tumeric rice cooked in chicken stock, lemongrass and bayleaf

Nasi oedoek $3
Fragrant coconut rice flavoured lightly with lemongrass

Rice is also beautifully presented, mounded and then up-turned on brown-paper lined baskets.

Pepes tahoe $3
Spiced mashed tofu with basil and mini whitebait
grilled in banana leaves

Pepes tahoe is a cute little parcel wrapped up in banana leaves and sewn closed with a skewer. The grill marks on the banana leaf are pretty but we're a little undecided about its contents, a soft mixture made up of crumbled firm tofu, whitebait and basil.

Kerang Saoes Padang
Premium black mussels stir fried in fiery chili sauce and kaffir lime leaves

We receive a complimentary serve of kerang saoes padang from the kitchen, fresh black mussels that are doused in a kaffir lime and chilli sauce that is almost Thai in flavour. The mussels are tender and just cooked, and the sauce is worth scooping up using the empty shells.

Soto Betawi $6
Rich beef soup cooked in coconut milk
served with condiments of lime, coriander leavers and crispy shallots

Soups arrive in their own clay pot on top of a burner to keep warm during dinner. Soto betawi consists of beef cooked in a coconut soup that is mild and creamy. Hints of lime and coriander add lightness and a layer of crackers provide a fun sense of crunch.

[clockwise from bottom] Tjoemi goreng tepoeng $6
Deep-fried squid coated with lightly seasoned batter

Ayam goreng koening $5
Deep-fried tender braised chicken

Dendeng sapi balado $5
Stewed lemongrass beef fillet pan fried with ground chili and shallots

Sate babi $3
Grilled pork skewers spiced with cumin and coriander

Scrolls of scored deep-fried squid have a light and crispy batter. Stewed lemongrass beef fillet, or dendeng sapi balado, is aromatic with chilli, shallots, lemongrass and red capsicum.

Smoor daging $5
Beef chuck stewed in a blend of aromatic cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves

Sate babi $3
Grilled pork skewers spiced with cumin and coriander

Ajam goreng koening $5
Deep-fried tender braised chicken

Ajam panggang ketjap $5

Grilled sweet and spicy chicken with a dash of lime

Smoor daging is a tender stew of beef chuck steak, cubed and simmered slowly with cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. The ayam goreng koening is a marinated chicken leg that has been deep-fried and served with a crumble of herbs and spices.

Grilled snapper $31.50
Whole snapper brushed with sweet soy sauce,
grilled and served with sambal tomat

Our table shares on blackboard special, the grilled snapper is a huge serve of fish that has been basted with kecap manis sweet soy sauce and then grilled. The skin is both smoky and caramelised, the succulent flesh not really needing the accompanying dressing, although chunks of cucumber provide refreshment.

Rendang daging $5
Tender beef braised in spices and coconut milk

Rendang daging is wetter in style than the Malaysian version, the sauce more visible and thicker, with a stronger coconut milk presence. Later, when Natasha comes out to chat to us, the waitress explains she'd encouraged Billy to order this dish, surprised that noone had ordered the restaurant's specialty.

When Natasha finds out Billy is Malaysian, she's mortified. "Oh no," she chides the waitress, "you should never try to sell an Indonesian rendang to a Malaysian!" she laughs. "He will never agree!"

She's right. Billy prefers his rendang in the Malaysian style.

Sop boentoet $6
Aromatic oxtail soup spiced with nutmeg

"And what did you think of the sop boentoet?" Natasha asks.

Both Mr J and I had ordered the oxtail soup. I'd been surprised by its viscosity, the soup heavy with fried shallots that have cooked until dissolved, lending a fried onion flavour. The oxtail is an intricate disc of bones, meat and tendon that needs to be picked at thoroughly to extricate all its wonders. Slices of carrot have taken on the flavour of the soup, cooked until soft.

Mr J smiles and says, "I am Dutch and I loved it. It tasted just like the way my Mum used to make it."

Natasha's smile couldn't be any wider, although she dips her head and clasps her hands to her chest in humble disbelief.

"Who taught you how to cook?" we ask.

"My grandma taught me all these dishes," she explains. She trained at Le Cordon Bleu in California and Melbourne, but after training in classic French cuisine, she decided that Indonesian food was where her heart and soul lay.

Teh potji $10
Strong brewed Jasmine tea served with rock sugar

The arrival of the teh potji creates a murmur of appreciation. The heavy tea set consists of matching tea pot, cups, saucer and tray. The tea is a strong brew of Jasmine tea, so heaviliy floral that it reminds me of soap at first, but it becomes much less pronounced as the tea cool. Small white pebbles of rock sugar are essential for sweetening the tea.

Es tjendol $7

Es tjendol is the Indonesian version of cendol, pandan-flavoured dumplings that look like little green worms. They swim in a pool of palm sugar syrup that's topped with a small mountain of shaved ice, creating a dessert that is cool and sweet.

Es pelangi $7

A rainbow of flavours makes up the es pelangi, a mix of tinted agar jellies, grass jelly, coconut jelly, longans and basil seeds. The shaved ice is sweetened by the addition of rose syrup, permeating its way through the layers of jelly and fruit.

Rudjak boeah oelek $10

We'd been a little confused by the appearance of rudjak on the blackboard menu under desserts, and Natasha admits she hadn't been sure to place it. On the blackboard it's described as a fruit salad with a peanut sauce, but those who are familiar with rojak will know it as a sweet and savoury snack that's usually eaten for supper or as a light meal.

Fruit does figure in this dish - chunks of pineapple are here, but there's also cucumber and carrot and jicama, all mixed up with a dark sauce of shrimp paste and chilli that is both sweet and salty.

Kolak pisang $7

On the other hand, kolak pisang is definitely for sweet tooths. A huddle of cooked vegetables - sweet potato, banana and carrot - is served in coconut milk that has so much gula melaka or palm sugar in it, that it tastes like liquid coconut candy.

We're told that the menu will be updated and changed on a seasonal basis, although with so many dishes on offer, it's doubtful you'll be running out of options even after several visits.

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1945 Dutch East Indies Cuisine on Urbanspoon

1945 Dutch East Indies Cuisine
2/42 Harris Street
Pyrmont, Australia, NSW 2009
Tel: +61 (02) 9660 9699

Opening hours:
Lunch 12pm - 3pm
Dinner 6pm - 10pm
18 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 5/20/2010 12:56:00 am


  • At 5/20/2010 8:43 am, Blogger flexnib said…

    Ooo! We had rijsttafel while in Amsterdam, and it was delicious! I don't think we can get it in Perth, though... My Dutch father-in-law wishes it was available!

  • At 5/20/2010 9:12 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    It was great time dining with you guys at 1945, Helen! I am reliving the moment while reading your post. You didn't show the longest itemize receipt I have ever seen!

  • At 5/20/2010 9:17 am, Anonymous Monica said…

    Wow ! You've probably ordered almost everything between all of you :)
    Must give Soto Betawi a go on my next visit, it looks delish ^_^

  • At 5/20/2010 10:04 am, Blogger 3's said…

    Java Restaurant in Randwick is probably the first one to do risjttafel in Sydney. It's been on their menu since the first time I went there 12 years ago :-)

  • At 5/20/2010 10:50 am, Blogger Betty @ The Hungry Girl said…

    Wow. You certainly covered a lot of the menu! Everything looks really interesting. I love the bamboo baskets :) So cute!

  • At 5/20/2010 12:41 pm, Blogger Stephcookie said…

    The the concept of this restaurant, though I think I would have so much trouble deciding what to get considering the menu size! Haha I'd have trouble figuring out where the rojak would go on the menu too...maybe appetisers?

  • At 5/20/2010 2:12 pm, Blogger Hannah said…

    You know, I almost never order anythign but sparkling water when I go out, and I feel really stupid about that now. I want grated fruits and cloves slipping down my gullet! (Gullet is a funny word. Gullet.)

    Also, that rudjak looks amazing. Peanuts, fruit, salty sweet... heaven in my imagination.

  • At 5/20/2010 2:47 pm, Blogger Unknown said…

    Looks delicious! I'll be sure to go there if I'm in Sydney.

    By the way, I think it's called Bandrek, not Bankrek.

  • At 5/20/2010 9:57 pm, Anonymous john@heneedsfood said…

    This place is right up there on my wishlist. The food looks divine!

  • At 5/20/2010 10:02 pm, Anonymous cyberiagirl from Here Comes The Aeroplane said…

    Ooo, they have a whole vegetarian section! I'm in! :D

  • At 5/20/2010 10:54 pm, Blogger Von said…

    Wow! There's much food! I love how everything comes in small servings so that you can try more =] And I love how the food is served!

  • At 5/21/2010 2:01 pm, Blogger joey@forkingaroundsydney said…

    Lovely looking food. Looks like the lighting is pretty dim. :-)

  • At 5/22/2010 6:29 am, Anonymous Window On The Prairie said…

    I'm in KS, but if we get down that way, we'll go there. Looks divine. Beautiful pics too.

  • At 5/22/2010 10:55 am, Blogger Elinor Entity said…

    Indonesian food rarely looks as good as this in Indonesia, let alone in Amsterdam, where I was deeply disappointed. I'm tempted I have to say, living in the Inner West which is my eternal home. But this is festive food, for major ceremonies and the like, not just a normal meal, and the profusion of dishes and flavours really seems a case of Excess. Of course Sydney diners are addicted to Excess, so it may really catch on. Congratulations to the proprietors, who have seized an untapped market.

  • At 5/23/2010 9:15 pm, Anonymous Adrian @ Food Rehab said…

    Diggin how the food was served here. Would have been difficult to try and fit though huh?! hehe

    Props to the cendol in terms of its presentation. Was the Oxtail boiled enough to tender?

  • At 5/23/2010 11:48 pm, Anonymous Lex said…

    woww that's an awesome menu - all simple, tasty and from the looks of it cheap :D

    maybe will try instead of ayam goreng 99 next time I feel like good, cheap indo lol

  • At 5/25/2010 12:58 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi CW - I'd love to try rijsttafel in Amsterdam. Maybe this is a good excuse for your father-in-law to come visit Sydney :)

    Hi Ellie - Ha yes the world's longest receipt. I had to take three photos of it because it wouldn't all fit into the one shot. Was lovely dining with you and Mr J - thank you so much for the invitation and delightful company.

    Hi Monica - I don't think we covered quite everything. The menu is enormous! Hope you make it there soon :)

    Hi 3's - Thanks for the tip. I didn't realise Java Restaurant had included this on their menu for so long.

    Hi Betty - We ate so much and yet there was still a lot we didn't try. The bamboo baskets are adorable aren't they?

    Hi Stephcookie - We all struggled with indecision. I am notorious for it! Rojak is a tricky one - I think it would work both as an appetiser or side.

    Hi Hannah - Oh really? I tend to choose crazy drinks just because I can. lol. The rudjak is truly delicious - more of a snack than a dessert but very appetising.

    Hi Ronny - Thanks for the correction. Well spotted :) Hope you get to Sydney soon!

    Hi John - Looks like you made it there quick smart!

    Hi cyberiagirl - Vegetarian options are a rarity in so many restaurants. A welcome change.

    Hi Von - I think small servings often make food look more appetising.

    Hi Joey - The lighting was dim :)

    Hi Window On The Prairie - Thanks so much and glad you enjoyed the post.

    Hi Elinor Entity - Some interesting points you raise. I think a lot of the meals we eat in restaurants tend to err on the side of excess but perhaps that's part of the indulgence involved in eating out? It's great to see interesting cuisines coming on the Sydney dining scene and lol, Sydneysiders do have quite a reputation!

    Hi Adrian - The oxtail was melt-in-the-mouth tender and yes, who doesn't love dessert in a massive parfait glass?

    Hi Lex - It was quite cheap although we did splurge on the whole snapper. The choose-your-own dining adventure is fun too!

  • At 5/25/2010 9:08 pm, Blogger Yas @ hungry.digital.elf. said…

    man those look so good! i'm veeery intrigued by their dessert stuff. I've got to try!


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