Indonesian and Indian cuisines share plenty in common – including an amazing variety of deliciously spiced and curried dishes – but Indian restaurants have never enjoyed more than niche popularity in the Indonesian capital. While there are a few stalwarts, such as Ganesha Ek Sanksriti, Queen’s Tandoor and Kinara, that offer up reliably solid fare from the subcontinent, they rarely rate as buzzworthy.
The recently opened Babooji in the hip Senopati area of South Jakarta is certainly cut from a different cloth than the capital’s other Indian restaurants (the fact that it is owned by the fashionable owner of the tailor shop next door to its venue may have something to do with that). Its sleek modern space with exposed brick walls certainly avoids the decor stereotypes of most Indian restaurants and fits in well among Senopati’s other sophisticated hot spots.
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But cool surrounds matter little to me if the food isn’t up to snuff, and I admit I was skeptical when I first saw that Babooji’s extensive menu featured a number of fusion dishes alongside the more traditional North Indian fare, Indian street food favorites and even some Chinese-Indian dishes.
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Fortunately my fears were unfounded. The Indian chef I saw duck in and out of the kitchen to greet guests during my visits clearly knows what he’s doing as almost all the dishes I tried, both old-school and new school, impressed in terms of taste and technique.
Let’s start with the samosas, always a good indicator of an Indian restaurant’s quality. Babooji’s, which you can get with filled with veggies, chicken are lamb, feature a crisp and delicate pastry shell that’s not too chewy – a good sign of somebody paying attention to details.
The vada pao, a vegetarian street food classic featuring fried mashed potato on a pillowy bun, was comforting but had the necessary kick to keep it interesting, especially with the lovely chutney they provide on the side. In general, Babooji doesn’t skimp on the spices or spiciness.
Other classic dishes such as Chicken Makhni and Rogan Josh were well-rendered, with tender meat and full-bodied gravies. I also appreciated that the chef seems somewhat restrained in his use of butter and cream, which I feel like many Indian restaurants lean on too heavily for flavor. For example, the black daahl here is not excessively rich as I’ve experienced in many other restaurants, allowing for the more delicate spices to shine through.
Grilled foods are another highlight. I tend to shy away from ordering tandoori chicken at restaurants after experiencing one too many piece of dry overcooked bird, but I thought the tandoori chicken tikka here was excellent, exceptionally moist and flavorful.
As for the fusion dishes, I tried a few and found them a little more hit and miss. The masala tacos didn’t make much of an impact on me, lacking a distinctive flavor or textural contrast to keep it interesting. I really enjoyed the bacon and cheese nan though, which was studded with smoky bits of meat and came with a mild but moreish brown gravy dip that made me think it would make a perfect English pub snack to tear away at while downing a pint.
Speaking of drinks, on top of the requisite lassis and chai teas, the cocktails served up from Babooji’s well-stocked bar struck me as surprisingly well-crafted. Their Indian twists on the classics, like the Bombay Colada, Purani’s Old Fashioned and Mumbai Sour, incorporate ingredients like cilantro and cinnamon but in a restrained way that accents their flavor rather than clashing or overwhelming.
Babooji is definitely a most welcome addition to Senopati’s F&B scene, offering not just great Indian food but a venue that will make you want to linger and order one last cocktail while you digest all that lovely curry.