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HISTORY OF TUGU KUNSTKRING PALEIS BUILDING
Tugu Kunstkring Paleis is situated in Gondangdia, an administrative village in Menteng district in South Jakarta, Indonesia. Menteng itself was designated to be a middle to high end residential area in Jakarta during the Dutch colony era developed between 1910 and 1918 by a Dutch architect Pieter Adriaan Jacobus Moojen from NV. Bouwploeg, the first property and architecture firm in the capital city of Indonesia, whose building now has been functioning into Cut Meutia Mosque since 1987.
Suppose you notice the word “Boplo” used in the neigbourhood of Gondangdia, such as Pasar Boplo (Boplo Market) and Gado-Gado Boplo restaurant, actually it has something to do with Bouwploeg. “Boplo” is a local way of saying Bouwploeg (of NV. Bouwploeg) since it is too hard to pronounce for most people.
PAJ Moojen’s next project was to build a Dutch rationalist architecture style building called Bataviasche Kunstkring (Batavia Circle of Art) in 1913. Inaugurated by Willem Frederik Idenburg, the governor of Dutch Indies in 1914, it signified the first property building ever created by NV Bouwploeg after its own head office.
The building held several art related exhibitions, from paintings, music performances, until a gathering spot for art lovers. It reached a higher reputation after exhibiting finest works of Van Gogh, Chagall, Picasso and Gauguin between 1939 and 1943.
After 1942, the function changed into The Islamic Council of Indonesia main office, Central Jakarta Immigration Office, until Buddha Bar that brought a controversy. Since 2013, Tugu Hotels and Restaurants Group renamed it into Tugu Kunstkring Paleis and transformed it into a fine dining restaurant that simultaneously becomes an art gallery like how it used to be.
NOSTALGIC DINING ROOMS AND GALLERIES
Exhibiting antiquity inheritance from Oei Tiong Ham, a sugar trading tycoon, the old glory of Bataviasche Kunstkring has returned. Not only did a courteous waiter instantly welcomed us once we stepped in a century-year-old heritage building, but also opulence and prosperity, accentuated by gold and red colours used in many objects.
Passing the gracious golden gate with “MN” initials, that belonged to one of the Surakarta Kingdoms, Mangkunegaran, we headed to the dining rooms, bar, wine tasting, gift shop, ballroom and a balcony. Also, don’t miss the cozy coffee and bread corner situated on the left side of the entrance door before the golden gate. It’s simply a perfect place to get light snacks and zipping coffee, tea or traditional hot drinks like wedang jahe (ginger drink), for instance.
The biggest dining room in Tugu Kunstring Paleis is Diponegoro Room. The 9-meter-painting of “The Fall of Java” painted by the restaurant owner, Anhar Setjadibrata, is the most sought object in the room. The Fall of Java is the 3rd version of “Submission of Prince Diponegoro to General De Kock” by Nicolas Pieneman, whose 2nd version is “The Arrest of Prince Diponegoro” by Raden Saleh. Other Surakarta Kingdom treasures are golden crown-shaped canopies with “PB” initials, that stands for Pakubuwono, placed above the paintings on sides of the room.
Go straight ahead to the giant Diponegoro painting and turn left, then you will find an oriental style lounge so-called Suzie Wong Bar. The bar name is inspired by a famous novel by Richard Mason in 1957. The love story about a prostitute named Suzie Wong with Robert Lomax, an American architect, was a hit when it was filmed in 1960’s. The original movie posters from a theater in Menteng is displayed on both sides of the bar. It felt homey at the lounge as if we visited someone’s peranakan house with an intense Chinese atmosphere, from lanterns on the ceiling, wooden partition, engraving, until a Hong Kong style rickshaw. I personally love this lounge so much!
The next room on the right side of Diponegoro Room is brighter than any other rooms since the sunshine can pass through the windows and glass roof. Apart from dining tables, it displays local souvenirs and artworks for sale, such as accessories, pillows, pottery and many more.
Also, check out the 3-tier rack dedicated to Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, aka Ahok or BTP, a former Jakarta governor known for his straight forward, strong-willed attitude, honest and once jailed for blasphemy case for 18 months.
Besides communal dining rooms, Tugu Kunstring Paleis has 8 other private rooms, occupying from 4 to 25 guests. Each room has its own name, mostly inspired by prominent people in Indonesian history (Soekarno 1950, Raden Saleh and Multatuli Room), legendary Greek God (Hercules Room), and a popular classic movie (Darna Room), which is also one of the owner’s favorite movies.
Of all the beautifully-decorated rooms, the most impressive one is Soekarno 1950 room. Depicting a small part of a great man’s life, a large painting of Soekarno surrounded by Balinese dancers and clippings of his burial procession are some memorabilia of Indonesia’s first president that are well-kept in the room, occupying up to 25 guests.
To access these private rooms, we took an elevator to the 2nd floor. Taking pictures are allowed, as long as you don’t use any professional camera with a tripod. Lights and air conditioner are usually off unless the rooms are used to save electricity and to protect the paintings from colour fading.
There’s also a painting gallery on the 3rd floor, which is also a ballroom available for bookings, including the balcony.
Indeed, we were mesmerized by every detail put in the interior of the paleis, a Dutch word for palace. Nostalgic feeling is inevitable, dragging us to the glory of the old times long before we were born. The invaluable treasures are not only heaven for art lovers, but also become part of human civilization. They also remind us that we can learn a lot from the history behind them, especially someone (important) once owned and used them.
When you go down, take the stairs instead of the elevator, observe the red walls along the way as it displays pictures of the heritage building from time to time dated 100 years ago.
Additionally, I advise you to visit all the rooms after finishing your meals, since you may be carried away by its beauty that you forget that your orders could be already cold after returning to your table.
IS THE FOOD AS GOOD AS THE GALLERY?
The lavishness and precious antiquities inside the building that ceaselessly amaze me only left one question. Is the food and beverage quality as good as the majestic palace? I mean, it’s not my first time to dine in a fancy restaurant with so-so or even lousy taste.
Serving Indonesian, oriental and western cuisine, we decided to try the Indonesian food to celebrate my mom’s birthday. Keluwak Fried Rice (Rp. 78,000 / $6) is one of the menus I recommend. Keluwak is a black fruit with sweet taste used in popular East Javanese cuisine, rawon (keluwak beef black soup). Inspired by rawon, the fried rice is mixed with keluwak, turning it into dark brown colour. The condiments, such as prawn crackers, raw bean sprouts, chili and beef, are the same as those in rawon, except cucumber and fried egg. I love the savoury taste with hints of sweetness and spices.
Gulai Iga Kambing or mutton rib curry (Rp 108,000 / $9) is definitely my favorite! The meat is soft, tender, and the intense smell of the mutton is successfully lessened to the minimum. The curry taste itself is just right, not too thick and not too light. Moreover, the veggies and baby potatoes are served in generous amount. The price is considered affordable, as it is not much different compared to those mutton meals at the malls with such a quality.
Although I think the Keluwak Fried Rice is more unique, the Nasi Lemak Kunstkring (Rp 88,000 / $7) is worth to try as well. It’s savoury rice mixed with salted fish, fried chicken wings, kangkung belacan (watercress with shrimp paste sauce), omelette, cucumber relish and black baby squid. I love the baby black squid, by the way, as the black sauce from squid ink completely rocks!
From mocktails, tea, coffee, cocktails, smoothies, traditional iced drinks until wines and beers, Tugu Kunstring Paleis has it all. In my first visit with Wisata Kreatif Jakarta, I tried Meik Wei Meik Wei (Rp. 45,000 / $3.5), one of the best-selling mocktails with concoction of fresh lime, strawberry, sprite and brown sugar. A great choice for those who search for refreshment after dealing with hot weather.
I was curious with the home made Lemongrass Tea (Rp. 42,000 / $3.5), especially it’s made of freshly boiled and smashed lemongrass. Therefore I took it in my second visit. I think a simple drink will do best for heavy and strong taste meals. The lemongrass tea didn’t disappoint me at all. It tastes tangy, lemony, earthy and refreshing at the same time.
I heard from another guest that the Pisang Goreng Raja or Raja banana fritters (Rp. 48,000 / $4) is very good because the bananas are carefully selected and tastes naturally sweet. I haven’t tried this, but perhaps you can prove it in your next visit.
In general, it costs approximately between Rp 150,000 and Rp 200,000 ($13 to $18) per person, which a bit costly, yet still makes sense. Tugu Kunstkring Paleis has great quality of food and beverage with service excellence, where all guests are treated like kings and queens. Moreover, the grandiose, lavish interior, surrounded by precious antiquities that could grab a lot of attention makes your visit unforgettable.
Tugu Kunstkring Paleis
Address: Jl. Teuku Umar No.1, RT.1/RW.1, Gondangdia, Menteng, Kota Jakarta Pusat, Daerah Khusus Ibukota Jakarta 10350
Phone: (021) 3900899
Opening Hours: 11 am – 12 pm