William Dillard said famously that the three most important things in the world of real estate were ‘location, location and location’. The same could also be said to be true for a restaurant in a city so spread out and unnavigable as Jakarta (I know it‘s not a word!). I can think of many restaurants I have been put off going to, not because of their fayre or service, but simply for the sheer hassle of the journey. But Ocha & Bella on the corner of Jalan Wahid Hasyim and Jalan Jaksa thumbs its nose at such conventions. Not because it is difficult to find – being slap-bang in the middle of the city – but because of the connection with the infamous Jalan Jaksa. Jalan Jaksa’s danger and seediness lives on mainly in the minds of people who have never been there. In truth, it is a fairly shabby strip of poorly-lit bars and cafes ostensibly catering for backpackers but which should really be associated with English teachers refreshing their over-worked and underpaid throats with large bottles of inconsistently chilled Bintang.
It is cheap and cheerless, but it serves a function in making sure that English teachers aren’t always calling for pay rises by anaesthetizing them on a working budget. The mere mention of Jaksa usually raises unnecessary hackles, and Ocha & Bella have taken a gamble on this ‘guilt by association‘. A mere five minutes in the place and you realise that this is a whole different kettle of cod. Ocha & Bella pulls no punches with its décor, its prices, or its standards. All are top notch. The service is excellent. I was seated outside as it was busy. It was nice to be outdoors and as mosquitoes have decided that I am poisonous to them, I was quite happy. Every member of staff greeted me cheerily as I walked past them, whether busy or not. The waiting staff are lightning-fast with their ‘your welcomes’. A waiter proffered a bottle of Stoffel (a mosquito repellent) as it were Dom Perignon. I gracefully declined to either use it or drink it. I ordered the bruschetta Pomodoro and the grilled chicken tacos with wasabi guacamole (which I was really excited about). I received the bruschetta. It was just the right mix of salty and oily and the tomatoes were just the right temperature. Sometimes if the tomatoes are too cool they don’t carry the warmth of the other flavours but these were perfect and had the decency not to spill into an undignified mound in the crotch of my trousers, which is also a near-first for me.
Here things took a bit of a stagger, though.
The tacos did not come. I asked the only waiter in the place who appeared not to like his job what might have become of them. He looked as unconcerned as if I had told him Glendora would not win the football league in Northern Ireland. It was like a cloud of typical (I know, I know..) Indonesian service had passed over an otherwise sunny picnic. Another fifteen minutes passed as I listened to a jazz band making Christmas carols camper. I hadn’t thought that possible. When they finally arrived off the train, or wherever they had been, the tacos, or tortillas as they actually were turned out to be delicious. A perfect blend of seasoning, chicken and peppers and the wasabi dip was a mouth-tingled. But you know how food always tastes better when you are laughing with friends? I was alone and a bit peeved so the food wasn’t as good as it could have been. I know I wasn’t eating rations in a ditch in Fallujah and I may be making a drama out of a sine Tron, but if you are charged high prices the restaurant is setting its own bar. I wrote the first part of this review prior to the taco disappearance and I am going to leave it written that way because I don’t want to see one bad apple to ruin the barrel.