Couple of weeks ago, I was introduced to Lara Djonggrang Imperial Indonesian Cuisine – a restaurant set in the 9th century of Javanese Kingdom era with Prambanan temple atmosphere all around. Entering its front yard, I am instantly brought to the moment when I first visited Yogyakarta; the ethnicity is undeniably viscous with those good old banyan tree with hanging decorative lamps and statues of Ganesh and Buddha greeting us on the entrance.
Passing the door, I can feel the archaic antiques spread the mystique vibe through my skin – not to mention the certain damp taste in the air.
Before you reach the lounge above, the dimmed lighted dining area of Lara Djonggrang can be spotted on the right after the entrance. Lara Djonggrang replica statue – where the original status is located in Prambanan temple – is placed at the far end of the room, with two pillars constructing an alley. They put the light from below, making Lara Djonggrang seems like mysterious goddess. In the very same room, there is also Buddha statue sitting below stack of candles arranged in triangle shape.
The tale behind Lara Djonggrang herself is immensely interesting. It is told that this Javanese princess is cursed into stone after outsmarting the man who killed her father. The man – Bandung Bondowoso – proposes to her but gets rejected. Lara Djonggrang gives one condition to him, if he wants to marry her, he has to build 1,000 temples overnight. Bandung Bondowoso – who turns out to be a prince who has the capability to practice magic – uses demons to help him build those 1,000 temples. Worrying that he will succeed, Lara Djonggrang then tricked the demons that the dawn is coming by asking her maids to pound rice to wake the rooster. She successfully sabotaged Bandung Bondowoso’s effort in perfect timing – Bandung Bondowoso has built 999 temples which left him 1 more temple to be able to married to Lara Djonggrang. Unfortunately, it seems like if Bandung Bondowoso cannot have Lara Djonggrang, no one else will either, as she is cursed into stone.
Even with the strong presence of Javanese culture, the owner of Tugu Hotels seems to be a bit versatile on his small paradise of culinary located in Menteng. You could also find hints of Chinese and Middle East influence in certain parts of the restaurant.
The versatility goes on around other parts of the place. Entering the La Bihzad bar, the Persian style speaks loudly in that bar. Several paintings of the 15th century Persian painter Kamal-udin Bihzad can be found in this area (unfortunately, due to the level of darkness of this room, I couldn’t take any decent pictures of the paintings). In the left side of the bar, you could spot a big mural on the wall that told the story of the punishment of the devil was painted by Bihzad’s student Al-Marshad. In my opinion, the right side of the bar, where small stalls are located, is a bit too dark. It gives me vague chill to be around that side of the bar.
And then, there is this room dedicated for the remembrance of Soekarno – the first president of Indonesia. This room is consisted with paraphernalia of Soekarno such as his photographs and this big mahogany table which once was owned by none but Soekarno himself.
Outside those dedicated rooms, there also some Javanese trinkets such as Wayang (paper puppets), paintings, statues and sculptures. I asked one of the staffs in Lara Djonggrang about all the properties located in that place and turns out that the owner of this place, Anhar Setjadibrata – owner and designer of Tugu Hotels – is really passionate about collecting historical pieces from all over the world.
Lara Djonggrang is certainly not an average restaurant – from its value of history and value of money. But it is a tremendously interesting place to spend a calm afternoon, hidden from hustle bustle of Jakarta. And of course, it comes with a price to earn that.