Behind The Silverware

It’s been over 6 years since my last visit to Amuz, one of the best French fine dining restaurants in Jakarta, if not the best. The facts that Amuz has won numerous prestigious awards, such as Hospitality Platinum Award Indonesia with variants of series and years and Wine Spectator Award of Excellence for 5 years in a row, speak volume. Apart from some minor interior changes (and some new international awards), the place, the concept, and the atmosphere don’t show any differences from years ago. The most notable changes actually comes from the new seasonal menu and Gilles Marx’s (Amuz’s Chef Founder) appearance who decided to grew some beard, and Passion is probably the first media to feature Gilles’ new look.

For the appetizer of the new seasonal menu, Amuz has Fresh Burrata Mozzarella: thinly sliced Parma ham, sweet juicy heirloom tomato salad, organic extra virgin olive oil & pine nuts. The place also features Pan Roasted Wild Monk Fish Tournedos Au Foie Gras (butternut risotto & crispy pork or beef pancetta) and the classic Entrecote Cafe de Paris. The sauce Café de Paris was developed by Mr. Boubier in 1930. It’s a complex butter based sauce served with grilled beef whether it’s an entrecote (rib eye) or faux fillet (sirloin) steak. For the dessert, the choices would be The Banana & Almond Nougatine Delice and Amuz’s rendition of the classic Black Forrest: Foret Noire paired with Peter Lehman Eight Songs Barossa Shiraz.

In this season, Amuz is highlighting Gaja Wine and White Alba Truffle Dinner. Gaja is an Italian wine producer from the district of Langhe Northern Italy, chiefly producing a number of Barbaresco & Barolo wines & later diversified into Brunello & “Super-Tuscan” production. The white truffle or “Trifola d’Alba Madonna” (Truffle of the White Mother) is also mainly found in Langhe and Montferrat areas in Piedmont region. They are only available a couple of months a year with November being the best time to enjoy their unique aroma, complex yet delicate taste. There is something irresistible about them that make a few shavings on the simplest dishes, gourmet delicacies worth to be served at the most exquisite and luxurious places around the world. It’s a perfect match with Gaja Barbaresco Vertical. 

The slowing down of economy in Indonesia affects Amuz in some ways. “It’s not like 2011 when everything is booming (in F&B industry). As a high-end resto, we are affected because usually the first thing where people cut down is the expensive things. Many fine dining places in the city have closed down, so now we have less choice, and actually it’s good for us. Overall, I guess Amuz is not doing too bad. Our business is still running well because we are lucky to have strong local database, the loyal customer that have been following me for many years,” said Gilles.

The Supply Issue
One of Amuz’s difficulties is on the ingredient supply. Compared to past few years, Euro (currency) is much higher than it was, and that’s bad news for Amuz which heavily depends on import. One of the solutions is by working very closely with some local producers and organic farms.
“We also have very good relationship with seafood suppliers so we can have live fish in regular basis. The taste is so much better with live fish. For meat, it’s a bit more challenging because we rely on import, but I’ve been here for many years so I have very good relation with suppliers, they always make sure they keep some for Amuz,” said Gilles.

The ingredient supply issue also significantly interferes with the growth of fine dining business in Indonesia, and it has been in that position for some years. “If you look at places like Singapore and Hongkong, all the big names, the big chefs are opening outlets over there. Why? Because they can guarantee they can get the supply, unlike in Jakarta. The big names have already come here, take a look of what’s happening here and they are interested. However, they won’t open here because we can’t guarantee the supply. I think this is the biggest challenge for the industry at the moment.”

In spite of all the difficulties, Gilles doesn’t feel the urge to change Amuz’s concept. “We are French restaurant, that’s what we sell. For our customer database, we don’t have to compromise. They still have the spending power, even though they visit a bit less and a bit more conscious on what they spend. Also, our menu offering is wide enough so the one who don’t want to spend too much may take the attractive 2-3 course set lunch menus. For dinner, we have degustation menu that starts at 5 to 7 courses. Ala carte menus has quite wide price range, if you don’t want to eat expensive, you can also come to Amuz and still have a very good dinner.”

Building Bottom Up
In any countries, fine dining scene is driven by local cuisine. For example, in Japan, 90% of fine dining restaurants there serve Japanese cuisine. “There are few attempts to do so, and they are doing it quite well, but the number is very small. The local fine dining scene need to be happening more because they can work with local ingredient so they can propose better price and value compared than what we can, because we depend on import,” said Gilles.
The challenge to build Indonesian fine dining places, again is the ingredients, this time it’s about the quality. “Until today you can’t get decent local chicken, compared to what we can get in France. Kampung chicken is tasty but it’s small and dry, not a luxury product. Why it should be more difficult to grow premium chicken in Indonesia than in Europe? Somebody need to work on it.”

The key is to build the industry bottom up, starting from the farmers. “We need to value the work of the farmer, help them live better, produce nicer things. Now, they depend on middle man, the second middle man, the third, until the product reach the store and the price is 4 times higher, but the farmers are still poor. I think to get to get to the next stage that’s the important thing because we’re all depend on the quality the farmers produce. The better they can live, the better the produce will be, also we will also feel better about it,” said Gilles.

In France, the farm industry is very strong. The farmers can have good living, even small producers with only couple hectares of land are able to produce and market the products themselves directly to customers and restaurants. That’s not happening here, nobody value the farmer. 

“Let say someone produce a very good type of rice, let’s make it our national pride. If you go to Malaysia, they do it with durian. Why can’t we do it with type of banana, maybe one region its banana, and then rice? People need the help of government. If we depend only on restaurant and consumer, things will go very slowly, because we don’t have access to the farmers most of the times. Indonesia is a very attractive and has huge potential, but somebody needs to sit down and plan for it. It will happen anyhow or it will happen very slowly, but nowadays, slow is not good enough,” explained Gilles.