I watched Eat Pray Love when my boyfriend was away on business one time – shitty Julia Roberts movies are among my many guilty pleasures (Teen Mom 2) reserved for Jo only days. I got caught on this one though – I did NOT know about the Netflix content tracker – I tried to pass this watch off as “research on food” for our forthcoming trip to Bali in September, but he totally didn’t buy it. Regardless, the film made me super excited for Indonesia, even if Elizabeth Gilbert opted to stop the “eat” part in Italy – her loss.
I’ve had Indonesian food once before – on a trip to Amsterdam with my friend Harriet at around this time last year. I liked it so much that not only did I come away eager to try making some of it myself, but couldn’t wait for the time when I’d reach this point in the alphabet so I could give it another go. Since another trip to Amsterdam wasn’t exactly on the table, Harriet and I decided to keep it closer to home and head to Warung Bumbu on Lavender Hill.
Indonesian food is so diverse that I couldn’t even begin to try to provide any kind of synopsis. Also I’d only had it once before last Friday night – I am no connoisseur. There are, however, certain dishes which are commonly associated with Indonesian cuisine, such as sate, nasi goreng, and gado gado.
A warung is a type of traditional foodstall, usually family-owned and which sometimes doubles as both a cafe and a shop selling sundries. Bumbu is a municipality in the Funa district of Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is also a herb mixture used in Balinese cuisine. Confusing, I know.
So what was I to expect then, of Warung Bumbu in Clapham? Situated in a slightly out of the way location, the restaurant is housed where the former Battersea incarnation of my favourite Japanese canteen, Fujiyama, used to live. If you’re not local, you probably wouldn’t happen upon it – in fact I once marched Duncan and my out of town parents all the way from Clapham Common down to Fujiyama’s sister Miyajama, only to discover it was no longer there.
Luckily for us, when we showed up at 7 pm, Warung Bumbu was still there. Good sign. I’d actually called for a table in advance, if only to make sure of the fact. Probably not necessary – we brought the total number of diners on a Friday night up to four when we arrived. Bad sign.
Although the restaurant filled up quickly, it wasn’t all smooth sailing ahead. The one thing I knew I wanted was a nice cold bottle of Bintang. Of course, they were all out.
“We order two boxes every month,” our waiter told us. “You would be amazed at how fast they go – this month they were all gone in three days!”
Surely that’s a sign that you need to order more boxes?
I was pretty keen to tell our waiter that I was going to be going to Indonesia later this year. Call me excited, but I thought that maybe if he knew about it, it would make it come faster.
“Oh, you will love Bali,” he exclaimed. “Just make sure you leave several days at the beginning for your sickness.” He had just been home to Jakarta, and had been ill for five days. “Everyone gets sick when they go to Indonesia for the first time,” he explained. “Sometimes it is the pollution, and the food – sometimes they have problems with hygiene.”
Great. I opened my menu.
To start, we selected the obligatory sate and an order of perkedel – otherwise known as potato cakes, which were good, but didn’t exactly set my world on fire. The sate was lovely – the peanut sauce which accompanied was so delicious that I would have licked the little bowl clean if Harriet had let me.
For the main course we ordered ayam bumbu rujak – a mild chicken curry, garnished with crispy shallots and galangal, served wth nasi kelapa, or coconut rice. Up until this point, sitting on one side of a long shared bench, I could well have been at Wagamamas, but all similarities ended there. While Wagamams and other Asian chains often leave me walking away thinking that I could have made their dish better on my own, this one was tender, fresh and cooked to utter perfection – could have used a smidge more spice, but I live with a man who buys hot sauce with health warnings on it, so my tolerance for heat is higher than most.
We also shared the gado gado, a vegetable dish served with tofu, tempeh, boiled potatoes, egg, spicy peanut sauce and kecap manis. This was the very dish I’d had in Amsterdam, and which made me an Indonesian food convert. I tried making it myself after my trip – in this instance, I do actually think mine was better, but that could be partly because I think tempeh tastes like feet.
The verdict: A solid choice for a good bite to eat if you’re in the area, but not life changing. (Where’s Javier Bardem when you need him?) Still – did leave me wanting more of the same, so it’s a good thing that the street food scene in Seminyak is meant to be awesome, and it’s a good thing I don’t have much longer to wait. Watch out Bali – this girl can eat.
Need to know:
196 Lavender Hll
020 7924 1155
Nearest tube/rail: Clapham Junction
Opening hours: Tuesday-Saturday Noon-3pm, 6-10:30 pm, Sunday-Monday Noon-3 pm, 6-11 pm