It was an early Sunday evening in October 2019 when we walked through a throng of locals, merrily having a picnic with friends and family in the dimly lit Fatahillah Square, a public plaza, in Jakarta’s Old Batavia in Kota Tua.
Batavia was then the capital of the Dutch East Indies, which is the present-day capital city of Indonesia. Today, a portion of the former Batavia, covering 1.3 square kilometers occupying parts of North and West Jakarta, is called Old Batavia,
From the Fatahillah Square, we could see the imposing Stadhuis, the former municipal capitol built in Indies Empire style architecture, now converted into a museum.
While we missed the chance to visit the museums (there are quite a few in the area), our ever reliable guide, Vernon Prieto of Aneka Kartika Tours, took us to renowned Cafe Batavia instead.
“After the Stadhuis, Cafe Batavia is the oldest building in Old Batavia, constructed between 1805 and 1837. Over the decades, this building was used for various purposes – as residence, warehouse, office, and now a coffee shop and art gallery,” said restaurant supervisor Billy Santosa.
According to Santosa, the building’s second level, entirely made of Java teak wood, was built later, sometime in the early 19th century. It was then called the Grand Salon.
Through the years, the cafe became a popular hangout of state leaders, including the Queen of Sweden, President of Slovakia, the vice president of Argentina, high ranking officials from the United States, France, Morocco, to name a few.
In 1991, a French named Paul Hassan purchased the building and turned it into an art gallery. Few months later, Graham James, an Australian, approached Hassan with his vision of creating a restaurant. The rest, as they say, is Batavia history.
“As a cafe, we started operations in 1993, offering diners a distinct culinary journey the moment they enter our restaurant’s vintage structure,” he added.
Apart from its history, the 300-person capacity restaurant attracts visitors because of their award-winning dishes and drinks, such as their Nasi Goreng Roa, a gold medalist in Salon Culinaire 2019, and Good Father, awarded the Best Tea Cocktail at the Dilmah Tea Inspiration Competition in 2019.
“We are also proud to say that we are the most-reviewed Indonesia-based restaurant in TripAdvisor. We have earned a certificate of excellence since 2016 to present,” shared Santosa.
After a hearty meal and sipping a cup of freshly brewed Java coffee, we further explored the other colonial buildings in the area, reaching up to the bank of Ciliwung River, where the Dutch built a fortress and canals.
If there’s one place that I would like to revisit in Jakarta, it would certainly be Old Batavia, the soul of the modern capital city. Thankfully, many of the original colonial buildings are still intact – hats off to the government’s efforts in keeping Old Batavia as a heritage site.
Our trip was hosted by Cebu Pacific, the country’s leading airline.