Fulfilling a long-held dream for chef Hans Christian and F&B professional Budi Cahyadi, August in Jakarta has been named the winner of the American Express One To Watch Award ahead of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2023. Discover what makes this Indonesian spot the must-visit restaurant in Asia for 2023
Proudly raising the profile of the Indonesian capital on the global culinary map, August is more than it initially lets on – much like its own name. The 50-seat relaxed fine dining spot, located in the Sequis Tower building in Jakarta’s central Sudirman district, isn’t just named after its founders’ birth month, but has endeavoured to live up to August’s Latin meaning of ‘impressive and respected’ since debuting in November 2021, delivering a first-class dining experience that has earned the admiration of the city’s restaurant goers.
Established by Hans Christian and Budi Cahyadi, the restaurant launched when the pair returned to their home country after extensive time living and working overseas. Cahyadi, the venue’s F&B wizard, grew up on the Indonesian island of Lombok, then graduated in hospitality from the Glion Institute of Higher Education in Switzerland and spent 12 years with the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, including ten at Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, London.
Born in Bandung in West Java, Christian grew up in Jakarta and is a true chef at heart, his passion taking him to study the culinary arts first in Kuala Lumpur, then in Providence, Rhode Island. While in the US, he honed his skills in restaurants including the one-star Michelin Next of the famed Alinea Group in Chicago. Christian and Cahyadi met in the Indonesian capital five years ago, soon understanding they shared the same vision.
Cahyadi and Christian joined forces to open August in November 2021
"Coming back to Jakarta, we realised that there were cafés, bistros, Italian and Japanese restaurants – but not a lot of modern places with a focus on tasting menus. We wanted to show a modern concept with finesse, a new experience," explains the chef.
"[August] is the dining experience we wanted to provide,” adds Cahyadi. “Jakarta sits behind in fine dining when compared to places like Bali and there has never been a balance between great food and service, so with our combined expertise we wanted to excel in both, on a blank canvas."
A feast for the eyes (and the tastebuds)
Walking into August, the open-plan look and feel by Jakarta-based studio Bitte Design reflects the pair's mission to create the atmosphere of a friend's home. The restaurant feels intimate, unpretentious and warm, with earthy colours, soft lighting and bookshelves filled with the team's favourite reads.
Although August doesn’t shy away from calling itself a fine dining spot, the room and vibe couldn't be further from intimidating or formal, as Cahyadi underlines: "We're very casual, you don't need to dress to impress here. As long as you feel comfortable, you'll have a good time. This is not a library with people whispering – they can absolutely be themselves. We wanted to strip down the formal fine dining elements to represent us both."
August can fit up to 50 diners within its welcoming space
As to the key question of the cooking philosophy, Christian’s eyes light up as he explains: “When we opened August, we wanted modern flavours with Indonesian influences and French techniques. Not authentic or classic Indonesian dishes, but globally inspired, heavily influenced by how we incorporate local ingredients."
The 100% Indonesian team works primarily with national producers, including farmers from Lembang as well as fishermen in Bali, Lombok and Sumbawa, using many local spices and ingredients. Not only that, but all the ceramics at August are locally made, reinforcing their mission to highlight what Indonesia can offer.
On sourcing and sustainability, they look up to their friends at the famed Locavore – and soon-to-be NXT – in Bali, but are also candid that a megacity like Jakarta, with more than 30 million people in the metropolitan area, presents a very different proposition. “Jakarta is a whole different challenge in terms of produce, so we try our best,” says Christian. “We're probably 80% driven by local produce. We minimise food waste, recycle, take staff meals seriously and have a meeting once a week to ensure that we maximise our ingredients.”
Dishes on the 'Journey' tasting menu are both locally and globally inspired and Christian cites childhood memories as the fond background to a snack called Breakfast From Mom. It was inspired by his favourite breakfast of steamed rice with Chinese lap cheong omelette, but he cleverly twists it, presenting it in the form of a rice cake with a crispy outer layer, topped with smoked egg sauce and lap cheong, a sweet-savoury Chinese sausage.
Christian's dish Breakfast From Mom
A fish course, usually local coral grouper or sea bream, is served with a broth and a relish inspired by the iconic Balinese sauce, sambal matah, as Christian describes the technique behind it: “There’s ginger flower with chilli and shallot, which are cooked in hot oil and then poured on the fish. The broth is inspired by a dish called kuah garang asam from central Java – the key is the infusion of a member of the starfruit family in the fishbone broth, along with homemade curry paste and lemongrass."
Desserts too innovate and delight in equal measure, as in a frozen coffee creation inspired by tiramisu: "We source coffee from near Bandung Garut in West Java from a cousin of our pastry chef Ardika who has a roastery. We infuse it in the components of the dessert, with a palm sugar syrup with grated coffee, cream and meringue,” says Christian.
Dining à la carte is also an option at August, but 90% of diners opt for the 14-course tasting menu, while wine and non-alcoholic pairings are soon set to complement the experience.
Flying the flag for Indonesia
The American Express One To Watch Award brings with it significant acclaim and profile, but Christian and Cahyadi are keeping their feet on the ground – after an initial party, naturally: “We hope that Jakarta will celebrate with us! We’ll share this with a lot of our friends and our regulars, who are friends too. They're great supporters of what we've achieved,” highlights Cahyadi.
Their modesty means that they are automatically looking beyond themselves to how the award will help the city's fine dining scene move forward. "I really hope we will inspire other places, even our industry friends, to build concepts with creative, warm hospitality,” continues the restaurateur. “A lot of people watched us to see if this would work in Jakarta, so this accolade will trigger other chefs and restaurateurs to believe that Jakarta can be different."
Christian and Cahyadi have built a close-knit team at August
One thing they're not going to do is rush to change anything. "We can take time to develop this baby, mature it,” adds Christian. “We're going to be here and develop the menu, people, structure and system so we have the confidence to say why we're here.
“Restaurants on the [Asia’s 50 Best] list are an inspiration, they work so hard to drive and pursue excellence, so we are super thrilled, surprised and very thankful that we have been recognised just 18 months after opening,” he continues. Cahyadi chimes in: "We are really happy that we can contribute positively to putting Jakarta on the culinary map and showing people that there are a lot of interesting things here. The award humbles us and makes us want to push further."
The final word goes to Cahyadi: "This is not just a restaurant. We agreed we wanted to make August into an institution for the industry in Jakarta, to hopefully learn from us. We will focus our strengths here for now and want to continue to deliver the August experience to regulars and first timers alike, ensuring that people are taken care of."
There can be few greater endorsements of true Indonesian hospitality, allied with their vision to let the award have an impact well above and beyond the here and now. Truly, one to watch.
Now travel to Jakarta and visit August alongside Christian and Cahyadi:
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