Vanessa & Claudia Ong

The two towers of Sampoerna Strategic Square stand tall amid the crowded region of Central Jakarta. Its signature grass dome and lush, open garden are impossible to miss. The extravagant exterior opens into a spacious yet embracing interior that immediately makes one feel welcome. Tucked away in a corner is Iseya Robatayaki, a serene space in which to escape from the daily hustle and bustle while enjoying delicious Japanese fare. Founded in 2012, Iseya Robatayaki is renowned for the freshest of ingredients, from vegetables to meats and seafood, flown in from different parts of Japan. As the seasons change in Japan, so does the menu at Iseya. The expert chefs at Iseya adapt and make the menu the finest that each season has to offer. In the private rooms, diners get to see the chefs in action as they prepare the meal. 

Our guests for the afternoon were Vanessa and Claudia Ong. At the entrance, the two sisters were greeted by sting rays and arowanas—symbols of good fortune—swimming gracefully in an oversized aquarium. An attendant dressed in kimono then led the sisters to one of the private rooms for a meal especially prepared by Head Chef Moriya Hidetsugu. The first two courses of the meal were an appetiser sampler and soup that showcased the range of Iseya’s offerings. The opening appetiser consisted of prawn, scallop, roasted chicken and beef tataki, each wonderfully complemented by its own sauce or puree. The broth that came next was served in quaint, individualised kettles. As the soup was poured out, a most alluring aroma filled the room. The Dobin Mushi, a traditional seafood broth, is prepared with gindara, mushrooms and prawns giving it its sweet fragrance and powerful taste.

Head chef Moriya Hidetsugu

We caught up with our guests as the plates were cleared in anticipation of the next course. Vanessa and Claudia are not only sisters, but are also partners in their entrepreneurial endeavours. Choosing to go independently from their family business, the two sisters set up their own jamu enterprise. One of their biggest goals was to reintroduce jamu—herbal elixirs traditionally consisting of turmeric, ginger, and rice—to the next generation. 

They started with Jamu Workshop in 2014. As the name suggests, the sisters hold workshops in which participants get to learn about and mix their own bottles of jamu. They have held more than 30 workshops across Java and even in Singapore. Earlier this year, they expanded their business to selling and delivering packaged jamu. Their sales channels include attending bazaars, online marketplaces, and Instagram—all easily accessible by the younger generation.

Crossing the Ong sisters means to prepare for a world of hurt. Vanessa and Claudia are both black belts in taekwondo, having trained throughout grade school and high school. When asked if they still remember all their moves, both sisters replied with an emphatic “of course!” With their taekwondo black belts around their waists, the two sisters remain active by running regularly and taking part in marathons. In addition, Vanessa also trains in muay Thai, while Claudia is an aspiring equestrian.

The conversation was interrupted as we all caught a glimpse of the next dish and had to turn to get a better look. It was the signature Iseya Lobster Sashimi. Fresh lobster is boiled very briefly so as to make sure each bite is filled with the freshest flavours and natural sweetness. The plate served that day was extra-special as it came with a side of lobster eggs. Bright slices of Japanese Murasaki Daikon added a pop of vibrancy to a most refreshing dish. Chef Moriya also prepared a special carpaccio sauce for dipping, which was a hit with the sisters.

 The two main courses for the afternoon then followed: Grilled Lobster and Hokkaido Tokachi Beef. The beautifully seasoned lobster was covered in a sauce that was made from the rest of the lobster. The lobster was tender, sweet, and bursting with flavour in each bite. Pan-seared scallops with seaweed sauce complete the seafood main course. 

Only the finest cut of beef was selected for the final course. Grade A5 Japanese beef was cooked to the perfect medium-rare temperature. The knife sliced through each juicy piece effortlessly. Teppan-grilled vegetables, with parsnips and Japanese pumpkin puree, balanced the meaty dish. It was a fitting and filling end to a most exquisite meal.


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Tags: martial artists, japanese, dining, iseya restaurant, interview, sisters