Ron Godfrey finds himself in a restaurant that’s also a gallery. But was the food as artistic as the décor?
No need to brace yourselves for too much of a cataclysmic disaster when you visit Krakatoa.
The York-based Indonesian restaurant may take its name from that land mass east of Java smithereened in 1883 by the greatest volcanic blast the world has ever known but the mood inside is serene… at first.
In fact Mrs G and I were met in its lobby in Tanner Row by two mute Javanese goddess statues in ornate headdresses, their plaster hands clasped in silent greeting. But once inside we were shown to our table by a demure human greeter.
Then, in spite of the understated musak and mellow lighting we discovered an explosive, sometimes ferocious array of hues and intensity.
This isn’t just an exotic eating house, it’s an art gallery filled with Gauguin-style nudes and impressionist shapes with enough vibrancy and energy drawn from that exciting Asian archipelago to set your rods and cones spinning with colour.
Are they for sale? And who is the artist? I asked the waitress. One moment, she said, leaving and returning with the smiling proprietor. “Yes, they are for sale,” he said, “And I am the artist.”
Tim Potter honed his painting skills at University of York St John when it was a college and left North Yorkshire to seek adventure in Jakarta in 1997.
He found himself living in the fluvial light and dazzling greens, reds and blues of Samosir. That’s a tropical island in the middle of 52 kilometre long Toba Lake wrought from an ancient volcanic blast to the north of Sumatra.
But Tim was soon to become involved in a different kind of eruption, the political upheaval following the resignation of President Suharto in the wake of a financial crisis which saw a massive exodus of skills from the country.
His talents as an artist and a teacher were hugely valued and many of his paintings reflect the fusion of Asian and European cultures – given that those scatterings of islands were once a Dutch colony.
When he finally returned to North Yorkshire in 2005 it was with a huge body of work, one of which forms the restaurant’s centrepiece titled Two Nudes in the Forest. It is bursting with the strangeness and intensity of the Jakartan jungles.
Then there are numerous abstracts and impressionist images influenced by the Nabis Group of “prophet” painters such as Pierre Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard. – all priced at between £120 and £450 except of course, for Tim’s intricate batik designs which form part of the restaurant’s décor.
He also returned with a wife, Deeche, an expert in Indonesian cooking (and mother of their three children) and together they combined their talents in this one building; him offering a feast for the eyes and her a feast for the belly.
Mrs G and I agreed that the food would have to really live up to the splendour of all that art but later, our findings were to differ.
It was a fascinating evening menu all right, each offering carefully graded, where necessary, with up to four chilli pepper symbols to denote heat.
For starters, all £5, Mrs G chose Bakwan Jagung – Indonesian sweet corn pattie with lime leaves, kemiri, or candle nut, crushed coriander seed, shrimp paste and other exotic herbs.
Her verdict as she paused to sip her Bintang beer (£2.95): the mix of rice flour and tapioca flour made it light and tasty.
My choice: Perkedel Kentang – potato cakes bursting with cross flavours of fried shallots, eggs and sweet chilli sauce – had me swooning and regretting it was over too quickly.
So far so good, but then came the main course. The choice was vast. I was tempted by Babi Rica-rica – a pork belly roast cooked with super spicy chilli paste and a mixture of mysterious spices (£10.95) – or an Ayam Kecap Manis (£9.65) in which east meets west as a dark and light soy sauces combine with Worcester sauce in a chicken stir fry.
But in the end, after ordering a pot of Jasmine tea (with refills) I plumped for what the menu describes as “an Indonesian favourite”, namely Nasi Rames Krakatoa (£13.95).
This consisted of a perfect moulded circle of rice surrounded by juicy and tender beef chunks, slivers of what tasted like heavenly soya “meat” strips in a wonderfully piquant sauce, pickled cucumber, fried green beans and keapuk, or prawn crackers. Plus chicken sate and a separate chilli paste.
Is the word “yum” Indonesian? If not it should be.
But Mrs G was not so enamoured of her choice, Nasi Goreng Krakatoa.
“Where are all the prawns?” she said, hunting for them in the shaped rice with a fork. She found just four and, she observed, the tail ends had not been properly dressed. “For £11.95 there should have been more,” she complained.
Her meal came with two sate chicken sticks, a fried egg and all accompanied by one pot of spicy chilli paste and a cucumber-based dip. One pinprick of the paste had her reaching for her beer and glugging maniacally. “I should have heeded the chilli warning signs,” she admitted.
Mrs G’s burning mouth and my diabetes prevented us from testing some intriguing desserts, all priced at £4.95.
They ranged from Kolak pisang dan ubi merah – banana and sweet potato cooked in coconut milk with pandan leaves; to the classic Javanese dessert, Bubur Ketan Hitam, a sort of black rice sticky porridge drizzled with coconut milk and home made palm sugar syrup.
OK, I am sorry that Mrs G felt as though she had swallowed molten lava. But it didn’t stop me from applauding Krakatoa’s culinary artistry.
As far as I was concerned what emerged from the Krakatoan kitchen was every bit as impressive as the paintings prepared in the restaurant’s basement studio
Bakwan Jagung £5
Perkedel Kentang £5
Nasi Goreng Krakatoa £11.95
Nasy Rames Krakatoa £13.95
Bintang beer £2.95
Jasmine tea £2.00
All prices correct at time of writing
Food: Great, but there’s debate ★★★★
Service: Friendly and efficient ★★★★
Ambience: Art eruption ★★★★★
Value: Middling; but reasonable set menu ★★★
Overall rating ★★★★
Krakatoa | 39 Tanner Row, York YO1 69P | 01904 633066 | Facebook page
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