Legendary Chef Marco Pierre White says that a restaurant’s environment and service are more important than its food.
A variety of environments may best suit different moods and occasions. But outstandingly good food makes itself known whether in the swankiest hotel dining room or at a simple market stall. The superb food quality at Bull & Vine in Kemang proves the point neatly.
The laid-back feeling venue has only been open for a few months. However, it benefits from having an experienced team in the kitchen that has earned its chops in a variety of well-known spots. The service was friendly and warm on a recent visit. In line with the overall vibe, it is attentive without being stiff.
Bull & Vine advertises itself as a restaurant, steakhouse, deli, lounge, and sports bar. The alley entranceway off a side street from Jl. Kemang gives little indication of what to expect. Out front sits the delicatessen, selling ingredients including many of the imported meats used in the restaurant.
The environment of the main part of the operation is that of an easygoing sports bar or casual restaurant, suitable for anything from a workgroup to friends’ gathering to watch a sports match. It is a large, open L-shaped room. The L-shape layout means that some tables are in a sports bar environment, while others are in an area without the distraction of a bar or television screens. Rather, what draws the eye here is the open fire. This wood-burning fire is used to cook meat, imported from countries including Australia and the United States.
What stood out was the sheer quality of the food. In a fine dining venue at twice the price, I doubt it could be much tastier, or more tastefully presented.
The meal began with carpaccio. So artfully arranged was it that at first glance it looked just like meat. In fact, though, the carpaccio was thinly sliced, tasty beetroot, with a mango salad neatly forming a centre circle. Garnished with herbs, a flower, and diced pepper, the dish looked enticing. While the name Bull & Vine nods to the establishment’s range of quality meats freshly cooked over wood, the menu includes a range of options suitable for vegetarians.
Thoughtful presentation was also evident in a plate of potato croquettes, stuffed with cheese, bacon bites, and mushrooms. Artfully arranged on a long, narrow dish, these sat on a bed of bell pepper aioli, each individually topped with a drop of sauce and dainty flower or herb. This was a simple, classic Jakarta starter elevated not only through its good flavour but also the appealing look.
When it comes to appealing looks, though, the main course was even more striking. The waitress had asked when to start cooking the meats, to ensure that they were perfectly timed and done just as we wanted.
The pistachio-crusted French cut lamb chops were carefully arranged on the plate to maximum visual effect, sitting atop mashed potato, beside braised red cabbage and red wine sauce. This filling dish was perfectly cooked and the meat was succulent. The presentation was artful, from small leaves and berries to a thin lemon slice on which sat a roasted garlic clove and tiny pink flower. Bull & Vine does a good job of making dishes look enticing without losing focus on the food’s taste and texture.
A filet mignon sat atop a disc of risotto and roasted vegetables, poised amidst a thick sauce, visibly seasoned with black pepper and herbs. Again it was topped off with garlic, herbs, and a small flower. The effect on the plate was beguiling. The taste was again superb.
There is a fair list of wines from around the world to accompany the meals, alongside the wider range of drinks prepared by the full bar. We chose a 2019 Rawson’s Retreat Shiraz.
Meats are central to the venue, from the wood-fired oven clearly visible in the restaurant, to the butcher’s offerings in the deli. Steaks are available in a wide variety of cuts, from tenderloin to ribeye. Larger steaks are offered, such as the T-Bone and enormous U.S. Tomahawk, which need to be pre-ordered.
Beyond steak, the chef’s specials include options such as black pepper ahi tuna and Pamplona chicken, stuffed with vegetables, cheese, beef bacon and dried tomatoes, served with mashed potatoes and gravy. The menu is broadly western but offers some local favourites, such as nasi goreng kampong and neck bone sop buntut style.
By this point, I was sated. This is excellent food, served in satisfying portions. But for dessert came a tiramisu, creamy and moreish, alongside an apple crumble. The crumble was contemporary in look, presented in layers with ice cream and garnished with flowers, cream, a strawberry, and fruit sauce.
Bull & Vine is comfortable without being especially fancy. The bare tabletop was simply adorned with a single tealight, while the décor nodded as much to the sportsbar and deli aspect of the venue as to its restaurant. What stood out, though, was the consistently excellent quality of the food. While the atmosphere is laid back, the food is top-notch not only in flavour but also presentation. I would gladly return.