These days Tokyo has plenty of Southeast Asian restaurants, but few are as charming and satisfying as Ayung Teras in Shibuya. The decor is decidedly Indonesian, quite dense with handicrafts and art, but done in a tasteful and restrained manner. It doesn't feel at all touristy, or overly "ethnic." Rather, Ayung Teras seems more like a casual restaurant you might run across in one of the finer international hotels of Jakarta.
This same care and sensibility also extends to the food and its presentation. The plates themselves are rustic yet beautiful, while the flavors of the foods served on them are bewitchingly complex and satisfying.
A good place to start is with the Sate Ayam, Indonesia's version of yakitori. Nicely grilled morsels of tender chicken are smothered in a mildly spiced peanut sauce that's thick yet not heavy, with an almost fluffy quality, as though it were whipped. Also recommended is the Gado Gado, one of Indonesia's most popular dishes, a salad of both raw and blanched vegetables with a superb peanut cream dressing and freshly fried shrimp crackers. The version at Ayung Teras is one of the best that we've tasted in Tokyo. Another good starter is the Tempe Goreng, Indonesian-style fermented soybeans (similar to Japanese natto), fried in a block and sliced. While the fermented aroma may be off-putting to some, we found it very nutty, with a heartiness that approaches that of a chunk of meat.
The drink that works best with Indonesian food, not surprisingly, is beer. San Miguel Dark, with a lighter body than its color would lead you to believe, is recommended since its extra measure of sweetness stands up to the strong spices in some of the dishes. Other choices include Bintang and Bali Hai, both international-style lagers from Indonesia.
Moving onto main dishes, the Udang Belado, large-ish plump shrimp with sweet peppers in a sweet-hot tomato sauce, was outstanding. This disappeared quickly among three diners, so we tried the Sambal Goreng - the same type of shrimp, but in a coconut cream sauce - and it could only be described as heavenly. We followed up with another round of sate, this time mutton, which was surprisingly tender and tasty.
To finish off the meal we ordered Nasi Goreng Bagus, a version of the famous Indonesian fried rice dish. It turned out to be astonishingly hot and spicy, much more so than any other Nasi Goreng we've had before. For that reason it probably would have been better if we had ordered it earlier, along with the rest of the food - it would be a good complement to the milder dishes such as the Gado Gado and Sate.
We were almost ready to call it a night, but the quality of the food here made us think that the desserts would be above average. The Pisang Goreng Ice Cream proved us right. It's tempura-fried banana served with a large helping of coconut ice cream, and like much of the food here it's an execution of contrasting textures and flavors. The Balinese-style coffee is rough and coarse, yet surprisingly light and aromatic.
For two or more people, the dinner set menus (3,000 and 3,500 yen) each offer good selections of the most popular dishes at a very good price. Also recommended is the 1,200 yen set menu at lunchtime, which contains small portions of three of their dishes along with plain rice and coffee.
With its delicious food served in an inviting and tastefully decorated setting, Ayung Teras offers one of Tokyo's most pleasant Southeast Asian dining experiences.
by Bryan Harrell
This book will introduce you to more than twenty of Japan's favorite specialty foods that are less well known abroad, along with a guide to the best places in Tokyo to try them and expert tips on what to order. From Bento.com.