If you’re a fan of middle eastern cuisine, you’ve probably heard and dined in Le Meridien’s Al Nafoura Jakarta– where you can find a wide range of middle eastern, especially Lebanese cuisine. We recently chatted with Chef Ahmad Jamil, its new young chef that has quite the experience with his home cooking:
Tell us a little bit about yourself?
Although I have Palestinian background, I was born and raised in Jordan. I started my caree’ really early, when I was just about 16 years old in Intercontinental hotel in Amman, Jordan while doing hotel school at the same time. After working a few years in Jordan, I started to look for opportunities outside my country. So when I was 20 I moved to Russia, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Malaysia, then to here in Jakarta; All in 5 star hotels, and most of it in Starwood.
How do you like living in Jakarta?
I joined Le Meridien in February 2015, so I have been here roughly a year. Other than the traffic, it’s a great city. Thankfully I don’t need to commute so I don’t need to deal with it too much.
Can you tell us a little bit the essence of Al Nafoura?
Al Nafoura itself means ‘fountain’ in Arabic, which in the past, nearly all Middle Eastern terraces have, where people would relax and cool off. It is also where people would have shisha, coffee, and have something to eat. Where families relax, chat, spend time with the family. So this is the concept. Here in the restaurant, of course we extend the concept for business functions; that’s why we also provide private rooms for meetings and gatherings.
For the food, we are focus on Lebanese cuisine which I think it is pretty suitable for Indonesians, and already quite popular here.
What are the characteristics in Lebanese cuisine?
For starters, there’s the cold mezze platter, with a number of typical condiments and bites such as the hommos, tabouleh, samboussek; the main course is mostly lamb, like our signature dish, the lamb shank, or the lamb kofta kebab. For vegetables, we incorporate a lot of onion, garlic, coriander, mint, parsley, and a lot of aromatic herbs.
We sometimes group Middle Eastern food into one category, what do you think?
Some areas can be grouped into the same category; for example when you say Lebanese, Syria, Palestine, Jordan, we do basically have the same food, just slightly different rendition. Gulf country is different, and North African is also totally different (morocco, Tunisia, etc.). So I think the real different is between these three regions.
But in Al Nafoura, despite the food being Lebanese, every month we have different promotions. Two months ago we had food from the gulf area; last month we have shell fish, and after that we bring the North African cuisine. So we try to expand our horizon as well, though only slightly.
Did you ever need to compromise/local taste?
Not really. It’s all pretty much authentic. Middle Eastern food is different, but I think it can easily be accepted by the Indonesian palate. Although our cuisine is not spicy, but we have middle eastern style spicy sauce that you can add to anything.
What are your recommendations in Al Nafoura?
The cold mezze starter is as must try, enjoyed with our fresh from the oven pita bread. For mains, I recommend our grilled items, especially our signature lamb shanks. Our lamb is not ‘smelly’ at all, and very very tender.
What’s your favourite Indonesian food?
I like the sambal iga with rice. I also love Rendang that I always get when I was living in Dubai, from an Indonesian restaurant that I go to, run by an Indonesian migrant.
What do you do in your free time?
I like to travel. That’s why I love my job. In Jakarta, I usually just stay in the city on the weekends, but when there’s a long break I like to go for a quick getaway, Bandung, Lombok, Bogor, etc. But I haven’t gone to Bali because I want to stay longer. maybe this year!
What’s your style of cooking?
I want to give more of a rustic and home-style cooking, real and authentic. I want guests from the Middle East to feel at home when they come in here. I want to take them to where they’re from with our food.
Have your guests asked you to cook anything special?
I have one German chef coming here that spent 10 years in Dubai. He asked for a traditional food in Emirates, which takes an hour to cook. He said that he’d wait, and he did! We also had the Ambassador of Palestine & Jordan coming with 30 other VIP asking for full course with Chicken Maklouba casserole.
What’s New Jakarta thanks Chef Ahmad Jamil & his team for the warm welcome to the beautiful restaurant. To taste Chef Jamil’s rustic middle eastern cooking or for a one of a kind middle eastern feast, visit Al Nafoura at Le Meridien Jakarta.
Hotel Le Meridien, Jalan Jenderal Sudirman Kav 18 – 20, South Jakarta
Hours: 11:30AM–2:30PM, 6:30–10:30PM