The Arts of Malang

Archipelago Diaries | Written By, Alistair G. Speirs |

The east Java town of Malang is soaked in history and surrounded by nature. With that being said, for this issue’s Archipelago Diaries, NOW! Bali’s Alistair Speirs indulged himself in a Malang establishment, where arts take centerstage. 

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Imagine a hotel whose purpose is to preserve and glorify art. Imagine a hotel where every room is filled with genuine antiques, artifacts, and objects d’art. Where the art is genuine antique and collected with love, not bought by interior designers to make the rooms “look good” and the guests happy. Imagine walking from room to room discovering history, uncovering secrets, reading plaques that commemorate real events and real people. Imagine waking up in ancient four posters, knowing they were slept in by kings and concubines, presidents and celebrities.

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Imagine no more. Tugu Hotels across Indonesia are art, history, culture and heritage combined, and are still wonderful places to stay. Tugu hotels in Malang and Blitar, in Bali and Lombok are museums and the custodians are your concierges. There is a surprise around every corner and a delight on every wall. And across Jakarta the Tugu Restaurants are just the same: Kunstkring Palaeis, Lara Djonggrang, Dapur Babah Eliteand Shanghai Blue 1920 are mini-museums where art is everywhere. Don’t miss any of them. They are Tugu’s gift to the world.

Tugu Malang located at the very centre of the town, is an astonishing maze of art, culture and hospitality. Everywhere you look are beautiful objects including in the wonderful bed rooms – with the most wonderful of all being the Apsara suite, named after the dancers of gods, kings and knights. It is magnificent in its proportions, with a private spa, an indoor garden and a 3.5m canopy bed. Luxury and romance indeed.

But the rest of the hotel is equally impressive with an astonishing variety of public rooms: The Sugar Baron Room, The Silk Road and The Babah Room, The Red Chamber of the Javanese Regent, and this is before we reach The Melati Restaurant, The Roti Tugu Bakery, The Tugu Tea House, The Ban Lam Wine Shop and Bar, The Keraton Ballroom and the huge Sahara open air theatre! It is a mini-city of culture.

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The brand new Saigonsan Restaurant has been added at the rear of the property. To describe Saigonsan as a restaurant is like saying that the Vatican Museum is a small part of a church. It is not. it is a magnificent concept, delivered in style, portraying Asian culture and history brilliantly and meaningfully, and allowing guests to simply marvel at the exuberance of real symbols of ancient Asian cultures. It is not “just a restaurant”.

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The owner’s concept is to bring forward Indonesia’s significant role in Asia’s cultural history, reminding us through the outstanding display in the main room, that the astonishing Angkor Wat Temple Complex in Cambodia was in fact conceived by an Indonesian, as well as celebrating the achievements of SE Asia’s leaders in a series of framed articles, portraits and memorabilia. It is a heady mixture of history, culture and cuisine.

But the way in which this is done, through the creation of a magnificent statue-dominated main room, a charming second room with a mixture of art objects, paintings and fun things bought at local markets, plus a series of individually themed private rooms celebrating people lives, is simply brilliant. The selection of original, centuries-old art pieces, their placement, their decoration, the lighting, the candles, the nooks and crannies filled with surprises, is beyond imagination. Well mine certainly.

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After the delights of his Jakarta restaurants – Tugu Kunstkring Paleis, Dapur Babah Elite, Lara Djonggrang & Shanghai Blue 1920 – it comes as no surprise that Anhar Setjadibrata’s creative vision is exceptional, his dedication to art and culture unmatched, and his ability to create “real” cultural restaurants probably is the best in the world.

Incidentally the Vietnamese and Thai cuisine is also beautifully presented and of very good quality as is the service. The presentation of the food is in line with the historical and cultural theme albeit a simple menu. But it is the surroundings you will go for, and believe me it’s worth a trip to Malang just for dinner at this restaurant!

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Alistair G. Speirs

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