Toronto, as a major North American city, seems to have a “one-ness” problem. What is that, you ask? Well, let’s consider this. In a city of this magnitude and global reputation, there is only ONE major highway that takes you to the northern suburbs. There is only ONE major subway line that takes you to said suburbs (and even then, not all the way there). There is only ONE major east-west highway throughout most of the city. There is only ONE major shopping mall in the downtown core (people from Jakarta would never believe this). And my biggest beef of them all: there is only, at a maximum, only ONE Indonesian restaurant that operates in the city at any given time. Seriously.
At one time, there was only Warung Kampung. A great beacon of hope for those who were looking to have Indonesian food in an actual, sit-down location. It was the only Indonesian restaurant in Toronto. And less than a year later, it was gone. While it was initially said that they were simply relocating, they seem to have little interest in re-opening a physical location, going instead on the much-more-popular route of home-based catering. Thus, as it has been for so many years in the past, the only way you can eat proper Indonesian food is to know someone who knows someone who operates these catering businesses, and good luck getting info on any of them outside the Consulate General or Indonesian church bazaars.
So now, it is with some excitement that I found out that there is a new Indonesian restaurant that opens up. Since the demise of Warung Kampung, this place is now the ONLY restaurant you can get authentic Indonesian dishes in Toronto. I personally found it funny, in a bitterly sad kind of way, that there once again can only be one of these places at any given time. Where one Indonesian restaurant opens, the other one closes.
But enough moping about that! The new Indonesian restaurant has the extremely un-Indonesian name of Little Sister, named so because it is the little sister restaurant of Quince, a restaurant on Yonge Street that seems to be rather unremarkable, until I found out that the owners were Dutch and that they held a rijstaffel banquet once every few months or so. It’s also funny that the owners of this establishment actually reached out to Warung Kampung when they were still around, to touch base and tell them that, at least in theory, there would be a time when Toronto would have TWO Indonesian restaurants. #thatscrazytalk
And so we have Little Sister. I was a bit confused as to how the restaurant worked because the dishes were served tapas-style. In other words, all the portions were extremely small, and the prices were way too high for the size that they came in. This seemed the antithesis of proper Indonesian food, but hey, in a city of ONE, it’s not like I had any other options. And I don’t care how many times people try to point this out to me, but GOURMET MALAYSIA IS NOT AN INDONESIAN RESTAURANT GODDAMMIT. It’s a Malaysian restaurant, and a fine one at that. But it’s not, and never will be, an Indonesian restaurant.
The place was cute, with many little tidbits of Bahasa Indonesia terms written on the walls, and I could’ve sworn I saw a makeshift sign of some sort that said “Garuda Indonesia”, which is the long-standing national airline of the country. It’s very amusing, and a little bit sad, that the first time I actually sat and ate at restaurant that proudly shows Indonesian elements in its decor, it’s run by non-Indonesians. The whole place felt like a bit of a hipster joint, but at the same time it retained little bursts of old-world Indonesia. It was a rather nice sight, I have to say.
We ordered a smorgasbord of food from the menu. I was already anticipating micro-size portions due to the aforementioned tapas-style servings, and (un)fortunately they truly did not disappoint. The portions were so small that even a small Chinese guy like me (who is notorious for not being able to finish most of my restaurant dishes) found himself unsatisfied. The first thing we ordered were the satays. There was a satay lilit (Balinese style satay) and good ol’ satay babi (pork satays). They were actually ridiculously delicious, and one thing that struck me was that Little Sister does NOT skimp on the spices and seasonings. The dishes actually both tasted almost like how they would back home. The consistency of the meat was a bit different, in that they were almost too refined compared to the coarser (but fattier) authentic Indonesian counterparts, but all in all it was an extremely good try. The problem was that these two dishes cost us basically $12 and we had…uh….very very little food to the point that each piece had to be further shared between our table members (there were 5 of us).
We were fully aware of this possibility, though, so it’s not as if we ONLY ordered these two dishes. We also ordered up some babi panggang (roasted pork belly), ayam panggang (roasted chicken), grilled mustard greens, and some rendang tacos (which is probably the only fusion dish the place has – everything else is pretty authentic). Again, we knew the portions were gonna be small, but when we saw the actual dishes, even many of my friends who were tapas veterans were rather disappointed. Flavours-wise, however, just like the satays, the dishes were impeccable. It’s a bit hard to do individual reviews as we had so many of them, but suffice to say that Little Sister does not dumb down the seasonings, and I’m grateful for them.
The weakest of the bunch was the rendang tacos. It was very strange to be eating rendang, which is essentially almost like dry meat curry, mixed with spices and sauces that you would normally get in tacos. I can definitely say that the acidity characteristic of salsas (often part of tacos) that was present in the dish did NOT go well with the rich rendang. I love fusion food, but this was one that did not work.
On the other end of the spectrum, the babi panggang was by far the highlight of the meal for me. There is just the right amount of fat to be noticeable in your mouth without it overwhelming the entire experience. And the seasonings were to die for. I could’ve just ordered two of this for myself. Old-fashioned babi panggang is becoming somewhat of a rarity in Jakarta, so having one in front of me in Toronto was actually a wonderful experience. We cut up the (already) tiny dish into smaller servings so that everyone can get a piece, and I’m not embarassed to say that I probably would’ve body-checked the friend to my left to get at his serving if only that pesky conscience hadn’t kicked in at the last minute.
Overall, Little Sister was definitely a unique experience. I was happy to be able to once again taste the amazing flavours that literally burst in my mouth with every bite, just like in the old Indonesian restaurants of my childhood. And having it prepared by Caucasians was definitely interesting for me. The food is super top-notch for the most part, and mad respect to the owners for going full-tilt on the spices. However, I was very disappointed with the direction that they chose to take, with respect to how they choose their serving sizes. Indonesian food to me is NOT to be done tapas-style, because it only ends up minimizing the portions and maximizing the prices in my very humble opinion. As such, this is a restaurant where you probably would get more bang for your buck if you come in smaller groups (you can share a dish for 2-3 people. Anything more than that is way too tiny) rather than bigger ones. Because trust me, there’s NO WAY I’m gonna resist pushing whoever is beside me out of the way the next time we get that babi panggang.
–Final verdict: Boleh Makan!
2031 Yonge Street
Toronto, ON M4S 2A2