Tasia and Gracia Seger might be reality tv stars, but this new Indonesian restaurant proves their talent is definitely not just for show.
It’s weird. Australia’s relationship with Indonesia is one of both deep familiarity and blissful ignorance. As our country’s closest neighbour, we’ve been visiting the islands to our north for hundreds of years - the Yolngu travelled in Makassan boats from Arnhem Land to Sulawesi (and beyond), and the Bogans have long taken the AirAsia route to Bali. But little of that Indonesian experience – and even less of Indonesian cuisine – seems to make its way back home.
The tragedy here is for our tastebuds because Indonesian food is great. More subtly spiced than Malaysian and more homely than Thai, Indonesian is delicate, comfortable and delicious. Australian iterations of the national cuisine have been cheap and cheerful, catering to uni students looking for a quick nasi goreng. But with Makan, Tasia and Gracia Seger are set to change that.
It’s no secret the Seger Sisters can cook. In 2016, Tasia and Gracia won My Kitchen Rules (if you’re one of the few who didn’t watch). But not all victors of the reality circuit can translate their televisual chops to actual reality. After photographing and then eating – with escalating excitement – their food, I’m convinced the Seger’s are an exception to this rule.
Firstly, the Seger’s are smart. Instead of immediately opening their first restaurant, the sisters took their time running pop-ups and private dinners, testing dishes and learning how to translate their home-style cooking into a commercial context. “The thing people tend to do after they win something, they just open up something really quickly, but for us, the most important thing is to know what the public wants,” explains Tasia. “So, for two years, it's been an experimental journey and lots of learning for us.”
Secondly, they found the right partners – industry professionals who not only understood their vision, but could help them execute it. The Segers hooked up with their mate Valerie Fong, who, along with Randy Dhamanhuri, owns Operator 25 and Middletown in Prahran, classy operators who can take a venue from the sketchboard to service. They, in turn, introduced the sisters to Joseph Haddad, one of the most understated but influential restaurateurs in Melbourne, and the dude behind Code Black. “We needed someone who could teach us a lot of things, and I think the partners that we joined up with to open Makan are amazing,” says Tasia. “This is the dream team for us. We're in good hands.”
With the dream team in place, the nascent Makan signed up ZWEI, the architectural firm whose head-turning fit-outs have included KICKS Sports bar and Pierrick Boyer Cafe. Katherine Kemp and Hannah Richardson were stoked to hear that the Seger’s approach was as far from Indonesian kitsch as they could imagine. “They were very determined not to me thematic in the way that they wanted the restaurant to be,” Kemp recalls. “We didn't want it to feel like, you know, we had palm leaves and stuff like that in there. So, it was all about subtle referencing, and building a mood rather than trying to be literal in the way we referenced it.”
What’s resulted is a little midnight oasis, a hidden shelter made of soft concrete and black steel, bathed in the light of purple neons. The walls are clasped with hardwood ribbing, custom made to fit the space.
The word ‘transporting’ is thrown around in interior design, but walking into Makan really feels like a transition; a trip from the corporate office building into… somewhere in South-East Asia’s future, maybe?
“You get to Bali or South East Asia, and there's just this sense of letting go, of effortlessness, and this lightness of being,” says Kemp. “So we really wanted to get that in the materiality.”
But ZWEI’s architecture (and Pop + Pac’s jaunty branding) does what good design should: recedes into the background, providing a framework for the food. Which is really bloody good. “I think with most of the dishes Gracia, and I created for Makan, it’s mostly the food that we grew up with,” says Tasia. “My grandma and my mum usually cook at home, so we wanna stay true to what we usually do. We don't want to change anything or jeopardise any flavour because we have lots of Indonesian customers.”
Fidelity to the cuisine isn’t just a sales pitch – dishes are prepared in ways that are all honest to tradition. A Jimbaran fish is glazed with sweet tamarind and simply grilled; a crepe roll is stuffed with chicken, fried, and served with a tangy peanut sauce; the braised oxtail served with green papaya in beef broth appears at every Seger family celebration, and the tempeh served with okra in a mild coconut curry was ripped off directly from the Seger’s grandma. “In terms of the flavour, Indonesian food is quite subtle, but there is a lot of spices that goes into one dish,” says Gracia. “It would be something that you marinated or cooked in spices for a few hours or sometimes overnight and then at the end, just kind of lightly grilled.”
It’s genuinely difficult to pick a standout. Gracia’s favourite (and probably mine) are the vast beef ribs, which are marinated, sous vide, then brushed with soy and grilled. “It always takes me back home every time I eat the dish,” she says. “It seems so simple 'cause it's grilled, and it comes to you with a sweet glaze, but at the same time, it has so much history. You're really allowing all the heat to do all the work, with all of the spices and everything, so it kind of injecting it with a lot of flavour.”
Tasia, on the other hand, is all about the pisang coklat (which, now I think about it, is also my favourite). It’s a traditional Indo street food composed of grilled banana, chocolate sprinkles and - stay with me here - shaved cheddar. “It's such a popular dish in the street,” she says. “In the restaurant we created this banana brulee, we made it more modernised, but it still has all of those elements in the dish.”
Unlike me, Manu Fiedl was not a fan. “I remember Manu saying, "Yuck! I would never ever eat that,”” Gracia recalls.
Manu, you’re missing out, mate.
360 Collins St Melbourne 3000
Enter through Collins Way
(via Lt Collins St) after 5pm
+61 3 9642 3109
Monday – Saturday 11.00am – 3.00pm
Wednesday – Saturday 5.30pm – 10.00pm