Union Deli

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Knowing one’s weakness is the key to gain victory. That is the absolute rule of war… and restaurant business.

Union has been strolling around everyone’s face in the culinary business by claiming the crown for best bakery in Jakarta; the jewel is undoubtedly their glorious Red Velvet Cake. However, they still fall behind to the likes of Collete and Lola in terms of money-making. Why? The reason is simple; they don’t have enough stores.

Union had 2 notable spaces and the most famous out of the two is located in Central Jakarta, in a mall called Plaza Senayan (the other one is in most western part of the city, which no one really cares). A great place to meet expatriates, desperate rich housewives who are looking for fun with their frenemies, and a bunch of teens seeking the next hip place to hang out (I shamelessly get into this third category). Still, it is not the best place to sell cakes.

Yes, the place is always crowded. Yes, the cake is heavily advertised. But Plaza Senayan is not a place you’d like to visit just for one slice of red velvet cake. Not to mention how small and noisy the bistro is, plus the service is not the brightest either. Time to look for a hipper place, not just for business people who have money, but also for greatest advertising agents of all time: teens with their overcrowded social media accounts.

Apparently, the best place that came up in Union’s mind is Grand Indonesia Shopping Town. It is actually a good choice, if you think about it. First, it is not far from Plaza Senayan, which means the new store will have enough supply if they suddenly run out of cakes or something and vice versa. Second, Grand Indonesia is a bigger, newer, easier to reach, and overall more crowded mall than Plaza Senayan. Third, the concept of this second store turns out to be a ‘Deli’ -a special place that only sells sandwiches and cakes. That is considered a new thing in Jakarta. And just like ants sensing a sugar cube being dropped not far from their holes, people begin to come and ‘Instagram’ Union Deli like crazy. The fact that Union also add some new menus like ‘Red Velvet Pie’ or ‘Chocolate Mint Pie’ doesn’t hurt as well.

Without further due, I quickly reassembled my ‘team’, which consist of two of my very best friends, whom we will call X and Y in this post. X and Y agreed on joining me for dessert-only lunch on Friday and I silently prayed that we would end up ordering something sandwich-y -for the sake of my titular research.

We arrived around 11 am and went straight to Union Deli. Zomato app doesn’t have any clue where Union Deli is, so we ended up stumbling around asking for directions. Just like many other trendy new cafes, Union Deli doesn’t technically have their own space, instead they rent a lovely space inside Central Department Store, a real high-class store selling real luxurious items, from Prada perfumes to Hermes crocodile handbag. I was wearing t-shirts and blue jeans (with James Dean daydream look in my eyes…) I hope the shopkeepers didn’t throw me out right away.

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I was not surprised to see how small Union Deli is. The cafe/restaurant looks more like a common Starbuck store with two large tables near the window (perfect photo shoot places) and small 4-person tables filling up the rest of the space. The classic bakery stands on the outside with two waitresses waiting patiently for incoming costumers. The music was faintly coming from hidden speakers on the ceiling, which was very different from their sister-store’s electronic music parade in Senayan. In fact, the whole cafe felt alarmingly different. We came before lunch hour, so there weren’t a lot of people, but the waiters were friendlier, warmer, and more relaxed than those arrogant bitches in Senayan. To be fair, I was indeed wearing my usual t-shirt, but I gracefully left my hideous DSLR monstro at home.

The first thing we wanted to do was finding the right seat. The nearest table to the window can only be occupied if we were 4 or more people, so it was definitely out of question. The friendly -and elegant waiter wanted to put us in a cozy dark corner with stylish wall decorations, but Y chose to sit in the middle of the cafe, between stylish middle-aged women, and businessmen in the middle of their casual ‘coffee’ meeting. It was neither the most spacious table nor the most cozy, but the lighting is acceptable for my smart phone camera. Well, alright-y then!

Right after we were happily seated, the waiter asked whether we wanted a ‘real’ lunch or just dessert. Unfortunately, X jumped to the conclusion that we only wanted dessert. The waiter smiled, told us that only had time until 12.30 am (roughly 90 minutes) and left to get his order sheet. I was left brokenhearted, staring at my neighbor’s Philadelphia Cheesesteak.

Originally, Union Deli only sells three different kinds of pies (Red Velvet, Chocolate Mint, and Rum Raisin) and a few other desserts like Red Velvet Sunday, Flaky Doughnut, etc. Thank God, the man behind Union’s business desk knows his costumers well enough to put some of their best-selling cakes in here. I spotted PB & J, Classic Chocolate, Cheesecake, and the one and only Red Velvet Cake.

I, of course, ordered Red Velvet Cake. To be honest, I was assuring myself to choose Sundae, fortunately I bailed on the last-minute. Red Velvet Cake is the must-have in here.

X, to my disapproval, also chose Red Velvet Cake. No matter how hard I tried, X didn’t even want to consider other dishes. Y was more reasonable and ordered Red Velvet Pie, so we could have a little variation. This little ‘coincidence’ proves how uncreative my ‘team’ is in reviewing a restaurant.

Since the restaurant was not even half full, our orders arrived on the table right away in all white dining equipment. Our drinks, unfortunately, came with a little mistake. We ordered two Peach Ice Tea, but the waiter gave us only one glass. He quickly apologized though with sincere bow and went back to the kitchen to repair his mistake -no harm taken. Oh yes, the Peach Ice Tea was unsurprisingly refreshing. I really wanted to try my alcohol-tolerance limit, but I guess it was too early to treat myself a glass of well-made Mojito. Ah, another time!

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Red Velvet Cake

The cake tasted exactly like the last time I tried it back in Senayan (I give one bonus point for consistency here). The combination of soft sponge cake, cream cheese, crumbled peanuts mixed with white sugar, and a touch of rum pushed this piece of cake into a whole new level.

The cream cheese was unquestionably great; thicker and much heavier than other bakeries, however it was the addition of rum (or at least some similar liquors) that intensified the overall flavor, resulting in richer, sturdier, more balanced, and unique Red Velvet Cake.

Unfortunately, the cake became a bit uninspiring after a few bites. I needed to slow down and created a diversion, so my stomach wouldn’t hurt. It might be my sensitive digestive system’s fault, but in my defense X felt the same way.

Nevertheless, this is a truly remarkable cake.

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Red Velvet Pie

This one looked exactly like my Red Velvet Cake. Well, not exactly. It’s like someone decided to take the whole layers of my cake away and replaced them with one thick graham cracker base, a lot of cream cheese, more peanut crumbles and graham crackers with white sugar mixed in it for toppings. Oh, yes and the rum.

How about the flavor?

It was great. I don’t really know what to type because the whole pie tasted almost the same with my Red Velvet Cake. Yes, the graham crackers did manage to put some noticeable textural differences. Other than that, there was nothing interesting to report. The pie was great people! Sadly, just like it’s predecessor, it came up a little boring in the end.

We ate and sipped and gossiped (and I Instagram-ed a little bit at some point) and smelled something weird coming from our lovely neighbor. A little hidden investigation later, we were surprised to see our casual businessmen were smoking nonchalantly.

I was confused. This restaurant/deli is clearly a closed air-conditioned inside-a-department-store space, how come this fellow smoked without a warning whatsoever? I gave our charming little waiter a questioning glance and he told us that two tables (the casual-businessmen’s and the one near the window) could be used for smoking: A smoking area without Plexiglas separator or proper ventilation or something to keep us, naive non-smoking youngsters, from breathing the same air as those nasty train wrecks?

Seriously, I don’t get the logic. Smoking is a fucking dangerous deal here. I don’t care if my fellow casual-businessmen died while he chewed down his tobacco imbued red velvet, but don’t tag me along for a ride to Cigarette Hell.

Union Deli -or someone in power- should solve this problem soon. I will also use this opportunity to tirelessly warn my fellow foodies and whomever else reading this blog somewhere in the world: quit smoking or at the very least don’t foolishly smoke inside an air-conditioned restaurant/deli, even though the charming little waiter allows you to.

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Gosh, this little encounter made X lost his/her appetite. He/She left his/her remaining Red Velvet Cake untouched. The smoke was getting heavier (a group of adolescents sitting in the other ‘smoking table’ decided to lit up some fresh cigars too), so we asked for our bill and left.

I was both happy and sad. Happy, because we had such a great time devouring those cakes and pie. Sad, because Union Deli failed to get the ‘perfect new restaurant’ title in my heart. The little smoking/non-smoking logic really set me off.

The place is really nice (hell, you can even ask for free slice of bread with salted butter while waiting for your cake!), the service shows some upward progresses, and the foods are great. Sadly, the atmosphere is a bit off. I even got the impression that Union Deli doesn’t really care about their costumers’ well being. I guess complains about the irrational smoking policy will be raining down soon and like it or not Union Deli will have to change their minds about this seriously nasty problem.

Other than that, there is no need denying that Union Deli is a great restaurant and I will come back very soon. Maybe not for lunch or dinner, but I will never say no to take away.

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Union Deli Grand Indonesia

  • Grand Indonesia Mall, MH. Thamrin Street, Thamrin, Jakarta
  • Phone: 021 23580476
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