Little Sister-Indonesian Food Bar
By Nicole Gottselig

A Taste of Indonesia in Midtown

When Michael van den Winkel and Jennifer Gittins began hosting rijsttafel (a Dutch-Indonesian feast, which translates to "rice table") at their Quince Bistro, the events would sell out within hours. A craving was brewing for authentic Dutch-Indonesian food as well as a cocktail bar that this midtown neighbourhood was lacking – and so, without ado, in June 2014, Little Sister Food Bar was born.

Stepping inside feels miles away from midtown. The space can be characterized as a hip bar sans the attitude, paired with the frenetic street vibes of eating in Indonesia – all set against a backdrop of fast service and pumpin’ beats. Exposed ceilings rise above a long bar, while a mixologist serves up Indonesian-style cocktails with spices, lemongrass, lime leaf and caramelized palm sugar.

Indonesia was at one time a Dutch colony, and the food and flavours are an integral part to Dutch cuisine. Mike, Jennifer’s husband and business partner, learned Indonesian cooking while he was in the navy. The two met in England while working as chefs and went on to work together as private chefs on-board a yacht in Dubai, India and Singapore. “We’ve had restaurants in this neighbourhood for about 20 years, and we’ve always had Indonesian influences in our dishes. It was a natural progression to go into Indonesian food,” says Jennifer.

We’ve had restaurants in this neighbourhood for about 20 years, and we’ve always had Indonesian influences in our dishes. It was a natural progression to go into Indonesian food. - Jennifer Gittins, owner
Little Sister - an upscale yet casual environment welcomes diners at Little Sister
Image courtesy of Little Sister Food Bar

Indonesian vs Southeast Asian Cuisine

While Little Sister caters to its neighbourhood locals as well as Mike and Jennifer’s established customer base, fans from all over the 6 flock to the midtown resto-bar because it’s one of the only true Dutch-Indonesian restaurants in the city. “Most of our customers that come in are not aware of what Indonesian food is because there aren’t a lot of Indonesian restaurants around,” explains Jennifer.

She also explains in Toronto, there is no shortage of Southeast and Pan-Asian restaurants. “People were already receptive to the bold flavours and restaurant choices." The main difference in Indonesian cooking and other Southeast Asian cuisines – such as Thai – is that the spices and chillies are cooked out. This means that the spice mixture is ground up, slowly cooked off, added to the protein, marinated and then slowly braised. "It's labour intensive food," Jennifer says. "Most of our dishes take about two to three days to prepare."

Because of the breadth of the Indonesian archipelago, Little Sister isn't able to cover the full gamut of the region's cuisine. “The islands we follow are  Bali, Sumatra and Java. The flavours of the ginger, cumin,  coriander and star anise are distinctive of the regions of these three islands.”

Little Sister - the satays are a crowd pleaser to regulars
Image courtesy of Little Sister Food Bar

Red Light District

If we're talkin' menu, here's a little of what you can expect from Little Sister's: satay skewers and fresh, fruity salads to start (the watermelon salad, garnished with chillies, herbs and spice sambal sauce, is a must-try). Snackier items include Balinese roast pork and pickles, fusion tacos (Balinese shredded chicken or beef with coconut crema, anyone?), while tuck-in entrees range from ginger-braised pork shoulder to coconut shrimp curry.

Those more in the mood for liquids than solids (although light fare is offered), follow the red lights upstairs and hunker down for a couple hours at Bar Batavia, a 2015-new cocktail bar that juxtaposes the fast-paced atmosphere downstairs. “We opened upstairs because we thought it would be fun to open up a full-out cocktail bar that was casual, laid-back and relaxed," Jennifer says. "It also takes the overflow from downstairs and it allows a lot more comfort.” Think: a dim-lit, cozy hangout where a spicy and sweet libation can be enjoyed on a long, luxe velvet blue couch.

Little Satay - spicy and sweet cocktails garnished with fresh herbs pervade the drinks menu
Image courtesy of Little Sister Food Bar
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