A driver from Alila Jakarta meets me at the airport, beaming widely. He loads me into a van with more than the usual amenities: cold towelettes, krupuk (prawn crackers) in a lantern canister and an iPad with wireless - bless the visionary who had this idea - so I can research my itinerary on the 45-minute drive to the hotel. The Alila Jakarta, which opened in 2001, claims to be Jakarta's "first true design hotel", which also means it's the oldest. The exterior looks a bit drab, and the entrance, through a barred gate, is off a crowded city street where there's a fire burning. But inside it's all shiny and modern, with minimalist design, big loft-style windows and birds of paradise. In the executive lounge, a charming staffer named Dhika, who's excited to tell me he used to work on Abu Dhabi's Yas Island, shows me to my room, and when I return later, writes me a thoughtful list of great suggestions of what to do on my two-day stay.
It would be a stretch to call it picturesque, but given the crowded roads and paralysing traffic in Jakarta, it's at least centrally located, about a five-minute taxi ride away from the National Museum, the Istiqlal Mosque and the sights of Kota Tua (Old Jakarta).
My Club Suite is expansive and modern, all white walls and dark wood flooring and furniture, with windows and mirrors stretching floor to ceiling. Through two separate sliding doors from the entrance hall and bedroom there's a sleekly designed, Dubai-sized bathroom, including a large soaker tub with a view of the city through a window and a separate shower stall with a rainfall shower.
The staff are genuinely friendly, as eager to chat as they are to please, particularly in the executive lounge, where they call downstairs to arrange for a driver named Bowo, who proves great company as he tours us around Jakarta. He waits while I have lunch at Lara Djongrang, a colourful Indonesian restaurant recommended by Dhika, helps me with my bags when I stop to buy antique puppets in Jalan Surabaya and tracks down Barack Obama's elementary school so we can drive by (most people seem bemused that I want to see this).
Guests in the executive lounge appeared to be travelling on business, alone with their iPads, or in small groups of friends stopping through on their way to Bali. For a more stylish scene, try the upscale Kemang Icon, Alila's sister hotel in the Kemang district.
The all-purpose restaurant Buzz serves everything from homemade pizza to gado gado, as well as a buffet. For dinner, I had a decent enough Nasi Campur Bali, spiced chicken and fish in banana leaves with Balinese salad (80,000 rupiah [Dh30]), but the atmosphere is a bit bland. Opt instead for the downstairs restaurant Shanghai Storm, where you can watch them pulling noodles in their kitchen theatre. There I lapped up a spicy, fragrant bowl of Wonton La Mian (60,000 rupiah [Dh23]).
The daybed stretching the full length of the window in my room with a panoramic view of the city's tin and tile rooftops, interspersed with tall towers, like an Indonesian Moulin Rouge. The perfect place to stretch out and watch the monsoon rains sweep through.
Surely a Club Suite deserves more than a tiny plastic kettle with instant coffee?
The Alila is a reliable, stylish and affordable place to take refuge from the city outside.
The bottom line
A double room costs from 1,004,300 rupiah (Dh378) per night, including taxes. Alila Jakarta, Jl Pecenongan Kav 7-17 (www.alilahotels.com; 00 62 21 231 6008).
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