Rahel Stephanie and Pino Edward Sinaga on Bringing Indonesian Flavours to London

Rahel Stephanie Eat With Spoons Indonesian Food Supper Club


Tucked away down a side street in central London is Toba: a chic, warmly-lit Indonesian restaurant with black exteriors, a golden sign and amber light softly flowing from its front window.

This sets the stage for the second supper club collaboration between Rahel Stephanie – founder of Spoons – and restaurant owner Pino Edward Sinaga.

It rained earlier in the day, a climate that the two chefs jokingly described as “tropical” on their social channels. This doesn’t deter those who’ve purchased tickets to the sold-out supper club though; it’s a full house inside, and Stephanie and Sinaga can be seen plating up in the open kitchen or greeting guests, stopping by a table here and there for a conversation with the diners. There’s a palpable buzz and energy inside the restaurant, one that could match the bustling atmosphere of its surrounding location.

Plates of oysters are served up and they’re accented with sambal ijo, a West Sumatran green chilli relish. These seafood delights are followed by the tahu walik (Javanese fried tofu stuffed with cassava flour). The naniura makes the rounds and it’s a culinary treat; the white fish tantalisingly wrapped in green banana leaves and adorned with the tropical tones of edible flowers. Then there’s the beef tendon braised in a Minangkabau style, served with sayur singkong tumbuk (pounded cassava leaves in coconut milk), kaffir lime rice – otherwise known as nasi daun jeruk – and the pepes ikan (spiced fish baked in banana leaves). The menu is rounded off by an Indonesian-Italian fusion uniquely crafted by Stephanie: a creamy pandan tiramisu that balances the fine line of dialling down the sweetness (a preference for desserts that aren’t overly sweet exists across many East and Southeast Asian cultures) whilst maintaining its richness.

Sinaga is all smiles throughout the night as he drifts across the tables. The staff can be seen joking around in the kitchen, feasting on the dishes. “Have you eaten?” they ask as I take their picture. The diners are a mix of groups of friends and families. Two people are perched on one side of the bar – a mother with her adult son.

Rahel Stephanie Pino Toba Indonesian Food London Eat With Spoons

London is a showreel of different flavours, but although certain East and Southeast Asian cultures have long dominated the takeaway scene, Indonesian food hasn’t been spotlighted as much. It’s a landscape that Sinaga and Stephanie are set on changing through their collaborations that showcase the traditional dishes found within Indonesian cuisines, but are also given new twists.

It's clear that the supper club is a resounding success. Tickets usually sell out within a day, and collaborations between the two chefs garner a buzz online amongst those who are in the know. On the evening of the supper club, we reach out to the two chefs to talk about their latest supper club collaboration, favourite childhood dishes and why the restaurant industry needs to be shaken up.

Rahel Stephanie Pino Toba Indonesian Food London Eat With Spoons
Rahel Stephanie Pino Toba Indonesian Food London Eat With Spoons

Can you tell me more about your background?

Rahel Stephanie: I was born in Jakarta, Indonesia, and moved to Singapore aged nine with my mother and sister. After moving away at a young age I felt a consistent longing for my country’s cuisine. We would return to Indonesia once or twice a year, and leading up to the trip I would fantasise about the local foods I would soon enjoy. Ahead of each return trip we’d fill our luggage to the brim with packed treats and ingredients we could enjoy for months to come. Moving to London aged 19, there's a parallel experience in that longing for the food of my home country.

Pino Edward Sinaga: I was born in 1977, and I have lived in Indonesia, Paris and now I have been in London for more than 15 years.

When did you start cooking?

PES: Cooking has always been a hobby for me since I was young. Cooking with my mom was one of the moments I cherished the most. After working in the hospitality business for quite some time, I wanted to introduce the amazing flavours of Indonesian food to a broader audience.

What were some of your favourite childhood dishes?

PES: Ikan arsik and naniura are my most favourite dishes from my childhood.

RS: I used to obsess over Indomie instant noodles from a very young age (and still do) so much that my mum had to ration this to once a week. To me, it was a weekend treat I’d look forward to all week. I’d have it for breakfast while watching a TV show, eating it as slowly as I could to savour every last second of it, before having to wait for a whole other week. This must have started from when I was four years old and went on for the rest of my childhood. We’d always have a whole kitchen cabinet dedicated to packs and packs of Indomie.

Rahel Stephanie Pino Toba Indonesian Food London Eat With Spoons
Rahel Stephanie Pino Toba Indonesian Food London Eat With Spoons

What drew you both to pursue a career in hospitality?

PES: My passion for cooking and my desire to share Indonesian cuisine with the world drew me to the culinary field. After working in hospitality and realising how much I enjoyed creating, sharing food and talking to customers, it felt like a natural step to pursue this career.

RS: I started Spoons – my Indonesian supper club – in late 2019 as a means to share delicious foods and little-known recipes from my country with friends. It's since grown organically into what my practice has shaped up to become. Through my work, I strive to put authentic Indonesian flavours firmly and accurately on the western map.

My mission extends far beyond a tasty menu. To me, cooking Indonesian dishes serves as a way of reclaiming, decolonising and celebrating the foods of my heritage, and I'm grateful to be able to do so through the medium of food.

What drew you to London?

RS: I came to London initially for my studies and grew to love the diversity in communities and cultures the city has to offer.

PES: London is a vibrant, multicultural city with a dynamic food scene. It offers a great opportunity to introduce and celebrate Indonesian cuisine to a diverse audience.

Rahel Stephanie Pino Toba Indonesian Food London Eat With Spoons
Rahel Stephanie Pino Toba Indonesian Food London Eat With Spoons

How does it differ from others that you’ve experienced?

RS: London has such an incredible potential for showcasing the diversity in its communities through cuisine. However, the current economic climate makes it more difficult than ever for independent restaurants to thrive.

For example, countless times I hear customers complain about steep prices when it comes to paying the bill at Asian food establishments, owing to a misconception of equating Asian food to cheapness. People overlook the rising costs of importing specialist ingredients used in many cuisines. The restaurant industry in general has always been inaccessible to those from marginalised backgrounds and these problems make the industry harder to break into than ever. That being said, pop ups and supper clubs have become an incredible format to find independent chefs from marginalised communities do their thing with some of the most exciting concepts you can find in the city.

PES: London’s culinary scene is incredibly diverse and innovative. Compared to Indonesia and Paris, London has a unique blend of traditional and modern influences, with a strong emphasis on fusion and international flavours. The willingness of Londoners to explore new cuisines is truly inspiring.

When did you first start working together and how did that collaboration come about?

RS: I first met Pino when I visited his stall Pino's Warung in Camden Market in 2021 to grab some food and hit it off as soon as we found out we came from the same tribe in Indonesia. Over time we chatted and eventually planned our first collaborative supper club (Spoons x Pino's Warung) in 2022. We've been wanting to do another one since then, so we were very excited to finally run it back again at the gorgeous Toba restaurant, which Pino had since started.

Rahel Stephanie Pino Toba Indonesian Food London Eat With Spoons
Rahel Stephanie Pino Toba Indonesian Food London Eat With Spoons

How would you describe the way you both work together?

RS: It's super easy as we have a mutual understanding and respect of Indonesian food and culture, along with cultural and historical context behind it. I’m passionate about collaborating specifically with other Indonesians in the UK as it not only emboldens the Indonesian reputation here as a whole, but mutually builds individual strength. Moreover, the more diverse the demographic of Indonesian people involved, the more nuanced and multifaceted the representation of our heritage becomes.

PES: We have a very collaborative approach, balancing each other’s strengths and ideas. Our shared passion for Indonesian cuisine drives us, and we work closely on everything from menu creation to event planning, ensuring we don't stray from our authentic Indonesian concept.

What was the thinking behind your latest supper club together?

RS: We both come from the same North Sumatran Batak tribe, so we really wanted to spotlight some Batak dishes which you really can't get elsewhere in London.

What’s your favourite dish from the menu you put together and why?

RS: This is so hard because there's some absolutely special dishes on the menu. That being said, it might be the Naniura (Batak ceviche) for me, ‘cause it's such a special dish native to my tribe. I've really never had it in London before, ‘cause it has a lot of ingredients you can't source easily here (Andaliman pepper, torch ginger). It's a dish I've had since childhood, usually reserved for special occasions, so naturally it felt very special to have this on the menu.

PES: It’s a dish I’ve been fond of since I was young, and I believe it’s a wonderful opportunity to introduce people to this unique and flavourful delicacy.

Rahel Stephanie Pino Toba Indonesian Food London Eat With Spoons

Where do you get your ingredients from?

PES: We source our ingredients from both the local community and directly from Indonesia to ensure authenticity and quality in our dishes.

RS: Over the years I’ve gained a firm grasp of which stores sell the ingredients I need, as it can be scattered across various East and Southeast Asian, South Asian, African and Carribean stores. I’ve learnt a lot about how certain ingredients I had assumed were Indonesian-centric were often incorporated in other cuisines. For example, finding chayote in African stores blew my mind! Chayotes are also called Labu in Indonesia, which actually directly translates into English as pumpkin.

A lot can get lost in translation so that also added to the confusion when I was searching through specific ingredients in London. Another example is kencur. I had to look up the scientific name for kencur on Google to find that its English name is sand ginger, but lots of East Asian stores that stock these would just label it as “ginger” under Chinese characters. So I had to bring up the Chinese characters on my phone to do a side-by-side comparison with all these packets of dried spices. I found it though, and it’s the most unique spice, nothing else quite comes close.

With certain ingredients I absolutely cannot find, I’ve found some pretty good substitutes – you learn to work with what you’ve got sometimes! I also started growing turmeric on our window sill so I can harvest the leaves for rendang. You get turmeric roots everywhere here, but not the leaves!

How was the supper club for you?

RS: My incredible guests are why supper clubs or pop ups always feel like an extended family dinner. I mean, my childhood was chaotic and intertwined with countless family dramas. So I guess this could also be one of the reasons why I love throwing dinner parties so much – serving up the dinners and warmth that isn't necessarily always present growing up, recreating what I’ve missed out on!

PES: The atmosphere was incredibly exciting and vibrant. It was a joy to see people enjoying and appreciating the flavours of authentic Indonesian cuisine.

Rahel Stephanie Pino Toba Indonesian Food London Eat With Spoons

What would you like to see change within the culinary industry?

RS: I would love to say that London will welcome a diversity of restaurants focusing on the cuisine of marginalised cultures, but that would be unrealistically idealistic of me, given tht the current climate makes it more difficult than ever for independent restaurants to thrive. Hopefully it becomes more accessible.

PES: I would love to see more emphasis on sustainability and local sourcing within the culinary industry. Additionally, greater recognition and support for diverse cuisines.

Rahel Stephanie Pino Toba Indonesian Food London Eat With Spoons

Photography by Vivian Yeung