(What If) IHOP Opens In Indonesia?

IHOP, a rather endearing acronym for International House of Pancakes, is a self-explanatory, international brand of American restaurant chain that's almost omni-present in the US. Up until 2015, the total count is 1,650 restaurants including those in Canada, Central America, the Middle East and The Philippines. It's only a matter of time until it makes its presence felt in South East Asia, but will IHOP make it big here, in Indonesia? And what on earth was I doing in Dubai last week, anyway? Keep scrolling down for answers ;)
IHOP International House of Pancakes menu (www.culinarybonanza.com)

To tell you the truth, the main purpose of my first and recent trip to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, was to determine, from a foodie point of view, whether several American restaurant chains should or should not come to Indonesia. Our opinions would be vital to help the Alshaya group (the company that holds the franchise rights of numerous large international brands such as Starbucks, Victoria's Secret, H&M, Debenhams, etc in Middle East and North Africa, Russia, Turkey and Europe) to decide whether our country is going to be a viable and profitable market or not.

I felt absolutely blessed for the unexpected opportunity to set foot in the Middle East, to be exact in Dubai. So far, the farthest place I've been to is Hong Kong, but now that record has been broken by the 8 hours long flight to the largest city in UAE, Dubai. My first impression upon landing and breathing in the natural air there? HOT and humid. Staying indoor is not an option, unless you want to suffocate in the heat. I am beyond grateful nonetheless for the opportunity, one that I've never expected and never thought was ever possible...  

Fast forward to our first food tasting panel of the trip, which took place at IHOP inside Mall of The Emirates...

IHOP International House of Pancakes (www.culinarybonanza.com)

For those still unfamiliar with the brand, IHOP is famous for its award-winning pancakes that come in various flavours, with affordable prices, as well as for the free flow syrups of several different flavors. I'd never experienced IHOP anywhere else before, so my only standard for comparison would be our very own local pancakes and crepes houses (not gonna mention any names here).

IHOP opens as early as 8am, despite mall's standard operation hours starting 10am. It's a breakfast place after all. My first impression about the venue is that it feels casual, quite old school kind of American restaurant feel.
IHOP International House of Pancakes Middle East (www.culinarybonanza.com)
IHOP International House of Pancakes Middle East (www.culinarybonanza.com)
IHOP International House of Pancakes Middle East (www.culinarybonanza.com)

The first things that I noticed upon seated at the table, are the syrups 'collection' and the orange vacuum jar as seen on every single tables inside. While the syrup is kind of IHOP's signature, the orange flasks are called 'Never Empty Coffee Pot", charged per person and is literally like your personal jar of endless black coffee. To a hardcore coffee drinker like myself, the coffee here is not the best, honestly, I should've asked for just water instead.
IHOP International House of Pancakes (www.culinarybonanza.com)
Left: assorted syrups
Right: Never Empty Coffee Pot AED 17 / person
Of course, a food tasting would involve a lot of food sampling (and wastage, very unfortunately). 
So, here are the (long) list of menus that we tried then:

1. Original Buttermilk Pancakes (3 pancakes AED 27 | 5 pancakes AED 34)
IHOP International House of Pancakes menu (www.culinarybonanza.com)
One of the best buttermilk pancakes ever, no wonder it's won awards! It's light & fluffy and not as dense or thick as the ones I've had here. I tried with the Butter Pecan syrup and I can tell that I like it better than the standard maple syrup.

2. CINN-A-STACK Pancakes (4 pancakes AED 39)
Four buttermilk pancakes layered with cinnamon & drizzled with cream cheese icing and whipped cream.
IHOP International House of Pancakes menu (www.culinarybonanza.com)
The photo on the menu didn't look quite like this, so it was quite misleading, it's still delicious nonetheless. Americans normally eat a stack of 3-5 pancakes, whereas that's not the norm in Indonesia, where there's even an option for single pancake.

3. Strawberry Banana French Toast (AED 39)
IHOP International House of Pancakes menu (www.culinarybonanza.com)
The presentation looks really pretty & photogenic, but the taste did not live up to the looks unfortunately. The egg & milk batter didn’t soak all the way to the core of the thick toast.

4. Chicken & Waffles (AED 45)
Four pieces of chicken strips, breaded & crispy fried. Served with waffle quarters, whipped butter and honey mustard sauce.
IHOP International House of Pancakes menu (www.culinarybonanza.com)
The waffles are unbelievably fantastic, the best I’ve ever had so far! It’s crispy outside, light and airy and soft inside, with fragrant buttery smell. The chicken strips too, are amazing, well seasoned, tender & juicy inside, but the batter is quite thick and hard to cut through. This is a perfect dish that I'm sure (almost) any Indonesians would like.

5. Big Steak Omelette (AED 46)
Tender strips of steak, hash browns, fresh green peppers, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes & cheddar cheese, served with salsa and a side of 4 plain bread triangles & jam (choice of white / wholemeal bread).
IHOP International House of Pancakes menu (www.culinarybonanza.com)
IHOP International House of Pancakes menu (www.culinarybonanza.com)
I like that the steak strips come out tender & not too thick, the rolled omelette's texture was quite good as well. Although I'm not sure if there's too many fillings stuffed that the dish lost its main star in the humdrum. I may not like this, but some of my friends who had this too, actually liked it. With such a huge rolled omelette, I actually find the toast quite unecessary, because the rolled omelette alone is more than enough to feed 2. I think most Indonesians would agree too, and they'd rather the restaurant reduce the price in place of the toast.

6. Chicken Fajita Omelette (AED 40)
Grilled fajita-seasoned chicken breast strips, onions, fresh green peppers with salsa and blend of cheeses, topped with sour cream, also comes served with a side of 4 plain bread triangles & jam.
IHOP International House of Pancakes menu (www.culinarybonanza.com)
IHOP International House of Pancakes menu (www.culinarybonanza.com)
Very delicious, fluffy eggs omelette, with yummy & well seasoned. This is my second favourite menu here, after the Chicken & Waffles

7. Spinach & Mushroom Hash Brown Stack (AED 36)
Hash browns topped with sauteed spinach & mushrooms, melted Provolone cheese, sliced tomato, poached egg, Hollandaise sauce and green onions.
IHOP International House of Pancakes menu (www.culinarybonanza.com)
In Indonesia, 'hash brown' tends to be associated with the triangular hash browns served at fast food restaurants. And on the contrary, IHOP's style of grated, deep-fried potato patties would be recognized as ‘rösti’ here. I find the hash quite delicious and I like the combo of spinach, shrooms, cream and perfectly poached egg.

8. Eggs Benedict (AED 49)
Turkey ham on English muffin, topped with poached eggs & Hollandaise sauce, served with hash browns.
IHOP International House of Pancakes menu (www.culinarybonanza.com)
This is my least favourite of all the dishes tried at here. Actually it tasted quite good in general (perfectly poached eggs). But I don’t think Indonesians would find this appealing, as opposed to other fancier and cheaper eggs benedicts in Jakarta.

9. Chicken Florentine Crepes (AED 48)
Chicken breast strips sauteed with lightly seasoned fresh spinach, mushrooms & onions, rolled inside crepes with Swiss cheese and topped with Hollandaise sauce.
IHOP International House of Pancakes menu (www.culinarybonanza.com)
I like the combination of slightly sweet crepe and savoury, but I didn't find this dish to be exceptional enough to remember...

10. Volcano Shrimp (AED 42)
Batteres shrimp tossed in sweet and spicy Volcano sauce.
IHOP International House of Pancakes menu (www.culinarybonanza.com)
This item is going to be a hit among Indonesians! Even a non-seafood lover like me, I love the crunchiness of the shrimp although I think the mayo sauce was given a little too much. It's quite unusual to have this for breakfast actually, but it's still available for lunch.

11. Grilled Balsamic Chicken (AED 54)
Grilled tender, boneless chicken breast with sauteed mushrooms, onions & balsamic glaze, served with steamed broccoli (and seasoned red potatoes).
IHOP International House of Pancakes menu (www.culinarybonanza.com)
We tried some main courses from the Lunch Menu too. The grilled chicken breasts were of amazing quality, but I found there's too much brown balsamic brown sauce (the sour taste) and thus making sour as the dominant flavour instead of the chicken. The presentation definitely needs some improvement if this were to appeal to Indonesian customers...

12. Ribeye with Blue Cheese Butter (AED 80).
Seasoned ribeye steak topped with blue cheese butter, choice of sides: butter corn and mashed potato.
IHOP International House of Pancakes menu (www.culinarybonanza.com)
The ribeye, cooked to medium, was quite good, but again, portion was too much for me (10 oz / 280gr meat!), even for a lunch menu. The blue cheese butter was good, although it end up making the dish quite oily. Phew! That's the last of a whopping total 12 different items at one meal!

The concept of all day breakfast is becoming more and more familiar and common in Jakarta. Although unlike in America, there's probably not as many people in Indonesia who would order breakfast food for dinner or lunch. To most Indonesians, pancakes, crepes, waffles and such are still associated with dessert or breakfast food.

Considering that Indonesians do not have a culture for big breakfast (not on weekdays, at least), I'm concerned that the very concept of IHOP of serving all day breakfast may not be well received by the breakfast-skippers and light morning-eaters in Indonesia. That being said, IHOP does have numerous signature menus that I'm beyond certain, would be a hit here, such as the Chicken & Waffles, Volcano Shrimp, the Pancakes and the Omelettes.

So, whether IHOP is going to enter Indonesian market, is now entirely up to Alshaya's team to evaluate. While I secretly hope that it will open in Indonesia, (because, the Chicken & Waffles!), there are some adjustments to make, such as serving portion, price some tweaking to the recipe etc, in order to suit Indonesian consumer profile and to be a decent competition against some local pancake houses / breakfast places.

*) Prices quoted are in United Arab Emirates Dirham
**) Exchange rate: 1 AED (United Arab Emirates Dirham) = IDR 3,900 (Indonesian Rupiah)

IHOP Middle East
Middle east store locations: Saudi Arabia | United Arab Emirates | Kuwait | Bahrain
Facebook: IHOP Middle East

IHOP International website: www.ihop.com

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