Swank With Soul At Bandra’s Newest: JLWA
When you hear of yet another ‘modern progressive’ restaurant in Mumbai or Delhi, you wonder what will set it apart from the rest. Spread over a 4,500 sq-ft space, you have all the elements you would expect in a fine dining restaurant at JLWA. Turquoise walls, Chesterfield sofas, tuxedoed waiters, an all-day bar and kitchen…. So what separates this newcomer from all the others? The location, for one. Situated in the same building as Escobar on Linking Road in Bandra (W), this one is more accessible to those residing in the suburbs than the other spaces of the same mould in the city — which are mainly distributed between South Bombay, BKC and Lower Parel. Then there is the stunning service. Seldom have I seen so many servers who are as attentive — and unobtrusive — on day three of an opening, outside of a hotel. The lighting and the music are a pleasant surprise – both next in line in importance in my books in the creation of the right ambience. While the lighting is warm and welcoming, the music varies – from Daft Punk to No Mercy – without ever being a downer. The vibe, on the whole, is posh yet inviting, a tough act to pull off, by any standard.
All this would be of no consequence if the food didn’t match up. But the soulful experimental fusion menu that mixes regional Indian and European fare – indie cuisine, as they call it – seals the deal. Local gems like bhut jhalokia chillies from Assam, spices from Kashmir and thecha from the Sahyadri share the pedestal with Belgian endive, Aussie lamb, Egyptian hibiscus pita pockets and Sichuan peppercorn, as the menu takes us on a joyride around the world. Abounding in little-known spices and innovative pairings, it is the smorgasbord of flavour and texture (and sometimes the spiciness) that keep us waiting breathlessly for the next plate or bowl. As a Bengali, I am thrilled to find Panch Phoron Gosht (Aussie lamb loin, Bengali five spice, prawn wafers, pomegranate reduction) on the menu – as panch phoron is a tricky one that doesn’t blend easily with other cuisines. We start with Kokum Ceviche (Norwegian salmon and Indian tuna, house-cured with Konkani kokum; served with a vodka-spiked Bihari sattu shot), Assam Bihu Parcel (banana-leaf-wrapped catfish, with chilli and Tezpur bamboo shoot pickle and house mustard butter) and Tequila Thukpa (Tibetan broth, fresh noodle dumpling, bird’s-eye chillies; spiked with tequila). The signature sharpness of North-Eastern piquancy sears our palates like some sort of a guilty pleasure, but we find that we cannot stop. We are spurred on to try the Magic Shrooms Chai (mushroom essence, porcini mushroom tea bag, cream cheese mousse, spearmint oil), Bombay Duck (with Western Ghat kokum chilli mud and a sol kadi mousse), and the star of the evening, the Sharabi Jhinga – rum-flambéed prawn, served with sus ni machi sauce and ghost pepper cream cheese.
The cocktails are equally robust, something 38-year-old Priyank Sukhija, CEO and MD of First Fiddle Restaurant, is well-known for by now. The bar menu is extensive at JLWA, his first stand-alone outing in Mumbai. We try the JLWA Root Sangria (fresh beetroot and carrot reduction, with vodka, Cointreau, red wine; rimmed with Nutella), the Wasabi Blonde Mary (let’s just say that it’s a win!) and the Tauba Teri JLWA (vodka, rum, gin, tequila, absinthe, elderflower wine and coke). You won’t need the drinks to get high though; just the superb menu with its intoxicating combination of spices will do it.
But though their bar and food menus are quite unconventional, even curious, we already know what we will try when we are here next, a good sign for any restaurant. On our radar are Susegad Chorizo, Sichuan Rubbed Quail, Pork Pepperoni and Kerala Duck Pizza, Madikeri Pork Loin, Dhansak Lamb and Padharo Maare Des (laal maans Aussie chaanp, bajre ki roti, ker sangri salad), topped off with the Kolkata Calling – soft sandesh dipped in white chocolate sauce and mishi doi ice cream. What’s great is that like some other fine dining experiences, you’re not subjected to tiny portions. Both the quality and quantity are worth mentioning here, and the cherry on top is the pricing. Don’t miss the intense Sharabi Jhinga when you’re here – and the Tequila Thukpa for that matter (you’ll know what I mean when you try it). As for the drinks, a repeat will do just fine.