Saturday, April 14, 2012

Jumjoji - A Parsi Diner

Jumjoji is not a restaurant I would have normally gone to. Many reasons: it's new, it's located in a street with several restaurants which open and close with alarming frequency thereby implying some serious flaw in their business model and it is very small. These things matter to me. It was our Amritsar guide and ever enthusiastic eating out companion who insisted on our going there for lunch.

Jumjoji serves Parsi food. Whatever one may say, Parsi is not one of the great cuisines of the world, though it does have some dishes which have achieved legendary status. Dhansakh, Patra Ni Macchi, Lagan Nu Custer, Palao Daal, Chicken Farcha, Kid Ghosth, Lacy Cutless, Sali Ghosth and Papeta Per Ida are some of these iconic dishes. Unfortunately, these are rarely available in a restaurant. If you have the good fortune of being invited to a Parsi wedding you may get a chance to sample a few of these dishes. Otherwise, you will have to make friends with a Parsi and ask his or her mother to cook the food for you.

Some of these dishes are served in Indian or Pan Indian restaurants in the UK. Cafe Spice Namaste in London which is owned by Cyrus Todiwala is one. By the way, Cyrus Todiwala’s two cookbooks which contain not only Parsi food but other Indian dishes are really good cookbooks. The measurements are accurate, the recipes well researched and tested and most importantly the recipes work. Do buy them if you get a chance.

If you live in Mumbai you get some Parsi food at the Clubs [CCI, Bombay Gymkhana and Royal Bombay Yacht Club] as well at restaurants like Britannia at Ballard Pier, Cafe Ideal at Gunbow Street in Fort, Paradise on Colaba Causeway near Strand Cinema and of course at the sadly pathetic RTI outlets in Mumbai. Ashmicks Snack Shack at Pali Naka opposite Modern Stores also serves passable Parsi food. The Ripon Club opposite Bombay University has decent Parsi food and a good selection of Parsis to boot.

So, back to Jumjoji, it’s located at the end of a little lane in the Bandra Reclamation area behind Lilavati Hospital. This lane has a string of eating houses, all small, all ever-changing. The longest surviving of the lot is Candies at one end with Chez Moi, I Bar, Quench and some others leading up to Jumjoji. We went there for lunch and when we entered at 12 30 it was totally empty. It soon filled up and by the time we left it was full with people waiting. Jumjoji is really tiny with seats for just about 30-35 people. I must say the restaurant is really attractive. The decor is quite clubby old word English, with dark wood, white walls and posters of famous Parsis on the walls. The crockery and cutlery is of good quality and the tables have tablecloths albeit black. The menu is very charmingly written up with quirks like Freny Auntys Dhansakh etc etc, and is very attractive. The whole decor reminded me a lot of Oh Calcutta at Tardeo in Mumbai, very similar. They have done a top job in the decor, atmosphere,  ambience and charm departments.

The inside of Jumjoji

The well written and well crafted Menu

To start we ordered Mutton Kebabs. These are deep fried meatballs and not the Tandoor cooked kebabs. Quite nice, heavily spiced but not very high on the meat quotient. These were served with a Fruit Sauce [the fake Tomato Sauce that you often get] and a sort of Mayonnaise both very attractively presented. Also on offer were Chicken Kebabs, Chicken Sausage [not terribly Parsi, probably Anglo Indian] and something called Chicken Sticks.

Mutton Kebabs

The sauces

For our main course we had a Mutton Dhansakh and Jardaloo Chicken with Sali. Jardaloo Chicken with Sali is a classic Parsi dish, Jardaloo being Apricot. This was quite a good version of the dish. It could have been cooked with a little more care in as much as the onion could have been cut finer, browned a bit more and the spices cooked a bit more, but I am being harsh here. The dish was good and tasted Parsi and not Mughlai. The Dhansakh was served with Brown Rice and a plate of Onion Salad [Kachumber]. Oddly, no Mutton Kebabs. This was a disappointing dish. The Dhansakh was unremarkable, just a masala Daal. It should have been more robust with lashings of Fenugreek [Methi leaves] and more spice. Sad. The lamb served was of middling quality. To finish we had a single Lagan Nu Custer. This was most disappointing, it was horribly sweet, doused with what appeared to be Rose Water and had a peculiar consistency. We could not finish it.

Jardaloo Chicken 

The Dhansakh

Brown Rice

The Lagan Nu Custer

To conclude, what are my impressions? Well, the restaurant is really attractively decorated and the quality of the cutlery and crockery is good. It’s air conditioned and serves beer and wine. This means that going there by yourself or with a guest will not be an embarrassment. The food however is a huge hit and miss. The good dishes are not much better that what you get at Britannia, Cafe Ideal and Paradise though they cost a lot more. We did order 4 classic Parsi dishes that a Parsi restaurant should have nailed. Unfortunately, only 2 were above average, one was just about average and the dessert was a disaster by any standards. I really find this surprising and disappointing. The menu is small and I have no quarrel with that. It’s clear the food especially the gravy dishes are cooked in large quantities and then plated. I am sure there is a large pot of generic Dhansakh and lamb, Chicken or Vegetables are added as the dish is ordered by a table. I am also sure that would be the case with the Jardaloo Murgi which was also available in a Lamb version. Again I do not have a quarrel with this, but my question is why can the food not be served temperature hot? I am sure not much cooking actually happens in the kitchen it all just plating by and large. Also why can the food not be cooked a little more sensitively? The problem is our standards are so low our punters so undemanding or so used to mediocrity that no one really makes an effort.

This is not a restaurant one could go to for an evening out. Jumjoji is appropriate for a quick office lunch or a casual dinner with friends when you hope the booze will get tongues wagging. The kebabs will go well with the booze. All in all, sad that such a good opportunity is just, at best, underutilised or, at worst, just going waste.  

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