A Journey at JLWA | New Opening
Located below a popping bar in Bandra, JLWA opened the doors to their modern space this month, promising to showcase hidden food gems from every nook and corner of India in a never-seen-before style. And it lives up to that word.
When you ask Chef Roshan Sheth for his favourite dish on the menu of his new Bandra-based venture, JLWA, he says he can’t pick any favourites. They are all his children. And how can someone choose a favourite child! All the dishes on the menu at this modern-Indian rest bar may be his children, but all of the dishes are far from small, cute and nascent. The gorgeous colours bring a vibrant beauty to Indian cuisine, the plating a maturity and the flavours a robustness.
A truly des-international dining experience
A consistent theme through the dining experience was the coming-together of international cooking techniques and ingredients with classic Indian flavours and spices.
The Kokum Ceviche Salad which was a unique take on the Peruvian seafood dish was an excellent introduction to that motif. The delicate Norwegian Salmon that was infused with kokum, paired with a selection of fresh greens and delicate micro-greens and edible flowers was light but packed with flavour. What stood out was the vodka-spiked Bihari Sattu shot. It was an intelligent, earthy and delicious choice to cut through the robust flavours of the salmon and tuna.
We can’t forget the taste of the Garlic Confit Pate! Image: Vinayak Grover
Re-inventing modern Indian cuisine
The first impression of the menu was honestly a little exciting, but also made me feel apprehensive. With items like Tequila Thukpa, Turkey Kheema Meat Loaf, Pindi Chola Fajitas it seemed to have a foot in the past, and another in the future. I was worried about unnecessary theatrics, odd combinations that didn’t work, techniques that can be used as a device to entice rather than excite and a lot of cliched foams. Modern Indian cuisine has been done, but JLWA’s menu showed us that it has not been dusted!
The Magic Shrooms Chai was the only dish we ordered with a touch of theatrics to it. Its name is a misnomer for this soup that has absolutely no chai. It is served like chai, with a porcini mushroom tea bag of sorts and the mushroom essence, with a hint of spearmint oil, is poured over the bowl with cream cheese mousse at its centre. Also, just like a cup of chai, the flavour deepens the longer the bag is left in the pot.
The Dum Aloo Benarasi, a signature at JLWA, takes a classic Italian technique of cooking potatoes – gnocchi and mashes it with classic Indian flavours of the Aloo Dum. The surprise within the gnocchi (No spoilers here!) elevates the sweet and tangy Benarasi Sauce. The Garlic Confit Pâté, which I embarrassingly called chutney, was another combination of seemingly mismatched technique and flavour that worked like magic.
The Camembert and Hing slices stole our heart! Image: Vinayak Grover
A journey for the taste buds
I was most apprehensive about their pizza menu. But the Four Spice Cheese Pizza, baked on a 7-grain crust was the highlight of an overall memorable dining experience. Each quarter of the pizza took me to another part of the world, sometimes two parts at the same time. The surprisingly delightful combination of camembert and hing induced memories from my grandmother’s kitchen yet transported me to a Parisian summer day. The burst of spice from Sichuan peppers was followed by the rich, earthy undertones of truffle and my taste buds were on overdrive, in the best way possible. Who knew a four-cheese pizza could evoke so many emotions!
Textures of Chocolate was a decadent yet light way to end the dining experience. Chocolate was served in a few ways (I have lost count) – a creamy bitter chocolate mousse, a dark chocolate sphere, white chocolate coins, chocolate and topped with a pop of colour from the edible flowers. Although delicious, I have a feeling their version of the Shahi Tukda or the Gulab Jamun Crème Brûlée would have had more of their signature JLWA.
The drinks also aligned with the desi-international theme. Their mixologist, who they share with Tamasha, has created innovative cocktails for those who wish to order beyond their classic bar menu. The Banarasi Paan Beer found a way to make the humble paan posh to match the interiors of the space. The Maple Whisky took a note from Chef Roshan and fused Assam Tea, whisky, Kahlua with a clove and cinnamon smoke. This resulted in a strong, sweet sip, and a deep smokey aftertaste.
One visit is not enough
In a city like Mumbai, where there is good food, and great dining experiences at almost every corner, most don’t think to return to a restaurant even after an exceptional meal. However, JLWA’s extensive and diverse menu changes that. Almost every dish is a must-try.
When he refused to tell me about his favourite dish, I asked Chef Roshan what, according to him, was the best dish on the menu. And again, skilfully dodging the question with a matter-of-fact nonchalance, he said, “The next one!” And that might just be true. With every course served, I had a new favourite. As I write this, I have three dishes on my mind that I hope to go back for. And I might have to go back soon since the team plans to change the menu every month.