Ji Restaurant, TorontoIn October 2016, the owners of Pukka, Toronto’s best modern Indian restaurant, decided to close their restaurant called Concession Road on St. Clair, and for some reason open another Indian restaurant one block away from their other Indian restaurant. The problem is their new place is like the poor cousin in comparison to their upscale restaurant Pukka. Let me give you a little background on their first restaurant. Owners Harsh Chawla and Derek Valleau opened Pukka, a fresh and modern take on Indian fare, in early 2014. The food is lighter and more contemporary than most traditional Indian restaurants. They have garnered a large following and my personal experience there was a good one. I thought the food is well cooked and inventive. There is a sign that said, “not your mother’s Indian”, and I agree. This is more upscale and creative food. The staff is knowledgeable and helpful.

Concession Road was a nice neighbourhood style restaurant, the menu wasn’t Indian food but a fusion of many styles. For whatever reason, they decided to close it and re-open a new place called Ji, which is pronounced Gee. This is a word used to express respect and most often added to a person’s proper name or informal name like, “mother” and “father”.

The layout of the restaurant is still a bit strange, with the two narrow rooms still divided by two steps. The room on the left has a bar and seats and TVs that were playing sports. The room on the right had turquoise leather booths and Indian travel posters. Let’s just say the place is very casual, and reminiscent of a diner.

Ji calls itself an Indian gastropub-style food. They are aiming for a more casual take on Indian food.

The menu is divided into sharing plates, buns and bowls. There is a separate menu just for craft beers. They also offer ten cocktails – like a cucumber cooler that has gin, cilantro, cucumber and ginger ale or a tamarind margarita with tequila, triple sec, orange and tamarind chutney. The small selection of wines is available by the 5 oz glass, half litre or bottle.

I will give them a bit of a break because the place is new, but I believe every good restaurant trains their staff well. Our first waiter didn’t know how to explain the dishes to us and had to get someone else. Also, when he poured water in my glass, he placed two fingers inside my glass instead of around it. Let’s just say it wasn’t very appetizing. He was replaced with a more knowledgeable server who helped us out. We tried sampling things from every area of the menu. Unfortunately, the food did not compare in any way to Pukka, or for that matter, I did not find the food very inspiring. The best item we had was the Naanchos. They were housemade mini naans that were deep fried in crispy bites and topped with a spiced ground lamb, an Indian salsa, diced avocado, tomatoes, onion and cheddar. They were finished off with a drizzle of raita. This was the one dish that was addictive and we cleaned up the plate. Another dish that was not bad was the chicken puris. It was an Indian flatbread filled with chicken, which was cooked in a tamarind chutney, garam masala, cardamom and other spices. It was served with a side of coleslaw. The flavours were spicy/sweet. We also had the semolina puffs filled with chickpeas, potato, yogurt and chutney. They would have been much improved if the puffs were served warm and fresh from the oven, instead of cold from the fridge. We tried the daily fish served in a coconut curry with mustard seeds, tamarind and chili, and it was a little too spicy for the majority at our table. Most Indian restaurants are known for their wonderful breads. We ordered the chapatis, a whole wheat Indian flat bread. This bread was not good. It did not taste fresh, and it had the taste of old oil. They also serve sandwiches and poutine?????

For dessert, we tried the banana coconut cream tart. It was not very appetizing due to the fact that you could see the bananas had turned black. The cream tasted like a cold condensed milk topping. So, all-in-all I was not enamored with Ji.

They are open for dinner Monday to Sunday 5pm until late.

Happy dining,
Shanea

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