The Reveal – Ji Restaurant
The Gist: Pukka Restaurant owners Harsh Chawla and Derek Valleau have witnessed a "huge change, huge shift in the last three years" Chawla says, of the demographics in the St. Clair West neighbourhood.
To cater to the crowd, they have created Ji, serving up fun Indian gastropub-style food in a casual atmosphere.
Grub: Showcasing Indian-inspired pub-like dishes, the menu is divided into sharing plates and mains suited for individuals, mixing family- and western-style service.
Indian flavours are strong throughout the menu in dishes such as Lamb Shank RoganJosh Bowl ($18), Veggie Burgers ($15) and Daily Fish ($19). "We want to elevate the next level of Indian food," says Chawla.
Libations: Catherine Hendry of Pukka created the Indian-inspired cocktails including the Kachumber Cooler ($9) with gin, cilantro, cucumber and ginger ale; Shikanji Twist ($8) featuring vodka, lemon, cumin, mint, and black salt; and Tamarind Margarita ($12) with tequila, triple sec, and orange.
Local Ontario craft beers - including Bellwoods Brewery, Flying Monkeys, and Black Oak from Etobicoke - and wines by the glass, half litre and bottle are also available.
Fun non-alcoholic selections include mango lassi ($4) and Indian sodas ($3) – Thums Up, Limca and Fanta.
Fixtures & Fittings: The restaurant is divided into two spaces. On the left, a bar area with seating and TV screens (showing silent Bollywood movies and big sports events) is fun and casual.
On the right, a brightly lit dining room boasts turquoise leather booths and banquettes, a collection of vintage Indian travel posters, distressed wood wall treatment in an array of bright colours and "clean lines that Pukka is known for," says Valleau. "We want it to be kitschy and fun and have a pub feeling without being tacky."
Off the Menu:
Chai Flip ($11) A bite of citrus (courtesy of lime bitters and fresh lime juice) and frothy egg white creaminess is complemented by a subtle Vanilla chai finish. Surprisingly refreshing and not at all heavy.
Brisket Poutine ($14) Really tender, spiced, slow-roasted beef brisket (marinated for 24 hours in spices black cumin, cloves, coriander and garlic) curry is heavily loaded onto masala Yukon gold fries and topped with paneer (Indian cottage cheese). Perfectly balanced and not too saucy, this is modern comfort food in a bowl.
Naanchos ($14) Housemade mini naans are deep-fried into addictive light, crispy flaky bites (like a tortilla chip/Ritz cracker mash up) and topped with lamb keema (spiced ground lamb), kachumber ("Indian salsa"), diced avocado, tomatoes and onion, cheddar, and finished with a drizzle of raita.
Macaroni Makhani ($8) Cavatappi pasta is baked in slightly sweet butter chicken cheese sauce that’s a surefire hit for the kids.
Chicken Puris ($16) Delectable Indian flat bread filled with chicken (done with tamarind chutney, garam masala, cardamom, and other spices) gets tucked in with pickled onions and served with a superb creamy coleslaw.
Navratan Korma Bowl ($18) Seasonal crunchy veggies and fruit (today includes sweet potato, grapes, pineapple) with paneer in a mild, creamy cashew curry (dairy free version is also available) is served with a side of citrus-kissed basmati.
How Cool is This?! All meat is ethically raised, and purchased from neighbouring butcher, Roast Fine Foods. Beef is from P.E.I. and is 99% grass-fed, finished with 1% potatoes and grains.
At the Stove: Executive Chef Kirti Singh
FOH: Harsh Chawla
Head Honchos: Harsh Chawla & Derek Valleau, also owners of Pukka.
Deets: There are 72 seats with room for four at the bar and 18 on the patio. Dine in and take out are available.
Visiting Hours: Mon to Sun – 5pm to late
Map It: 760 St. Clair Ave. W. (just west of Christie)
Phone It In: (647) 559-3232