Within a month of its opening, it’s impossible to get a seat at Jia even early in the week. We called multiple times to haggle with the hostess, finally agreeing on an 11pm table on a Tuesday night.
The frenzy is understandable. After 14 years of the always-packed Royal China, co-owner Neville Vazifdar has launched a new brand in a neighbourhood (Colaba) that has recently been having an opening a week. It serves, according to its website, “dim sum, Japanese, Thai and modern Chinese dishes”. Jia’s site also says its name translates to ‘I love my family’ in Mandarin, which reminds us of Karan Johar’s movies.
That’s where the reference stops. The restaurant occupies a cool, clean, classy room, done up in shades of white, wood, and blue-grey slate, with tight pools of light over each table, as Instagram-ready illumination for the food. In the spectrum of aesthetics between Yauatcha and Ling’s, Jia veers towards the former.
Our crispy duck salad is vertical, with perfectly cooked meat stacked with micro greens and lemongrass sauce – we could have had two portions each.
The flaky roast pork puff has pastry so short it falls apart at the merest touch to reveal nubs of glistening, sweet, smoky meat inside. The salmon carpaccio involves slices of ponzu-bathed, jalapeno-dotted pink fish that are pleasantly substantial, fanned around a seaweed salad. The tom yum soup is so beautifully balanced, we’d tip back a gallon of it.
But the lows are as acute as the highs. The menu promises a whole fried red snapper with lemongrass-scented Thai sauce. When it arrives, it is whole as promised, glossy and crisp. But the flesh is dry, the batter greasy, the sauce more a cousin of a Chinese sweet chilli than a Thai glaze. It takes a lot of concentration to detect any of the citrusy herb. Xiao long bao, or chicken soup dumplings, are less broth more bun. In the crispy prawn cheung fun, the prawn is flavourless.
Royal China’s fried turnip cakes are a bit more polished here – they’re seared and seasoned, topped with a little mountain of fried garlic and spring onion, and just enough chilli oil. With the hot cakes we have pu-erh tea, a fermented variety that can have as much complexity as a glass of wine, and does.
With dessert, a well-executed chocolate-glazed orange custard tart, we have jasmine tea.
For cheung fun, we’d still go to Royal China. For the duck salad, and pork puffs we’ll haggle for a table at Jia.
JIA: THE ORIENTAL KITCHEN
RATING: 3.5 / 5
WHERE: Dhanraj Mahal, C. S Marg, near Gateway of India, Colaba
WHEN: Noon to 3.30pm, 7.30pm to midnight
COST: Approximately Rs 3,000 for a meal for two without drinks. Full bar available.
(HT reviews anonymously and pays for all meals)