570 Sandringham Road, Auckland
(09) 845 5555
JAI JALARAM KHAMAN (JJK) is a conundrum; at least it is according to some of the online reviews I’ve read. Along with Gary Steel, my Doc Feelgood colleague, I’ve been eating at JJK for years and have never once had a bad meal there, not even an average meal for that matter. However, some of the online reviews are good, others great but there are a few that would lead one to think this little restaurant was beyond awful.
It genuinely is anything but awful. However, if you’re going there with a closed mind expecting Butter Paneer, Veg Korma, Palak Aloo or any of the other dishes you’d find in most Indian restaurants in New Zealand, then you’re probably going to come away disappointed. Likewise if you’re wandering in with visions of smartly dressed waiters, speedy lunch service and polished floors.
If on the other hand, you’re into authentic Gujarati cuisine, or willing to try new stuff and keen to take a punt on the owner’s recommendations, then you’ll likely be back for more. You’ll need to suspend your expectations regarding timely service, ultra-clean tables, matching crockery or fancy ambience as well, but trust me on this: it’s well worth it. Even the arrival of your Masala Chai ten minutes after the meal has been served isn’t enough to detract from the food. As anyone who’s been to India will tell you, in an Indian eatery, the food is the main thing; the rest is more or less incidental.
At JJK, the food is not only the main thing, it’s everything. The first time I ate here, I really wanted a Thali but JJK only serves Thalis in the evening, so I went up the road to Xotic. I popped back a few days later with of a sense of idle curiosity and thank goodness I did. Hitesh (the owner) was very friendly and made a few suggestions seeing as I was unfamiliar with some of the menu items.
We started with the Khaman (a traditional Gujarati dish made with chick pea flour – also known as Dhokla depending on who you speak to), which was delicious and has gone on to be something I not only eat with every JJK meal but take away too – yes it really is that good. Then we had the Dahi Puri and Sev Puri (a half portion of each), which are exceptionally delicious little puri balls filled with a mix of potato, yoghurt, chutney and spices. Just be sure to pop the whole thing into your mouth in one go or you’re sure to end up wearing it.
Next up was a Dabeli, or Indian vege burger made with a delectable spicy yet sweet mix of potato, nuts, raw onions and chutney. That was more than enough for a meal and it left me very much inclined to return for more.
On the next visit, I tried the Pau Baji and was smitten from the first bite. Three masala bread buns are served with a dish of potato, tomato and pea curry and a small plate of raw onions. It’s enormously filling yet totally addictive, unfortunately loaded with calories like few foods on earth. This was by far the best Pau Baji I’d ever eaten until Hitesh changed the recipe and started using imported Indian butter, when it went from great to spectacular.
Therein lies the rub – I’ve tried every single dish on the menu and all are really tasty but my choice always comes down to the Dabeli or the Pau Baji. The best bet is to share the two with friends – a Dabeli each and a half or a third of the Pau Baji makes for a goodly portion of food, especially if combined with a starter.
The Thalis are also well worth considering. They’re never the same twice because the team at JJK cooks up whatever they feel like on the day – whatever you get, the three curries served with roti, thepla or puri are always a treat.
I could go on about the rest of the menu but suffice to say that JJK is my favourite Indian restaurant in Auckland. I’ve taken hordes of friends there and the response has almost always been positive – no one has ever taken exception to the food, only with the venue and service.
I’ve eaten there three times a week without my taste buds getting jaded. The seriously cheap prices allow for this degree of extravagance but my waistline didn’t like this routine at all, so I started riding there on my pushbike instead of driving – I won’t give up on a good thing quite that easily. Neither should you. ASHLEY KRAMER