Ji restaurant is a welcome addition to Toronto’s Indian food scene. Run by the team behind Pukka, a charming Indian restaurant a stone’s throw away on St. Clair Avenue West, Ji occupies the space formerly occupied by Concession Road, launched by the Pukka team a few years back.
Ji sets itself apart by dishing up playfully conceived, expertly made, Indian-inflected comfort food. I’ve dubbed it ‘Punjabi pub’ — and it’s as delicious as it is whimsical.
For instance, there are chicken ‘lollipops’ — a frenched winglet with the meat cut loose from the bone and pushed to one end — jazzed with a spirited marinade of Kashmiri chile and masala spices. Greaseless and plump, the lollipops are divine dipped into emerald green, vibrantly flavoured mint/coriander chutney.
Even the Caesar salad gets a clever makeover. It’s reimagined as a vegan affair adorned with roasted chickpeas, smoky coconut ‘bacon bits’ and cashew dressing.
There are two sandwiches. One features pulled tandoori chicken piled onto a bun along with Indian slaw and green chutney. Even better is the sandwich highlighting moist ground-lamb kebab nestled in a foot-long bun and garnished with pickled onion, assorted chutneys and cheddar.
But Ji’s Indian comfort food doesn’t tell the whole story, because the kitchen also turns out traditional Indian curries with admirable finesse. The daily fish, pan-seared sea bass, is exquisitely moist, and perches atop a thick and fragrant mixed lentil/vegetable curry broth. A luxurious ginger, tamarind and lemon-scented coconut curry bathes moist and tender chicken nuggets. Garlic, ginger and garam masala perfume chickpea masala.
Desserts, all made in-house, are superb, showing more invention and rock-solid technique. Kulfi-on-a-stick (India’s richer, denser version of ice cream) is intensely nutty with pistachio. Rich chocolate panna cotta hides gulab jamun, the classic Indian milk-dough fritter that adds exotic and welcome flavour notes. Ultra-fresh banana coconut cream pie cannot be improved upon.
Seating 70 people, the entire restaurant is available for corporate buyout. The back ‘blue room’ is also available, on its own, for groups, and seats about 35. Off-site catering is also available.
— Don Douloff has been a restaurant critic for over 30 years and, during that time, has critiqued more than 1,400 eateries. In 1988, he studied the fundamentals of French cuisine at Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne in Paris, France. During his time in France, he furthered his gastronomic education by visiting the country’s bistros, brasseries and Michelin-starred temples of haute cuisine. He relishes exploring the edible universe in his native Toronto and on his travels throughout Canada and abroad.