Ever since I first saw that ‘opening soon’ signboard at the spot which was previously occupied by Papa John’s pizza; my curiosity peaked as to what was coming up there. And then J1 opened its doors, positioning itself as a Maratha fine-dine; a space which is largely ignored in Pune; since most options offering local cuisine are more or less home-style, thali serving kinds. I made a mental note to try this place soon. Well, soon turned out to be one year later unfortunately, but the dining experience here was so good, that I thought better late than never.
The ambience is quite nice, suitable for a contemporary fine-dine place that they are. The traditional wooden door-frames along the exterior glass façade and the fountain outside with the gomukh help to add the Maharashtrian touch to the otherwise modern set-up. The seating is very comfortable and lights soothingly dim.
The menu is limited; but it has a good variety of vegetarian, poultry, mutton and sea-food dishes; representative of different regions of Maharashtra including Konkani, Malvani, Kolhapuri, Khandeshi and Vidarbhi cuisine. We tried a mix of vegetarian and chicken dishes on our visit and this is my take on them:
Chicken soup: A typical maharashtrian chicken Alani; this clear chicken broth which has only salt and turmeric as additional ingredients, was full of the chicken flavor. Mild and subtle, it gets the appetite going for the feast to follow.
Dongri Chicken: Chicken on the bone, stir fried with a fresh and rustic masala. The chicken was succulent and the green masala was packed with flavor, without being spicy. The mild heat from a small amount of green chillies, generous amount of coriander leaves and chunky bits of garlic formed the flavor base while bits of fresh coconut added an interesting texture.
Kothimbir wadi: crisp, deep-fried roundels of coriander leaves and chick-pea flour, Kothimbir wadi is my favorite Maharashtrian snack; and J1 makes a good version of it.
Shev Bhaji: The shev had retained its crunchiness and not gotten soggy. Although it was marked as a spicy dish, spice levels were fairly tolerable; however the gravy was a tad too pungent for my liking.
Methi chi bhaji: A light stir fry of fenugreek leaves with soaked moong daal and some garlic, the preparation was delightfully fresh for the palate.
Gaavran chicken curry: They use free range chicken to make this curry, and the distinct flavor it imparts is what sets it apart from the regular curry made with broiler meat. The chicken was beautifully cooked, falling off the bone without much effort; and the thin curry in which it was cooked had simple, rustic spices.
Sadha varan: The proportion of salt, jaggery and asafoetida which are crucial to a good Sadha Varan, was perfect. Yet this preparation disappoints due to the fact that they mix a large amount of moong dal into tuvar daal; which affects the flavor and texture as compared to the traditional varan made with only tuvar daal.
Bhakri: We tried jowar and rice bhakris, both of which were decent.
Ghadichi poli: Had they served it as chapatti, I would have been very happy to have those soft, paper thin chapattis. But since they describe them to be ghadichi poli; I would expect a soft poli with layers separating from each other perfectly, and on that count the ghadichi poli sadly disappoints in terms of technique.
Masale Bhaat: Another dish which tasted decent, but failed to have authentic flavors. This was more like a tawa pulao or biryani; and less like typical masale bhaat since the distinct flavor of goda/kala masala was missing.
Service is quick, polite and attentive. The menu does a good job at explaining the dishes offered; but I hope they train their staff to know the nuances of this cuisine better.
Prices are fairly reasonable for the portions, quality and set-up.
Overall, a nice place to take your out-of-town guests to sample maharashtrian cuisine; or even for locals to enjoy their non-veg delicacies.