If you’re looking for the best restaurant in Bangalore, India, then Jamavar, a restaurant at the Leela Palace hotel in Bangalore, is probably on your radar. Jamavar is located in one of the city’s nicest hotels, and in terms of quality, the restaurant could hold its own against the other top Indian restaurants I’ve been to. But as good as the food was, it was hard to get past the expensive prices. All in all, Jamavar was very nice, but not so nice that I want to go back.The Leela Palace is a luxury hotel, so — giving credit where it’s due — the surroundings were quite nice. To get to Jamavar, you walk through the hotel’s lobby, and then out inot a courtyard (pictured above). Jamavar has both indoor and outdoor dining, though my wife and I opted to eat inside on our visit.
The restaurant has several prix fixe menus. Though normally I link to menus at the bottom of the post, I think here it’s worth going over the menu at the outset:
The restaurant offers several prix fixe options. Our particular choice was 4500 Indian Rupees; at the time, one dollar was worth about 50 rupees, which meant that we were paying almost $100 per person for dinner. Considering you can get a seven-course vegetarian tasting menu at Michelin-starred Tulsi, in midtown Manhattan, I think $100 in Bangalore for a very good but relatively unknown restaurant is way too much.
Once nice touch was that, rather than choosing one option for each course, you get a small portion of each. So for my first course, I had the paneer (cheese), aloo tikki (potato), and yogurt-marinated vegetables.
The paneer was quite good, though overall, I thought this was a pretty unimaginative presentation. Just about any hole in the wall Indian restaurant in Jackson Heights on Curry Hill will make a great paneer tikka (top right, in the picture above). The aloo tikki was a fried potato patty that was good, but pedestrian. If I’m paying $100 for dinner — in a city where you can easily get dinner for $1 — it had better be really interesting.
In fairness, things really picked up for the main course(s). The four selections were a mixed vegetable curry (far left), potato curry (second from left), lentils (third from left), and “Kashmiri morels” (far right). The morels stole the show. In recent months, I’ve had morel mushrooms at Bouley and at Eleven Madison Park. But Jamavar was my first introduction to morels, and I loved them. They had an earthy, spongy texture, with a little more depth than most mushrooms. They went great in the curry, and they were off the beaten path; I’ve never seen anything remotely similar in another Indian restaurant. A tip of the hat to Jamavar for this inventive and fascinating dish.
The others, unfortunately, failed to dazzle. There was nothing wrong; it’s just that nothing was impressive. I don’t want to make this out to be just a cost issue — I have paid much more for meals, including just a few days later at L’Arpege — but a restaurant that charges a lot (especially relative to its surroundings) has to really dazzle
And last came dessert, which continued the theme: okay, but pretty unimpressive. I’m sorry, but for $100, you’re going to have to do better than “cut fruits” for dessert. The carrot halwa was serviceable, but it was too sugary and the shell-like thing it was served in was brittle and unappetizing. The kulfi (on the right) was actually quite good, but again, not especially memorable.
That’s probably a good way to sum up Jamavar: good, but not especially memorable. The meal hit a high note right around the halfway mark, with the Kashmiri morels. The dish was so good that I compare it, favorably, to entirely different preparations by top-notch Manhattan restaurants. But other than the morels, the rest of the meal was a letdown — not because the food was bad, but because, for a restaurant that has such a reputation (best restaurant in Bangalore!) I had really high expectations.
Jamavar was nice, and I guess I’m glad I at least got to try it out. But a place like Devi (three courses for $40) or Junoon (six courses for $65) does world-class Indian food at least as well as Jamavar, for far less money. And for the “run of the mill” items that Jamavar serves — kulfi, aloo tikki, dal — you’re much better off picking blindly in Queens or the Lower East Side. This is too bad: with its setting, (what I imagine to be) its resources, and the ability to charge $100 a person and get away with it, Jamavar could have pulled together a menu that really dazzled. The fact that they didn’t is perhaps what’s most disappointing of all.