Headlining this piece as such might be a tad tongue-in-cheek, conveying a multitude of meanings, from the Hindi words for “flame” and “palace” to a local idiom (jual mahal) which means “playing hard to get”. But, in this instance, the title is literal.
Perhaps the prices of things have been gradually creeping up, but since when did a nice meal and glass of wine out in Kuala Lumpur equate to nothing less than RM500 per head? Of course, a lot depends on the type of cuisine and the restaurant’s location but when prices are on par with the world’s most expensive cities like London and Paris, something is off in the equation.
Case in point: a simple Friday night out with friends. One of the most popular go-to spots in the Klang Valley is The Five @ KPD in Damansara Heights. While it houses several cute cafés, the more upmarket joints will leave you as blanched as the menu’s ingredients. Take Ling Long, a French-Chinese restaurant that offers two tasting menus priced at RM488 and RM698 respectively. Or Seed by Whitegrass, again a fusion spot but it merges French and Japanese culinary traditions, and whose five- and eight-course dinner menus are priced pretty much the same.
Deciding upon north Indian, Jwala was picked this time. For those unaccustomed to new policies at certain dining rooms, a deposit (RM50 per head, in this instance) paid upfront is par for the course. Cancellations within 48 hours of the reservation date or no-shows will result in forfeiture. This, to be fair, is actually a step in the right direction, ensuring restaurateurs don’t bear the brunt of fickle or tidak apa attitudes. What needs to be worked on now is that the overall experience — encompassing cuisine, ingredients and service — is in tandem with the cost.
Jwala, for example, fired an irritating pre-dinner salvo on the service front by ringing and WhatsApping the day of the dinner to seek further confirmation that said party would turn up as promised. Err, surely the down payment (with a credit card already billed two days prior) suffices? A friendlier, more elegant way of managing this would have been to send a simple “Look forward to welcoming you later” message.
Petty peccadilloes aside, the overall experience turned out to be satisfactory — if not value for money. But then again, it is hard to imagine justifying paying RM190 for six tiny pieces of barramundi tikka (ikan siakap, mind you) as a starter, RM95 for three Jhinga La La prawns, RM65 for a small serving of dal tadka or, worse, RM130 for two servings of broccoli florets. Do yourself a favour and skip the small bites and go slap-bang on the breads and mains instead.
The Tandoori Croissant (RM35 a basket) is stellar, reminiscent of laccha paratha but lighter, flakier, more buttery and, frankly, the perfect vehicle for Jwala’s curries. And it’s unusual to find ossobuco (RM175) in an Indian restaurant, but Jwala makes a good job of it, generously handing out aromatic spices and chilli to distinguish it from the traditional Italian version. The star dish and one you’d be hard-pressed to find elsewhere would be Beneath the Curtain (RM125), a tangy pomegranate-studded pineapple and chicken curry sealed under a dum (dough covering) and oven-baked.
It must also be mentioned that Rakh, Jwala’s sister bar, is just a level below. Its name means “ash” in Urdu and if you can only have one drink, make it the Rasam (RM60), inspired by the ubiquitous South Indian pepper soup. Using house-infused vodka with a base that brings thakkali rasam to mind, the clever boys at the bar have succeeded in creating a cocktail that’s innovative yet comforting. So, do pop by for pre- or post-prandial tipples that will definitely leave more of an impression.
Also, as every decision to dine out equates to culinary caveat emptor, there was nothing to fault Jwala for, really. But for those among us who’ve tried Bukhara or even the great Dum Puhkt, both at the ITC Maurya in New Delhi, you are honestly much better off saving your precious ringgit for a blow-out meal at the mothership of Moghul cuisine.
After all, just because a restaurant specialises in flame-grilled cooking doesn’t mean the diner needs to get burnt in the process.
Jwala, E-2-01, Level 2, Block E The Five, Kompleks Pejabat Damansara, Jalan Dungun, Damansara Heights KL. Daily, 6-11pm, closed on Mon. Corkage: RM120 per bottle of wine. Contact 012 947 9100 for reservations.
This article first appeared on June 26, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.