The story of JAR (acronym for “Just a Restaurant”) goes back to 2006 when the owners opened 798 unit & co. The popularity of their New York-inspired, quality comfort fare soon led to outlet number two. Now, nearly half a decade later, the owners have come together once again to create their third and arguably most adventurous restaurant to date.
If 798 smacked of Greenwich Village, JAR belongs to the more sophisticated Upper West Side. Matte, wooden floorboards are matched against an exposed ceiling dangled with Edison light bulbs. Tabletops are accessorised with white linens (unheard of at 798) and flowers in glass tumblers. Even the wine list’s been thoughtfully upscaled to match this new menu, with over 70 different bottles sourced from all around the globe.
But it’s the menu that’s grown-up the most. Though the concept still revolves around no-fuss comfort cuisine, dishes at JAR are noticeably more experimental, playing with underdog ingredients and a more mature level of flavours. The anchovy ceviche ($72), for example, carries an “I dare you to order me” vibe. Thin fillets are piled onto segments of orange before being sprinkled with shaved fennel. The fish is “cooked” in citric juices and decorated with a few flecks of chilli, creating a potent combo of cutting flavours that pairs beautifully with the anchovies’ mineral aftertaste.
Another starter put the common cauliflower ($50) on centre stage. These were deep-fried into pale yellow, paprika-dusted puffs and appeared more like calamari on the plate. The restaurant’s flatbreads also impressed. These had a soft, chewy crumb and dark grill marks tattooed on the surface, leaving a smoky tinge to the handcrafted bread. We ordered the bread topped with a smear of caramelised onions, spicy arugula, sweet figs and soft chèvre. It was delicious stuff, and a substantial portion for only $88.
Mains at JAR are also done with a cool, bistro flair. The al dente spaghetti is dusted with herbed-up pangrattato (fried bread crumbs) and flecked with slices of smoked eel ($145); tubes of paccheri are doused with chunky lamb ragout and ricotta ($125). A definite must-order is the Iberico pork ($188), which uses the “secreto” cut from behind the shoulder. A quick sear left it delectably crisp around the edges while its natural high fat content kept it moist and tender inside. A sauce-like rosemary and apple-rhubarb chutney sat in the middle
of the plate, bringing a tart sweetness that worked wonders with the pork.
The desserts section includes several 798 mainstays, such as their banoffi pie and bread and butter pudding. Though tempted to order their tried-and-true old favourites, we dedicated ourselves to the new sweets on the menu. The Sicilian lemon raspberry cake ($60) tasted unexciting compared to the bolder flavours we were treated to in the first half of our meal but we did love the lemon-olive oil gelato that sat on top. The earl grey panna cotta ($50) on the other hand, won squeals of high praise. Served in a glass jar, this silky pudding tasted everything like a smooth and rich cup of proper English tea. We ran our spoon around the bottom of the container and scraped up every last globule.
The owners have definitely grown a lot since opening their first outlet on Hau Fook Street. And with JAR, it’s the sort of growth you can actually taste.
2/F, 8 Lyndhurst Tce, Central, 2543 8000; www.justarestaurant.com. Daily noon-midnight. Meal for two: around $650. Lunch from $78 per person.
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2/F, 8 Lyndhurst Tce, Central