I often wonder if Lahore’s reputation as the food capital of the country is justified. Leaving the desi food scene aside, the number of eateries providing a meal that’s worth the time, effort and money spent visiting the place can be counted upon the fingers of one hand. There are restaurants that are popular, yes, but popularity unfortunately rarely translates into the kind of dining experience that will blow your mind.
Countless restaurants have opened their doors to the ever-hungry denizens of Lahore over the last two years but of those, there are only three that I would qualify as pushing the culinary envelope and giving the taste buds a reason to rejoice – Udon House, Tokyo and Scafa.
With the launch of Jing, I was all but ready to add a fourth to the list. The tagline reads “Far Eastern Wok Works”, conjuring up images of divine spicy stir fries, glossy noodles and flavorful fried rice. While Lahore has it’s fair share of Japanese and Chinese eateries, there are very few that explore other types of Far Eastern cuisine and Jing’s focus on Szechuan, Cantonese, Hakkanese, Thai and Burmese recipes and spices seemed promising to say the least.
The restaurant is brought to us by the people behind Veranda Bistro, which boasts of Lahore’s most popular buffet, frequented by ladies who lunch, kitty party aunties and basically, anyone who likes the sight of fancy-looking dishes served by the horde-full. The food might not be spectacular but the place does know how to cater to popular tastes.
I entered the restaurant hoping Jing would be able to sidestep that trap, and was met with a swanky interior. Designed like a lounge-y bistro, the restaurant has a casual yet edgy feel. None of the typical oriental artwork and Chinese fans decorating the walls you would normally find at Chinese restaurants in Pakistan – it’s all clean, minimalistic and chic. The neutral, soothing tones of the walls and seating areas are unbroken expect for the inclusion of dramatic red light fixtures suspended over each table. The only hint of Jing’s Far Eastern origins comes from the dramatic display of white masks on one wall.
Getting down to business now, we began our dinner with an order of two appetizers: the Chili Garlic Squid and Shrimp Wonton. There’s nothing worse than eating squid that’s overcooked and tough and there’s no better test of a restaurant’s capability than by ordering the seafood favourite. Luckily, the squid turned out to be done just right – easy to chew, yet with a bite. The chili sauce with undertones of garlic was the perfect accompaniment.
The shrimp wontons bore an unappealing resemblance to samosas in appearance but in taste, they achieved the perfect balance between crunchy and tender. The crust, fried to a delicious golden, was divine even on its own, which is a good thing because the shrimp filling, while perfectly seasoned and full of flavor, disappeared in one bite, leaving one to chew on the shell alone.
We took our server’s suggestion while deciding on the entrees and opted for the Lotus Fish, which turned out to be fried grouper in a tangy tomato and chili sauce. It was our least favourite dish of the meal – while the fish was cooked well, the sauce smacked too much of a ketchup-y flavor to be impressive. Certainly not what you come to a posh fusion restaurant for. Luckily, the other entrée, Chili Mint Prawns, saved the meal. Stir-fried and served with a sauce that balanced the kick of chilies with the refreshing flavor of mint, it was a good-looking and tasty main dish that went well with the order of steamed white rice.
A word of caution: the menu states that all portions are meant for two but unless you’re calorie-counting or a super-small eater, it would be a good idea to order at least one main course per person. The rice bowls are substantial enough to be shared if used as a side.
While the restaurant comes as a welcome addition to the Lahore food scene, it would have been nice if the menu had been just a tad more adventurous. The majority of the dishes listed are staples at other restaurants already – whether it’s Beef/Chicken Chili Dry, Fried Calamari, Beef/Chicken Black Bean Sauce or Sweet and Sour Fish. As a restaurant that defines itself by such a wide variety of culinary cultures, here’s hoping Jing evolves to live up to its name and expectations.