This week I revisited Jays, the Indian-fusion restaurant in Basel, which has had several reincarnations over the years. It started out life on St Johanns Vorstadt, just around the corner from what was then the studio of Radio X (I first discovered it when I was doing a regular food/wine slot on The English Show there). Then it moved down the street to the historic Ackermannshof. This closed down after a while but the irrepressible owner Jayesh Kumar (known to all as Jay) popped up again in temporary premises at the Milchhüsli on Missionstrasse, before coming to rest at his present place, Johann by Jay, on St Johanns-Ring.
Jay hails originally from Bangalore and describes his cooking as “international Indian”, fusing elements from both South India and Europe. At the new place – I like the pared-down decor with pale oak tables, post-industrial raw concrete strips and a bit of artistry on the walls – he’s serving his customary, taste-packed food to an international crowd of happy punters.
At lunch it’s all about simplicity, speed and economy, with meat, fish and veggie options (menus from CHF24.- to 29.- with a main dish book-ended by a small starter and dessert). I had the fish kudlar (fillet of white fish in a fragrant curry leaf and turmeric sauce that delivered just the right hit of spiciness) with rice, raita and poppadums. (The bookends were a meh salad of iceberg with sweetcorn and beet, and a not-so-small tiramisu.)
For good measure (and for us to try – I love being a guinea pig) Jay threw in a tasty samosa perched on top of spiced okra with a seared prawn, the whole crowned with a rather dramatic lacy, crispy thinggy, a bit like a lace mantilla but fuchsia pink rather than mysterious black (pictured above).
Evenings there’s quite a bit more choice, including a 5-course menu with wine pairing at CHF78.- There’s also a quiet private room beside the main restaurant that seats up to 25 which would be great for a party.
The wine list is well worth a browse: Jay believes that wines from the more aromatic spectrum work well with Indian food and offers interesting options to prove his point (a Roero Arneis from Langhe/Piemonte, a red Garnatxa/Syrah blend from Priorat etc.), including a few by the glass – and I appreciate the way they bring the bottle to the table for your inspection (even when you’re drinking by the glass) so you can see what you’re getting.
I like Jays. It’s warm and friendly with a nice informal buzz and it offers flavour-packed food that’s a bit out of the usual Basel groove, served on/in a range of beautiful plates, slates and pots. I’d like it even better if Jay dialled down a bit on the garnishes, sauces, bits and blobs. On the website he describes his concept as “pure simplicity”, and talks of “light, simple and fresh Indian cuisine”. The day his cooking reaffirms this simplicity concept and leaves behind the busyness and complications, it’ll move into another league altogether.
Johann by Jay,
St. Johanns-Ring 34
+41 61 273 04 04
For more Basel restaurants, go to my Where to Eat in Basel page