Upscale izakaya in the hippest of hip neighbourhoods.
Having a long history is not the same as being good. Some things have been around for ages and have always been awful—Crocs, mak huak, Yoko Ono—and so, it is with a fine guff of miso-garlic butter breath that I can happily recommend Jua, a newish izakaya joint in Charoenkrung’s “Creative District” which opened in November last year—HAPPY BIRTHDAY—and is very good indeed.
At the end of a dimly-lit Soi, Jua occupies a concrete block space, formally a baan kaanphanan—or illegal gambling house—to which the name Jua derives, loosely translated as “hit me” in Thai, a commonly exercised phrase in Siamese blackjack, otherwise known as pok daeng. Inside you’re met with an intimate space, a terrazzo bar and colourful displays of rotating artwork, currently images from co-owner Jason Lang’s compendium, Sake: The History, Stories and Craft of Japan’s Artisanal Breweries.
Churning out first-rate kushiyaki and rattling-up varying blends of whisky and sake handcrafted cocktails, this is just the sort of place where you can lose an entire evening, hanging out with friends or trying to impress a first-date. If you’ve ever had dreams of opening a restaurant with a friend, then this would be that dream, which is just what happened with friends and business partners, Lang and Chet Adkins.
The entire menu is about high flavour and textural fun. Okra skewers (B70) are grilled over binchotan—Japanese charcoal—and seasoned with togarashi spice to ensure an Oriental flavour tingle, while skewered chicken hearts (B80) are plump and velvety, tiny unconscious mouth-popping morsels of wonderful offal. Other skewered meats and vegetables include Thigh Leek with Tare (B80) and Asparagus with Smoked Bacon (B100).
From pork belly to pumpkin, this is a carefully crafted menu which forces the diner to be experimental, dipping in-and-out of small plates. The Fried Chicken Egg Salad (B280) is fun, crisped to perfection, and a bowl of Venus Clams (B300) in miso-garlic broth with milk toast is so good, so garlicky, and so umami-laden, that I would happily punch a child in the face for another bowl. Hang on, another bowl of something outrageous, this time Orecchiette pasta (B800), fresh uni, ikura, nori, uni butter; something subtle and seductive, meant only for angels, kings and the grandiose.
Service is merely the details of eating in any restaurant, not entirely the grand sweep of things that really counts, however, when it does knit together so well then you’re on to something special. Here, Jason and team run the bar and service—never dreary, never dull, always grinning. Chef Atkins will occasionally leave the kitchen to mix with diners. You can’t fault either on any front. It is a buzzing and remarkable place.