I recently had dinner at Junoon, a one-Michelin-starred Indian restaurant run by celebrity chef Vikas Khanna. Junoon has gotten generally very good reviews; in addition to the Michelin star, Sam Sifton’s New York Times review gave Junoon two stars. If you’re looking for good vegetarian food in Chelsea, Junoon is a good bet.
Junoon is known for freshly grinding spices every day, and I was interested to see how this would come through in their food on my visit this spring. I ordered this time from the a la carte menu, although I’d be interested to try out the tasting menu next time.
The amuse bouche was really interesting: a pea-mint puree. I’m not sure what else was in it, but it was very fresh and tangy and was very spring-appropriate.
I started with sunchoke shorba — a soup made from sunchokes, which I just learned is a species of sunflower. The soup was pretty good, creamy and savory. I particularly liked the pumpkinseed oil that finished the soup — it gave the soup a smoky flavor that really added a different dimension. My quibble was that the soup got kind of bland after the pumpkinseed oil was finished. I would have liked some other ingredient to keep it interesting all the way through. The soup was served with paneer kulcha — Indian bread stuffed with paneer — which did go well with it.
For my entree, I got the “Nerdu Kofte”, described as “dumplings of Kashmiri Lotus root and homemade fresh Indian cheese in a sauce of fennel, fenugreek and cream”. Or rather, that’s what I ordered. What I got was some sort of chicken curry. The waiter initially didn’t believe me when I said that wasn’t what I ordered, but I insisted that I was a vegetarian and there was no way I would have ordered a chicken dish. Eventually he relented and the kitchen brought out the dish I ordered in just a few minutes.
I thought the kofte was very good, reminiscent of a “malai kofta” or similar dish that you can get at many Indian restaurants. I didn’t get much of the fennel, but otherwise the dish was quite spicy. In fact, I thought it was a little too spicy, although that may be because the kitchen had to rush to (re)make the dish on short notice. I liked that this was creamy without being too heavy, which is a common problem with most dishes like this (and many Indian dishes generally).
Dessert was a “gianduia parfait”, with chocolate shortbread, hazelnut brittle, chili foam, and chocolate sorbet. This was a good chocolate dessert, but what really set it apart was the “chili foam”. It was absolutely fantastic — it tasted like whipped cream, but spicy. It was the perfect complement to the chocolate; I’d never had anything quite like it. The chili foam really put the dessert over the top.
Overall, Junoon was a very good experience. Like virtually all Indian restaurants, there was a great selection of vegetarian options on the menu. But Chef Khanna put an interesting twist on these items; this wasn’t the “same old” heavy/creamy Indian curry. That said, Junoon fell short in a couple of key respects. The shorba could have been a little “livelier”, and the kofte was a bit too spicy. The chocolate dessert, though was fantastic.
One thing I’d heard about Junoon was the fresh-ground spices, and I have to say that the food did seem more vibrant than at the usual Indian place. I had a chance to check out the famous spice room, and it was really quite impressive. If you have the chance to go to Junoon, I highly recommend checking it out.
I have to make one additional point, although I tried very hard not to let it affect this review. I came back to Junoon for a group dinner for a friend’s birthday, where we had very good food, but a poor experience with service. We felt pressured to order things we didn’t want, and some items on the bill were things we just hadn’t asked for. All of that stuff wound up adding about 20% to the bill. I didn’t factor that into this review because that came about on a different visit, but I’ll just drop in a cautionary note if you plan on going to Junoon with a big group.
In all, Junoon is still a place I’d go back to, particularly with a smaller group. The food was very good, and the menu does some interesting and inventive things with Indian food. I’d be interested to get a tasting menu and see how the kitchen thinks the different flavors flow together, and I’m confident that the vegetarian options on the menu won’t disappear when there are seasonal changes. That all said, there is definitely some room for improvement, but as to food and service. Three stars.