South Granville is not Gastown when it comes to dining options. You have a few stalwarts, like West, and the holy trinity of chains (Joey, Earls and Cactus Club all within a block of each other) and not a whole lot else, especially since Vikram Vij took his lineup generator of a restaurant to Cambie. So when the Commercial Drive mainstay Jamjar announced they were stepping into the old Rangoli spot (with Rangoli moving next door to the old Vij’s), expectations were high, maybe unreasonably so.
Owner Fadi Eid and his team have done little to the space other than paint and add some painfully uncomfortable steel school chairs (a friend admitted to sitting on his coat throughout his meal), but all in all it feels more homey than Rangoli ever did, and I expect it that’s due to having possibly the friendliest, happiest staff in town. “Come on in!” they beam. “Oh, good order,” they coo, and just when you’re ready to make this your new neighbourhood spot, a few cracks appear. Perhaps everyone is so friendly because there’s zero pressure to move food out of the small kitchen: on my first visit I waited for my food for 35 minutes, even though the room was only half full. Inexplicably, the first dish to arrive was a side of cubed potatoes roasted in garlic and heart-crushingly cold. A few minutes later the mains arrived—hot—but for the most part underwhelming. A kafta skillet—basically some hulking Lebanese beef meatballs—was woefully underseasoned save for the tomato-paprika sauce they were served in, which was so salty as to border on the inedible—and I’m one of those freaks who travels with those little tins of Maldon, so salt is an old friend. The mujadra, a spiced lentil stew, arrived without the advertised crispy onions and likewise suffered from terminal blandness. The staff kept popping by to ask how the bites were, and they were so upbeat I couldn’t bear to tell them of my sadness. Thankfully, our spirits were buoyed by the final dish, chicken shish tawouk, perfectly grilled chunks of Rossdown Farms chicken breast that were a spot-on mixture of charred and moist, and served with a whipped garlic sauce that also helped revive the tired spuds. It, coupled with the approachable pricing—all the above with a glass of Strange Fellows was only $55—left us hopeful that repeat visits might fare better.
And they did. The staff’s demeanour remained unseasonably upbeat and other Lebanese classics, like a very creamy, if mild, take on hummus, the very crispy falafel platter or the touted makali, a deep-fried cauliflower tossed in pomegranate molasses, were solid. But on both occasions the fatoush, a mixture of cucumber, radish and romaine, was so dripping with dressing that it resembled a takeout Greek salad from a mom-and-pop pizza joint. There was a time—pre-Ottolenghi-mania—when this was what Lebanese food was in Western Canada: hearty, healthy and unpretentious. And if that’s what you’re looking for, then Jamjar delivers. But if you’re coming to South Granville to see if there’s any of Vij’s leftover magic in his old stomping grounds, then, sadly, next door is the only place you’ll find it.