You’ve never really eaten a tomato till you try one at Restaurant JAG. The French omakase restaurant has offered vegetarian and vegan degustation menus since its 2018 opening, but it has only started leaning into those more heavily following its recent reopening.
One might baulk at paying Michelin-starred prices for what’s effectively a protein-less meal. It helps not to think of it as a vegetarian menu — which can sound limiting — but as one that puts vegetables centre stage.
“A steak is a steak — you generally know what you’re going to get,” says executive chef Jeremy Gillon. “But with vegetables, you can do so much more.”
In JAG’s Opulent Indulgence omakase menu, Gillon crafts a medley of dishes, each centred on a specific vegetable: There’s the soul-warming corn consommé at the beginning, a satisfying pumpkin dish that brings with it a heady and meat-like scent of spices, and a very comforting chocolate and olive dessert.
And they’re all elevated by hand-picked herbs from Gillon’s native Savoie. The scenic French department sits prettily in the Alps, which also happen to be home to an abundance of herbs that are prized for both their medicinal and culinary uses.
There are familiar ones — such as the earthy sage in the corn consommé and the fennel that lightens an ordinarily heavy potato-and-truffle dish — but also a host of less common names, such as the aubepine — which lends a tangy, mild sweetness to an otherwise bitter dish of aubergines, and the monarde that gives a pleasing, citrusy aroma to a cabbage dish.
While Gillon is happy to accommodate special requests — JAG prides itself on its highly-customisable” menus — the seasonal nature of the menu means that you never quite know what you’ll get; order the vegetable-based menu twice in a fortnight and you might get an entirely new array of dishes each time.
Says co-owner Anand Tyagi: “We leave it to our suppliers to deliver whatever vegetables we get, so it’s a surprise even to us — you should see what the kitchen looks like at 3pm.”
Still, chef Gillon manages to bring shape and order to the 12-course omakase menu. “It’s like the Tour de France,” he tells us after dinner. “You start off fresh and bright, then you go start to go uphill and organise yourself with heavier, fuller tastes — and then it’s a straight cruise down.”
It’s an apt metaphor, and one that adds structure to what’s normally a lengthy — and sometimes meandering — affair. So, given the analogy, we take it he engages in sports? Gillon looks wryly at his belly and smiles. “Of course I do.” (The Frenchman does, in fact, play squash whenever he gets time out of the kitchen.)
You’ll find that same good humour throughout JAG and its food. Dishes are clever — reinventing prosaic vegetables into creative forms with foams and jellies and dehydrations — but they never veer into pretentious. The only dish that might hint at a made-for-Instagram moment is the pre-dessert palette cleanser, a tamarind dipped in white chocolate and the Swiss Ricola mint plant, cutely propped up in a wooden planter box.
Suffice it to say you’ll emerge from the dinner pleasantly satisfied — without feeling sluggish or bogged down. It helps that JAG rounds off the experience with a special blend of teas created from the same herbs used in the meal — go for the Swiss Ricola mint tea to really drive home that clean-eating feeling.
The kitchen is more than happy to provide guests with an up-close look at its library of over 40 indigenous herbs — helpful, since catching every exotic name can be tough.
“Twenty years ago in culinary school, we were taught it was always protein first,” says Gillon. “But it’s different for us. Here, we always start with the vegetables — even in meat-based dishes — and then we build from there.”