My one-sentence review of the Karachi-based restaurant Food Bowl for the too-long-to-read crowd: Another fusion restaurant falls prey to mediocrity.
In a city oversaturated with restaurants, diners are merciless when it comes to taste. We all know what good food tastes like — simply because we’ve had a lot of it — and can list the places that offer it, so when a new eatery on the block claims “pure Chinese and continental cuisine in an artistic ambiance” in a text-message ad, it better live up to its promise or be prepared to face the critics.
Located in Gulistan-e-Jauhar, opposite Hilltop Banquet, Food Bowl’s exterior gives the illusion of a grand, contemporary restaurant. As you walk in through the arched French doors, however, you’ll be left with an unpleasant taste in your mouth. Even in the warm honey hues of the dimly lit recessed lights, you can focus on the wrinkled tablecloths and the unremoved plastic wrap on seat cushions. To accommodate an ‘unexpectedly’ large turnout over the weekend, the restaurant graciously ushered guests to its top floor for the first time, but in the process revealed how unprepared they were for the massive dining challenge.
Personally, I think Chinese food is overrated in Pakistan; whether it’s chicken manchurian or chicken schezwan, or for that matter even chicken shashlik, it all looks and tastes the same and Food Bowl simply reinforces this preconceived notion by serving up overly-priced inauthentic versions of the cuisine. The garlic butter fried rice is a classic example of twisting traditional recipes in a bid to cater to the taste palette of South Asians. The ‘Food Bowl Special Chicken’ is another concoction of chopped chicken and vegetable in sweet onion gravy which will make you want to steer clear of Pakistani Chinese food for a while. It’s a hidden blessing that a single serving is enough for two diet conscious diners.
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While the restaurant’s Chinese food is a deal-breaker, its continental dishes fare far better. Food Bowl’s chief attraction is its ‘mega mix combo’ from the list of appetisers; a generous, greasy platter of crispy prawn tempura, herb-and-cheese coated chicken strips, crunchy cheese balls and moist fried fish strips. For Rs695 the dish can easily serve up to six and is accompanied by four foundational sauces, including ranch dressing, tartar sauce, honey mustard and marinara sauce. Batter-based dishes are the restaurant’s strength so a word of advice to all those planning on visiting the place: order the Italian steak with fries.
When one has to wait nearly half an hour for a table, you tend to expect more from a restaurant, but Food Bowl leaves you hungry. Not only is the food disappointing but the restaurant, which opened five months ago, is also understaffed. Most servers are undertrained and the clumsiness is discernible. But if you can still look past all this and give the place a try, book a table a few months down the line and kick-start your evening with a glass of tangy mint lemonade along with some complimentary fish crackers dipped in green chutney or some sweet-and-sour tamarind sauce.
Verdict: Having opened up nearly five months ago, one would expect Food Bowl to have ironed out its initial teething problems by now, however, the restaurant still has some ground to cover when it comes to quality service. Although Food Bowl has aimed high in decor and design, it lets you down in the one thing that matters most — good food.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 17th, 2016.
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