In the past decade, Lahore has seen tremendous growth in its food industry and with many new restaurants flourishing, there’s also fierce competition. To evolve is the key to success in this business. Classics like Café Zouk, Café Aylanto and a few others have maintained their client base but many others that were once pioneers have either closed down or are dwindling in popularity.
The restaurants below were once a Lahori’s delight but it’s time they either mix it up or face the same fate that Copper Kettle, Hobnob, Chicago Grill and many others did.
1. Nandos Defence Branch
At one point, Nandos buzzed with lots of hungry chicken-lovers waiting to feast on fresh and tasty peri-peri chicken. But in recent years, changes in the restaurant’s food policy along with hygiene issues, have brought down its overall charm. The quarter chicken seems to shrink in size with every visit, and Nandos’ Defence branch continuously faces ‘cooking/gas’ issues, leaving a stale and semi-cooked product on the table. Often, the marination of the chicken is either incorrect or the whole meal is served mildly hot. Furthermore, their dine in experience especially in the basement is an unpleasant one. Due to ventilation problems, there’s a foul smell that lingers.
Compared to its new branch that has opened up in Gulberg, the Defence one has deteriorated remarkably. So, if you’re craving that authentic Nandos taste, the relatively new branch located on Mehmood Ali Kasuri road or the one in Fortress Stadium should be visited.
Food quality: Gone down from 4.5 stars to 1.5
Ambiance: 4 to 1
2. Salt n Pepper Restaurants (all branches)
One of the pioneer’s in the food industry, Salt n Pepper still serves quality dishes. Their stuffed chicken breast, desi platters, chicken kebabs and chicken cheeseburger remain favorites due to their unique taste. However, the ambiance and environment of the restaurants hasn’t changed in over a decade. When you enter the liberty branch or the village one on MM Alam road, you feel like you’ve gone back in time to the late 90’s. From the wall paint to the furniture, everything is still the same, making it too feel a little too old school. Moreover, washroom cleanliness is missing in all branches.
Even though the restaurants have a steady consumer base, a major revamp of décor might help bring back customers who have foregone dining in. An introduction of new menu items is also needed.
Food quality: down by 1 point from 4.5 to 3.5.
Ambiance: from 3 to 1 star.
3. Hsin Kuang
Hsin Kuang isn’t the only Chinese restaurant in Lahore in need of some major revamping. Golden Wok and Sichuan also used to be family favourites. All three of these Chinese restaurants serve piping hot soups, delicious chicken chowmein, well-fried fish crackers, sizzling manchurian and all the well-liked classic Chinese dishes — but what sets them apart? Aside from their brand names and locations, there’s nothing exceptional about their dishes. These once preferred restaurants have lost their appeal to a major contender Yum, that has grabbed the attention of foodies in a very short span of time.
What Yum offers is outstanding food quality, with every dish brimming in tantalizing flavors that are unmatched by other Chinese restaurants in the city. Although it’s pricey, it has quickly become a number one choice in Chinese cuisine, and unless the above three brew up distinct, specialty recipes, they’ll linger on as run of the mill ones in the industry.
Food quality of the above three Chinese restaurants: From 3 stars to 1.5
Ambiance: 3.5 to 1.5
This pizza joint popped up well before Pizza Hut, Dominos or any other pizza eatery had opened in Lahore. At one time, a trip to Gino’s with the family was an exciting, special occasion but the launch of international pizza chains made this Italian cuisine widely available and common. Today, multiple pizza joints offer unique deals, different flavors, various crust options, enjoyable dine in experiences and delectable appetizers.
Gino’s, however, much like Salt n Pepper has failed to evolve. From their original basement seating area to their menu, little to no difference has come about. Apart from their lunch and dinner special offer that slashes prices to 50% off everyday, pizza flavors, crusts options and deals remain the same. Hardly any expansion or marketing has taken place and unless competition is dealt with head on, it will be difficult for Gino’s to retain its customers.
Food Quality: 3.5 to 1.5 stars.
Ambiance: 3 to 0.5
5. Arizona Steakhouse Grill (now known as Grill House)
When a restaurant shuts down its main branch, it means bad news. That should be the first sign for a restaurant owner to up their game but in the case of Arizona (now known as Grill House,) the restaurant went from serving the best steaks in Lahore to the most tasteless meals.
For quite a few years, the branch has restricted itself to a small area in commercial DHA with no improvement. Except for changing its name to adding two to three new dishes, food quality keeps spiraling downwards. Steaks that were once a house specialty are extremely bland, mashed potatoes on the side have too much milk, salt and other spices are completely missing and overall food ingredients are not mixed well.
Steaks are definitely a tough dish to perfect and in the case of Lahore’s restaurants, many have been unsuccessful in this endeavor.
Food Quality: 3.5 to .5
Ambiance: 2 stars
6. Jammin’ Java
An extremely popular eatery among teenagers and young adults in their 20’s, Jammin’ Java’s main branches on MM Alam and Defence were once ‘the places to go to.’ From the widely liked sheesha to their appetizers, and their varied cuisine dishes to desserts, Jammin’ Java offered a lot of favorable alternatives for everyone.
Then came the ban on sheesha in public places and a lot of restaurants including Jammin’ Java took a big hit. It scrambled on for a few years providing tasty food including one of the most delicious beef lasagna’s on the menu but it slowly diminished away. Today, both MM Alam and Defence branches have been permanently closed for over 4 years and the only branch standing is in Johar Town.
There’s still a small Jammin’ Java in LUMS for university students and the restaurant owner has plans to revive it to its former glory.
Food Quality: 3 stars
Ambiance: 3 to 1 star.
The food business is cut-throat in Lahore and unless restaurants maintain their quality as well as experiment with the menu, it might be too late.