Karachi has no culinary limitations but it has never seen a Lebanese restaurant like Paramount Fine Foods. The franchise that opened its doors last month after enticing fans with mouth-watering images of shawarma and baklava since June has from the first bite set an impression of impeccable taste and flair.
Fans of barbeque joints in the city might argue the food there is average at best, but Middle Eastern food aficionados will tell you otherwise. Based out of what was previously popular as cafe Zouk on Khayaban-e-Shamsheer, the modest eatery decked out in shades of brown with tall steel lamps placed on in-built shelves along the walls, is a breath of fresh air. As you take your place at one of the wooden tables, you’ll be greeted by warm, swollen pitas in paper-lined raised wooden trays. The menu here is extensive, so take a while to flip through the exhaustive list of detailed appetisers and main courses while you enjoy chunks of pita, leaving a dusty spoor on whatever you touch.
The combination of a moist yet crispy fresh salad with a salty dip is always a good start so I opted for the Fattoush Salad (Rs345) and Hummus (Rs345). Beneath clouds of fresh mint scents with lots of natural light flooding through the wide windows, Paramount reveals its true genius. Every dish achieves a state of equilibrium. The seamless Hummus (Rs345) with olive oil pooling in the centre is a little smooth, but a ladle of chickpeas dropped in the middle gives it that extra textural element and amplifies the earthy flavour. A spoonful of that with the light, zesty salad whets your appetite for the meaty course to follow.
If you are a group of four the Mixed Grill (Rs1,395) is a good choice for the main course. Under a blanket of thin pita lie skewers of precisely seasoned kafta, striploin beef and shish tawouk resting on a bed of moist pita. Tucked along with it are a chargrilled tomato and onion, a fistful of fluffy fries or rice (depending on what you have selected), mixed pickles and a triangle of spicy herb-infused bread. The elaborate platter comes with tiny ramekins of hummus, garlic sauce and chilli tomato sauce. All the meat served here is smokier than it is hot. Although the striploin beef was slightly dry, the kafta made from a mixture of minced beef and lamb fat was tender and juicy. On its own, each flavour is distinct but oddly isolated; however, wrap everything in hot pita and you’ll understand the purpose each ingredient on the platter serves.
The real star of the eatery, however, is their Manakeesh, a thin pita-based pizza that comes with a choice of simple toppings. The melt-in-the-mouth Cheese Manakeesh (Rs395) is particularly sublime. It speaks volumes about the quality of ingredients sourced for each dish and the minimal effort one has to put in afterwards to let it shine.
But if you want to end on an even sweeter note, walk over to their baklawa bar where you can first test the treats before ordering them. Teasing you from behind a glass case the variety of nut-filled pastries is enough to engage your sweet tooth. And if you do happen to be charmed by these Lebanese high-end pastries (Rs1,595/kg), the explosion of flaky layers amid sweet syrup and fragrant pistachios will haunt you until you return to pay respects at their newest shrine.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Verdict: Paramount has given Lebanese cuisine a secure foothold in fine dining. It is wheelchair friendly restaurant with a spacious dining room on the ground floor and the waiters are generally courteous. Although I should warn you the wait to get a table is particularly long, little disappoint awaits you inside.