ISLAMABAD : It is just over a year since Loafology opened its doors in the deeply unfashionable Blue Area of Islamabad. Upmarket cafes are something of a rarity in those parts. Ageing and crumbling architectural monstrosities prop one another up and look across to the skyscrapers on the other side of the road. The service lane that gives access is potholed, congested and about as unlovely as you can get.
No shaded pseudo-glades as in Khosar Market eateries where globular begums and languid males accompanied by gaudy stick-insects go to see and be seen, the shallow end of café culture. Identikit menus offer dead bird with everything, indifferent coffee and free doses of carbon-monoxide. Large pendulums attached to some very small clocks. There is a single exception to this gross generalisation but back to Loafology.
A year ago it was a sensation. It still is. A postmodern canteen with a welcome austerity, steel-topped tables, exposed piping, brisk service by a young staff and the best bit – proper bread. So proper that it was probably the best bread in the country. It still is. There were baguettes that would be at home on the Left Bank and croissants worth a naked crawl over cactus hedges for.
The house loaves were muscular and crunchy and served in doorstep slices with a variety of spreads, dips and condiments. There was no sign of a bottle of tomato sauce anywhere. And the smell m’dears, the smell. The kind of smell that suggests there is something cooking somewhere that is at the boulangerie end of club-strength coke. All of which added up to a positive review from Moi with promises to return.
Moi did indeed return on a number of occasions in the year since, curious as to whether the initial rush could be sustained and eventually a serious dig into what Loafology has to offer morning noon and night. Three visits spread over a week for dinner, brunch and a genteel teatime assorted. Firstly dinner. This is recent development.
The large room at the back of the main seating area transforms into a simple dining area in the evening. Tablecloths. Napery. And a simple unpretentious menu. My dining companion offered the opinion that there was something almost retro about the comestibles and went on to observe that Loafology was ‘a place where you could take a stranger and not be embarrassed.’ It is.
There are ten items on the dinner menu including a soup of the day (they had run out but we were late customers) and two entrees. I had a whopping slice of breaded veal with a cheesy potato thingie plus a dip that was almost but not quite tzatziki – salty yoghourt with chopped cucumber – that complemented the veal. My companion had a burger that be pronounced scrumptious. The bill was painless and value for money.
Brunch a couple of days later was a toasted cheese sandwich that had two hard cheeses on the inside that were at just the right level of viscosity to not make a mess everywhere. Teatime a couple of days later and bliss. A pot of real tea in an actual teapot served to be poured into chunky cups. Smack on the wrist for serving with hot milk. It should be cold and ask for hot if you want to ruin your tea. One mark deducted.
A year ago Loafology was unique and it remains so. There is nowhere else quite like it and aspirants to the bready crown are going to have to work pretty hard to come anywhere close – and have deep pockets. At the moment prices are about the same as they were a year ago but that is going to have to change as costs have increased, particularly of imported ingredients like the all-important flour for the signature loaves which comes from Poland.
Being different is expensive and risky. The current customer base is a healthy mix of local and ‘furriner’ who can afford high-end prices. Whether customer volume will survive a price-rise remains to be seen, but brand loyalty will have been built in the last year. Rumour has it that there will be a branch in Lahore. Lucky Lahore.
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