For the establishment at Forest Cafe, the biggest challenge is to convince its patrons that their thick foliage is artificial and hence, dengue free. “We had at least three tables every night carrying mosquito sprays with them before this dengue epidemic reached dangerous heights,” says owner Sultan Khan, a nature fan, whose restaurant’s title is evocative enough to reveal what it’s like.
“There are virtually no theme based restaurants in the country,” says Khan whose establishment is inspired from the forest cafe in Dubai’s famed Dubai Mall. Lahore’s Forest Cafe recreates the wonders of the jungle wild life replete with water fountains, animal noises, feline print interiors and a banana leaf printed menu.
And despite such an obvious use of jungle icons, the place is surprisingly not tacky at all, but rather soothing and a calming retreat with its synthetic green environs that look, and feel, quite real (in fact so real that patrons have all but abandoned the cafe for fear of catching dengue and the lovely cascading fountains to replicate waterfalls have been shut). The one thing that Forest Cafe deserves full marks on though is the use of appropriate music (it’s not screeching tigers and bellowing lions though, but just soft sounds from the jungle that lull the senses). There is none of that cliched American pop belting out of the speakers at a deafening volume as has become customary, quite annoyingly, at most restaurants in the country. “Music is so important in creating the right ambience,” says Khan. Yet Khan admits that he has had to add two CDs of that kind of commercial music to meet the demands of his clients.
Khan, an Islamabadi who moved to Lahore a decade ago, would feel angst because there were no green spots for people to just visit and laze around at. “One could always go on long drives living in Pindi up to the Margalla Hills and beyond,” he sighs. “But here in Lahore where does one go? And every social activity was centred around food.” Hence he decided that instead of moaning he’d rather create a jungle retreat for himself and other nature fans like him. The real push, however, came from the fact that he’s a parent of two and had just about had enough of the fact that there were no places to take his kids out to. “The only options for children today are processed fast food outlets. Sure, once in a while junk food is okay. But it’s so unhealthy to eat there on a regular basis, and as parents it is even more frustrating because the kids will not relent and insist on going to these fast food joints. As parents we have no option to accompany them and have nothing on the menu there to cater to our tastes,” explains Khan, whose cafe therefore offers a wide selection of food from the usual kids menu of pizzas and burgers to Thai and continental cuisine. “The cafe was initially just meant for kids but then parents insisted that we add food options for them as well,” says Khan, whose establishment, unlike numerous others around town, offers unique concoctions like the highly refreshing Grape Margerita with a dash of lime, the Sweet Cannelloni with a zesty peach sauce, perfectly accented tomato and basil soup and a great light Caesar Salad.
Since the place is rather sparsely occupied these days, pop over with your special someone and just bask under the trees with their leaves blowing softly and sink into the leopard print sofas sipping a margarita or enjoying a lovely homemade pizza. Avail this tranquil opportunity before the kids start streaming in and running all over the place in delight, as is customary at Forest Cafe, pointing excitedly at the open mouthed crocodile, the moving giraffe and the serpentine cobra.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 3rd, 2011.