For ages now, New York City is considered to be the hub of quality fine dining. From downscale Asian joints to fancy restaurants run by Michelin star celebrity chefs — New York has it all. The same can probably not be said for the city of Lahore — also famous for its delectable spicy delights. However, with his creditable international experience, Chef Sardar Shahnawaz Khan breathes a new life into the menu of Polo Lounge — one of the oldest fine dining restaurants in the city.
After working under master chefs such as Alain Ducasse, Guy Savoy and David Bouley, Khan has flown back to Lahore to give his motherland a taste of his skillful cooking. With almost 13 years of experience, one is bound to have high expectations from Khan which, to our surprise, he meets perfectly.
Polo Lounge has been most famously known for its gourmet burgers, Mongolian chicken and puddle cake. Come polo season, Polo Lounge becomes the hottest spot for Lahore’s diners, not just by choice but also out of compulsion. Over the years, Polo Lounge has maintained its loyal clientele, but has faced a drop in mainstream diners. Chef Shahnawaz hopes to make up for that. Chef Shahnawaz Khan exposes his culinary skills to The Express Tribune, lending us a pleasant experience.
“I grew up watching my father cook,” says Khan. “Cooking was his hobby and we would cook and grill at our farmhouse all the time. I have loved cooking since I was a child and when the time came for me to go off to college I knew I had to pursue my passion.” In an attempt to fulfill his lifelong dream of becoming a chef, Khan landed in Paris at the age of 17. With his energies focused on French cuisine, Khan ended up with a Masters in French Classic from Ferrandi.
“After four years in Paris I moved to Dubai and started cooking there but sadly Dubai was not the place for me and I did not enjoy it,” shares Khan. After backpacking through Egypt for two months, Khan realised that New York was his calling, and so began his culinary journey in the Big Apple. “I worked there for eight years at restaurants such as Bouley and The Dutch,” adds Khan. “Even though I loved every minute of that experience, I just felt it was time to come back and give Pakistan a chance.”
For fish lovers, a great new entrée to try is the Red Snapper Orange Gastric Fish. PHOTOS: PUBLICITY
At Polo Lounge, Khan has not only revamped almost 50% of the menu, but has also been working as the head chef since February. Our evening started off with a serving of Chilled Cucumber Soup with Poached Prawn — an experimental soup with the freshness of mint and a hint of spice. While it is refreshing and perfect for mint lovers, the flavour of the mint seems to have overpowered the flavor of cucumber. The slowly cooked poached prawns in the soup are by far the best-cooked prawns in Lahore. Not only did they add to the flavour of the soup, but also added a bit of texture and wholesomeness to it.
Summer Salad is another very light and fresh addition to the menu that includes a mix of mangoes, apples, oranges and grapes over a bed of chilled iceberg garnished with walnuts and goat cheese. Drizzled with a light balsamic dressing, this salad beats your everyday Caesar salad. While the fruits add sweetness to the salad, the light balsamic eliminates any excessive sweetness and blends well with walnuts and goat cheese.
For fish lovers, a great new entrée to try will have to be the Red Snapper Orange Gastric Fish. This golden-brown seared fish is glazed with honey and orange sauce with a hint of rock salt, which brings the dish to life.
“I feel that the problem with most Pakistani diners is that they do not want to experiment,” remarks Khan. “People here either like to stick to what they know or they just want excessive spices.” Trying to keep up with the Lahori market while still holding on to his French tradition, Khan creates a French fusion entrée for the spice lovers. The Lamb Chop with Mint Chutney creates a natural juxtaposition between our local spices and the flavorful French puree. “I am color blind so I have had to teach myself to see the difference between shades of green, red and brown. While the lamb chop rests on a bed of mashed potatoes alongside roasted eggplant, it is served with a spicy mint chutney and a mint and zucchini puree to not just add flavour, but also some texture to the whole dish,” adds Khan.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 5th, 2013.
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