2013 literally ‘whizzed’ by. But not before making it the ‘Year of Cuisine’ with new eating houses dotting the Karachi landscape like never before — lots of them, along with some of them to keep your eye on.
It also became the year when restaurants and patrons became highly engaged via various food groups — where the owners counted on consumers to make this success viral. When compiling the list, the criteria was to look for original, extraordinary places that people will relish, places you’ll want to tell your circles about. The variety has more intensity than ever before; great Turkish food at Solen Istanbul in Dolmen Mall, wonderful seared excellence at Rowtisserie, knockout Asian cuisine at The Noodle House, and a completely avant-garde take on Iranian fare at Khanji in Port Grand. 2013 was rife with modernisation, with scallops in orange ginger sauce and snow balls at Sam’s Place to caterpillar maki from Oishi Sushi.
The very posh Sam’s Place has made the list simply because the cuisine is uber-gourmet here. The setting is done in beautiful earthy tones with a splash of colour here and there. The dishes come to you in the form of ultra-fresh ingredients bursting with flavour. It seems effortless, but one order of Insalata Caprese proves it’s not. Their Asparagus with Sauce Noisette, Lamb Shanks with Red Wine Sauce, Chicken Paillards with Honey Mustard Sauce and Stewed Apricots make you fall in love. It is a must visit for special occasions like birthdays and anniversaries when you don’t mind spending around Rs2,000 per head.
It’s his precision and detail that has made Kamil Aziz Khan one of the city’s most talked-about entrepreneurs. In 2013, he brought forward his prowess in the form of Rowtisserie. It is a small, charming space which boasts of minimalist nautical décor and his own take on family favorites—including rotisserie and flame grilled chicken with some exceptional sauces and sides such as new potatoes with dill, mash & gravy and corn. For starters, there is a Mezze platter and delicious wings. The delectable chicken is available in quarter, half or a full portion, perfect for sharing.
There was no hype around the opening of Khanji. In fact, I discovered the place on my recent visit to Port Grand. It is a casual place along the waterfront adorned with traditional truck art with a patio. The food, I would say, is ambitious for a regular Karachiite who loves spice. They have taken a chance (and succeeded) with dishes like Chelow Kabab and Mutton Karhai. It’s not jam-packed like Ghaffar Kebab House but will give you wonderful memories of the food will outlast those of Kebab Subhani. Khanji is slowly and steadily proving how Peshawari/Iranian cuisine will sustain its eminence in the years to come.
The Noodle House at DMC
The Noodle House has become a bustling restaurant at Dolmen Mall simply because it offers the best East Asian cuisine in Pakistan. The Wasabi Prawns on the menu are delicious! The fiery Wasabi mellows alongside creamy mayonnaise and the prawns have a pleasing crunch to them. The Curry Laksa is rich, slightly sweet with strongly spiced coconut gravy. There are generous pieces of chicken and prawns with bean sprouts and eggs. You will love the crushed chilies and peanuts that add another dimension to this classic Malaysian dish. The rest of the fare is also exquisite, so next time you are out shopping, make sure to drop by the restaurant to try well-executed, top quality dishes, offering traditional flavours with a fusion twist. Prices on the menu can be staggering, but there are plenty of items that are more affordable and indeed justified by the quality of the food.
This restaurant is all about inventive dishes — made to impress. The inspirations are deeply personal and thus undoubtedly of the owner, Mohammad Ali Teli, and that makes them exciting. It will come as a surprise but Pantry has generous portions of comfort food like Baked Brie, Chicken and Waffles, and Macaroni and Cheese. You’d best turn up ravenous: the Burrito Bowl is huge. Expect some classic salads and delicious entrees on the menu. Big portions shouldn’t irk you from clinching the meal off with a wicked Chocolate Tart. While the food is ample, the décor is sublime.
Mrs Fields/TCBY recently became a go-to cranny for my sweet tooth. There’s more than just cookies here — on offer are delectable flavors of scoops, soft serve, floats, sundaes, and splits. Their best selling item, frozen yogurt, is velvety in texture and churned on a daily basis for eager patrons. The most recommended dish on the menu is hand-scooped strawberries & cream froyo with homemade brownie. If your craving requires backing by a kick of caffeine, brilliant coffee and tea is also sold at the outlet.
Hafiz Sweets & Bakers
Overtly situated near Indus Foods in Khadda Market, Hafiz Sweets & Bakers recently opened an outlet this side of the bridge. They need no introduction as many of us are probably already aware that they have been making sweets since 1950. Hafiz encompasses a takeout counter with an extensive menu of desi sweets, tarts, cakes and other baked goods. It’s tastefully designed and color-coordinated as one imagines a sweet shop to be. The place is affordable compared with its neighbours and especially so, considering the unbelievably high quality. As beseems a bakery, everything is made in-house, including the samosa of The Samosa Factory, which is aspiring to become the magnum opus of Hafiz.
Lahore is known for its street food and Punjabi delicacies. However, as far as the restaurant circuit is concerned, there has been a lull as far as great food is concerned. Lots of new eateries hit the market in 2013 and they are doing fair business, but did they hit the spot? One can’t say. Here is a roundup of what we think were the must try items of the year.
Korean food to local Lahoris was an alien concept until Udon House opened its doors to Lahore. For those who enjoy Korean food, this came as a sanctuary and those who had never tried it, were introduced to something new. Authentic Korean BBQ stir fry with lots of kimchi really hits the spot. The must try item on the menu has to be the Beef Bulgogi, tender chunks of beef stir fried with shallots and served up with jasmine rice with a side of kimchi and pickled cucumbers.
Polo Lounge has always had its niche market, but this year they really picked up their game with Chef Shahnawaz joining their team from New York. Not only did he revamp the menu, but also worked closely at designing a brunch menu that took the city by storm. Sunday Brunch at Polo Lounge became the ‘it’ thing to do in Lahore. A wide assortment of brunch goodies, including eggs Benedict, pancakes, waffles and customised omelettes by Chef Shahnawaz, roped in throngs of people wanting seconds.
When it comes to evergreen restaurants, Fujiyama has to be one of them. People, however, generally go and order the exact same things, Crunchy Maki, prawn tempura, chicken teppeniyaki and garlic rice. What we suggest you try is the Crab stick tempura and hot and spicy crab. The crab stick tempura quite literally melts in your mouth and, with the tempura sauce, it adds a different flavor to the regular prawn tempura. Hot and spicy chicken is one of the best sellers, but one must try the hot and spicy crab. Stir fried crab meat in traditional spicy sauce gives the meat a different flavor, and you enjoy a different texture too.
EVERYTHING! Yes we know it is not a restaurant, but this bakery is definitely doing something right, because no matter what they produce, it’s delicious. From salad to samosas to their take on the Zinger burger and pizzas. Not only will Jalal Sons brighten up your tea trolley, but will also be great for dinner and lunch.
Chinese food has always been all the rage when it comes to Pakistanis. The funny thing is that at some point in time, you have tried each and every one of them. While lots of new Chinese restaurants opened up, including China Town and Palillios, one place really made a mark and that has to be Rice Bowl. The must try item will have to be the Sweet n Sour Crispy Chicken. Deep fried chunks of chicken come with a harmony of sweet and sour sauce with vegetables on the side. Along with some egg fried rice, this dish is fantastic. It has the kick of the sauce and the crunch of the chicken.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 30th, 2013.