Lahore is known as the city of food and foodies, but over time, there has been little innovation in continental food. While local street food still reigns over the rest of the country, the Lahori palate has not evolved past the standard that old classics like Cosa Nostra and Cafe Aylanto set years ago. New restaurants keep cropping up on the ever busy MM Alam Road but fall short of meeting the same standard of food. Such is the case with Palillo’s Courtyard, a new eatery that opened its doors to the Lahori market a week ago.
When talking to the owners of this restaurant one realises that in order to run a successful restaurant the owners either need to be immense food lovers with a highly complex palate or be chefs themselves. The reason why Cosa Nostra’s La Tavlo and Cafe Aylanto have done so well for decades is because either the owners are the head chefs themselves or they are so exposed to good food internationally that they can put together entrees that are harmonious and have complimentary flavours.
“In Pakistan, if you stay within the food business, no matter what you do, you will be successful,” says Haseeb Illyas, Managing Director of Palillo’s Courtyard. “Our primary business remains within the classification of food as we run a sugar mill and export dairy products. Hence, going into the restaurant business seemed very natural to us.” The ambience is simple with a no fuss feel to it and “we want the food to be the entertainment here,” he added. Sadly, that is not the case with the restaurant.
Nutty crispy chicken with salsa
This was bland and lacked flavour. The peanut coating should have been crushed or grated because the chunks of peanuts overpowered the flavour of the entree and the peanuts were all one could taste.
This is, by far, the best and only entrée worth trying at Palillo’s Courtyard. The flavour was spot on with a hint of spice and the sweetness mixed with the tangy tamarind really stood out. “This is our signature dish and we have worked very hard in making sure that the flavours are right,” said Illyas.
Jalapeño cheese sticks
Cheese sticks are supposed to be crunchy on the outside and have melted cheese on the inside. The problem here was that the coating of the cheese stick was very doughy and had a distinct flavour of the flour, while the necessary crunch was missing. The condiment of the jalapeño sauce had excessive mayonnaise and again a balance of flavours was not achieved.
Chicken of Persia
This was marinated in herbal marinade and served with afghani rice. The pickle was slightly too salty and would have been a great entree if it had balanced flavours.
The main problem with Palillo’s Courtyard is that their menu is not specialised enough and is all over the place with them trying to incorporate elements from many different cuisines. It would have been better if they had a more precise menu that focused more on flavours rather the variety of entrées served.
Honey mustard prawns
While the prawn was cooked perfectly, the aftertaste of the flour killed the appetiser and the consistency and flavour of the honey mustard sauce was not right. The sauce was runny and too sweet, so much so, that the flavour of the mustard was not apparent in the sauce.
Spicy chilli beef with garlic rice
The flavours were harmonious in this particular dish, with a kick of spice in the aftertaste. However, the quality of the beef used was not great and one could smell a pungent beef smell that did not allow for one to take another bite.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 28th, 2014.