For far too long have a few ‘Pioneer’ Chinese restaurants monopolized the Karachi oriental scene. Don’t get me wrong; I have always admired them for their trend-setting ways, their innovative, albeit overpriced, menus and their personalized spin on Pak-Chinese cuisine. There have, however, been a few entrants in recent years that have given these pros a run for their money, and then some. Hello, Ginsoy!
Ginsoy has been serving mouthwatering Chinistani (it was either this or Pakinese) since January 2012 and has developed a cult following, myself included; this is not only for the exciting tastes this restaurant has to offer, but also for the value-for-money you get there. Ask any of Ginsoy’s regular customers what they feel about the restaurant, and the three words that you are most likely to hear are, “Reserve In Advance!” Such is the popularity of this joint and having been denied the chance to sample their cuisine on more than one occasion myself is pure torture. Luckily, for all Ginsoy-a-holics, the restaurant’s going through an Extreme Makeover. Err, well, this is not a makeover per se, rather a nice addition to the already overcrowded packed-to-the-rafters dining area, and rightly so. Enter Ginsoy Extension!
Located a few doors down the original Ginsoy location, this extension is a rather intelligent move on the restaurateurs’ part. Generally, a restaurant this size requires months, if not years, of planning, but shockingly, this restaurant was created in a little over 20 days, which is virtually unheard of in the restaurant world. With quite a few celebrities from the cooking world sitting around me, I felt honored to be part of their inauguration a few days back and had a jolly good time with my friends at Food Connection Pakistan.
The Reception/Ambience (8 out of 10)
Whenever you visit a restaurant that is an extension (or a branch) of the original, you are bound to compare them with each other, and I’m no exception. Personally, I rather prefer the light refreshing feel of the extension over the dark subtle feel of the original place. The immaculate tables are set extremely close to each other; you cannot help but overhear every word of the conversation taking place on the table next to/behind you. I do, however, applaud the effort to optimally utilize the limited space that the restaurant offers. I could probably live without the music playing in the foreground (I mean, background) as the restaurant tends to get quite rowdy (in a good way) when packed. Overall, I rather enjoyed the upbeat vibe the place exudes, ergo an 8 out of 10.
Inaugurations can be larger-than-life affairs and the extension’s was no exception. I did get to meet one of the owners, Hassan Baweja and it was a delight seeing someone as young and exuberant as him running the show (rather efficiently). As usual, I would have loved to do a one-on-one interview with him, but the overcrowded place prevented me from doing so. He did, however, give a mini-speech of sorts so I’ll try as best as I can to put his words into this post.
“We cannot thank our customers enough for the overwhelming response we’ve gotten from them since we opened about a year back. Our main focus has always been on providing quality food at a good price. Unfortunately, we were unable to cater to a lot of our customers because of the space restriction at Ginsoy. My uncle, who’s also my business partner, and I had been trying to work out this space constraint until we finally came up with the idea of Ginsoy Extension.
Why ‘Extension’? Well, we could have called this restaurant Ginsoy 2 but that sounded a bit cliché. Since this was an expansion of the original restaurant, the ‘Extension’ suffix suited perfectly. Why so close to the original restaurant? We wanted to keep a strong hold on our quality and taste, and management-wise, it seemed like a wise decision. What’s more is that our loyal clients won’t mind walking a few steps to the Extension if they don’t find a place at the original Ginsoy. People have grown to like and appreciate the ‘desi’ taste that we have to offer and we would hopefully be able to cater to most of our customers.
What you see here today is the result of our tireless efforts we’ve put into this place for the last 20 days. Yes, you heard it right. We got this place up and running in approximately 20 days. This place was occupied by a restaurant before we took over, so the space was already there but we still needed to create our own vibe. Alhamdolillah, we were successful in finishing this project and we look forward to serving great cuisine to many more of our customers simultaneously.”
The Food (9 out of 10)
Having tried quite a few of Ginsoy’s dishes on my previous culinary escapades, I tried ordering food I had not tasted thus far. While we were waiting for our order, a waiter came out with a platter full of assorted appetizers, featuring Fried Chicken Wontons, Butterfly Prawns and what looked like Spring Rolls (I really couldn’t tell). Since the platter was all out of rolls before I could get one, I’ll stick my comments to just the other two starters.
The Butterfly Prawn was one of the best I have ever had. Flattened, crumb-coated and deep fried to a golden crisp, these crunchy delicacies packed a powerful punch with just the right amount of spices. I could have gladly eaten all of them had I not been in the company of friends; moments like these make morals and etiquette seem so overrated. I gave Ginsoy a 10 on 10 for this brilliant dish!
The tortellini-shaped Fried Chicken Wontons were a major disappointment. With a chickpea-sized chicken filling, the flavor of the phyllo pastry overshadowed the taste of the chicken and rendered the whole thing bland, the only saving grace being the sweet tomato-chili sauce served on the side; a disappointing 4 out of 10.
I was so busy feasting myself on the prawns that I forgot to take the photograph of the platter; the rest of the meal, however, has been documented in detail for your drooling pleasure.
Golden Deep Fried Finger Fish
Our order was delivered after a customary 25-minute wait, and the first starter that was placed in front of us was the Golden Deep Fried Finger Fish. These crispy fingers of perfectly cooked fish, served with a sweet tomato-chili sauce were extremely delicious, despite having very subtle flavors. What made the fish more interesting was the coarse coating on top, owing to the use of fresh bread crumbs. This gave the dish a very rustic/homey feel as compared to the pretentiously perfect fingers served at other restaurants; a solid 9 out of 10 for me. I could have probably done away with the sauce as the fish tasted pretty amazing on its own.
Thai Beef Satay with Peanut Sauce
The Thai Beef Satay with Peanut Sauce could have been a better dish, had it been a little less oily. Also, the flavors were really one-note and the meat wasn’t as tender as I would have liked. The peanut sauce looked extremely unappetizing as it showcased a thick layer of oil on top. I have started appreciating food with sweeter profiles and I really wanted to love the satay too; unfortunately, I could only come up with a 6 out of 10 on my satisfaction meter.
Original Orange Chicken
The Original Orange Chicken is a Ginsoy specialty and came with a glowing recommendation from one of my friends. The presentation was sloppy at best and it was extremely difficult to get into the orange-cups with the serving spoon accompanying the dish. In all fairness, I decided to look past the presentation and boy was I rewarded. This right here is Ginsoy at its best; the tender pieces of chicken lathered in an exquisite orange-based (or should I say kinoow-based) gravy, sweet yet tangy, blew my mind away. I couldn’t help but give this dish a solid 10, solely on the taste; otherwise, it would have been a very reluctant 8.
Tamarind Fish with Chili Sauce
I was a little skeptical about digging into the Tamarind Fish with Chili Sauce because I didn’t really want to eat what could supposedly be a sour tangy mess. Leave it to Ginsoy to metamorphose unconventional ingredients into a delightful dish, and this was no exception. Amazingly, the crispy deep fried fish hadn’t lost its crunch even after sitting in the tamarind sauce for almost 10 minutes. The slight tang of the tamarind fused with the underlying sweet taste (could have been honey or brown sugar) went well with the generous garnish of green chilies. What I liked most though was the fact that this dish was served with a side of rice, unlike all other gravies. It deserved nothing less than a 10 and was, hands down, THE best dish I had tasted all night.
Beef Chow Mein
I was hoping to end the meal on a high note as I plated the last dish of the evening, i.e. Beef Chow Mein, but that wasn’t the case. Even though the noodles were good, they weren’t the best I had had. The dish predominantly tasted of soy sauce, could have used more seasoning, and garnered a mere 6.5 out of 10 from me.
The Pricing (9 out of 10)
When you first glance at their menu, Ginsoy’s prices might seem a bit steep, but the portion sizes fairly compensate for them. An average meal costs around PKR 700 to 800 plus tax per person, and from personal experience, you even get to bring home a few leftovers.
In all fairness, I based my review on my overall perception of Ginsoy rather than focusing on the meal I had had at the inauguration. There are a few other dishes that I’d highly recommend; Cherry Chili Chicken, Crispy Fish in Sticky Red Sauce, Stuffed Chilies and Prawn Balls.
I also have a few suggestions that the management can follow:
- Managing two kitchens can be a daunting task, especially when people expect to get the same flavors at two different places. Ensure that you serve the same great food consistently and you will have much longer queues at your front desk than you already have.
- Keep getting feedback from your customers and incorporate that in your decision-making. That will help you go a long way.
- The restaurants are crammed to maximum capacity. Reevaluate the seating and try finding a way to improve it optimally.
- Where most restaurants go wrong is with the pricing of their food; they fail to balance what they serve with what they charge. When revising your prices, keep in mind how it would impact your loyal customer-base; a slight error can result in a major loss of goodwill.
- The wooden fixture that has been placed at the top of the staircase causes a lot of problems, especially when several people are navigating the narrow space simultaneously. You really don’t need that.
The world’s a changin’ and so is our palate. We now favor more authentic flavors and are capable of appreciating rare (even outlandish) ingredients. Seeing Ginsoy’s popularity and the fact that the restaurant prides itself on serving desi Chinese confirms this hypothesis. From fried calamari to Cantonese lobster, classic crab to Mopu tofu, Ginsoy has something for everyone (in case you were STILL wondering, they serve chicken and beef too). Needless to say, it hits it out of the park with everything from the tempting flavors to the affordable pricing. With the space issue seemingly resolved (for now) too, we Ginsoy-a-holics can finally say what we have always wanted to say (in three words); “I’m lovin’ it” (no offense, Mr. Ronald).