Venue: Liwan and Shayan Resturants at Al-Ghurair Rayhaan by Rotana. Enjoy! 🙂
Shayan, part of the Al Ghurair Rayhaan by Rotana, is famous for serving an authentic Persian dining experience in the heart of Dubai. It recently relaunched with a new menu, featuring a host of Lebanese introductions to its stellar Persian line-up and I was fortunate enough to be invited to this wonderful event. Food is perhaps one of the things I love photographing most and opportunities like these help awaken the photography beast within me. There’s no harm taking great photos while enjoying good food. right?
So without further ado, I’d let you feast your eyes on these mouth-watering temptations; if something does catch your fancy, head down to Shayan and try it out for yourself.
You never forget your first time.
It was 1994 and I remember driving out to Boat Basin with my uncle for a revolutionary new delicacy; he just couldn’t stop talking about it. As he parked the car at Pizza Hut (read ‘pee-zaa hut’), I couldn’t help but admire the trendy joint. We didn’t go in though and he ordered some to go. As we sat in the car, he opened the mysterious flat box and let me inhale the intoxicating aroma emanating from it. Even though my sense of smell was enticed, my sight wasn’t all that impressed. I couldn’t be impolite to my uncle, and as an avid cheese and vegetable hater back in those days, I had to fight an inner battle before picking up a slice. It was pretty difficult prying a slice apart from the rest of the pie namely because of the strands of cheese unwilling to let go of the neighboring slices. I finally did manage to break the slice free and reluctantly took a bite. When you hate something, you tend to notice every little detail. What I tasted was a load of chicken, seemingly infinite amount of cheese, pineapples, mushrooms, and a few things I couldn’t quite put my finger on (paprika, oregano, etc.).
I hated it!
I hated everything about it. I hated the crunch of the vegetables, the sweetness of the pineapples, the chewy texture of the mushrooms, and cheese that stuck to my teeth. Yuck!
In retrospect, that was, and to this day, is the best pizza I’ve ever had. The old Pizza Hut (or ‘PH’) located at Boat Basin was as iconic as the Eiffel Tower, if not more. I cannot enumerate the number of good times I’ve had there. Whether it was hanging out with friends after the end of exams or chilling with the office (read ‘IT’) crowd for a colleague’s birthday party (mufta), waiting to break the Ramadan fast at the all-you-can-eat with the family or just standing in front of the take-away counter to satisfy a midnight craving, PH was the place to be. Weeks, if not months, of prep was required for a coveted visit at PH as I had to save up for it. The pizza was as lavish as they showed in the “Good times with great pizza” advertisement back in the days.
My last trip to Pizza Hut was probably about 8 months back and the memories weren’t all that good, mainly because of the quality of the food (in general) and the diminished quantity of toppings. For obvious reasons, I was a bit reluctant to go when I received an invite for a bloggers’ meet-up at the new Boat Basin outlet but I thought about giving them another chance; maybe this time around, things would be different.
As I drove to the new location opposite Boat Basin, I couldn’t help feeling nostalgic. Even though the old place was comparatively smaller than the new location, it had something that was clearly missing in the new restaurant; maybe it was the relatively difficult access or the slightly off-the-main-boat-basin-food-street location or all the memories associated with the old place, I can’t really say. The new PH is impressive nonetheless and spans over three floors. One great thing about this place is the dedicated parking space for customers, a rarity these days. Once I stepped inside, everything from the wooden tables to the red leather upholstery to the colorful wall art screamed PH. My fellow bloggers and I were whisked away to the exclusive 2nd floor, probably reserved for birthday parties and such, with Pizza Pooch and his gang watching over us while we took our seats.
Since this meetup was to get an honest feedback on the newly launched ‘Weekday Special’ deal, we were asked to choose from one of their personal pan pizzas, a sideline and a drink; this, according to them, is a three-course meal, but last I checked, a drink wasn’t a ‘course’. Nomenclatures aside, this deal sounded pretty good as it came at a very affordable PKR 199+tax pricing. Add another PKR 100 or so and you’d get dessert too. Upon inquiring what my choices were, I was told that I could order from the following:
As I flipped through the pages of the menu, I couldn’t help admiring the immaculately photographed cuisine. From the pizzas to the Chicken Spin Rolls, everything looked too-good-to-be-true. I was particularly impressed by the potato wedges shown on the menu so I decided to go for a 6″ Chicken Fajita pizza with a side of wedges.
The wedges came first. I was shocked as I watched the waiter place the platter in front of me. There were six wedges (you read that right, SIX) that looked nothing like those shown on the menu. I decided to try some; they were neither crisp nor seasoned and had a bitter after-taste owing to the slight char on the sides. After my fourth wedge, I remembered I had to photograph the platter as well, so I took a photo of the two remaining wedges. In retrospect, I should have ordered the garlic bread as it is one of those things PH delivers with consistency (the second one being the salad).
Then came the pizza, accompanied by a glass of the ‘third course’ (sarcastic much?). After what I had seen on the menu, I was a little disappointed with the amount of topping. The cheese content was relatively low and I counted between five and six 1 cm3 chicken cubes on my pizza. The taste was really OK, nothing fireworks-in-the-sky spectacular. I’d probably rate this a 6.5 out of 10.
As a special treat, the folks at PH decided to serve Garlic Bread Platters. With three different cheesy toppings, these delectable slices of bread offered fimiliarity and comfort. Those were probably the best things I tasted all evening.
With a humble beginning in the early 90’s, Pizza Hut has grown to be one of the largest international food chains in Pakistan. My personal feelings for PH aside, this deal, on the whole, is pretty neat for the price it’s being offered at and is ideal for a lunch on a weekday. I’d suggest you avoid the wedges and go for the garlic bread instead, which is much more satisfying.
As with every blog, I do have my two bits to say to the PH management. I am well-aware that managing the quality and consistency of your product across so many outlets can pose serious challenges, but that’s what people pay you for. If you charge an-arm-and-a-leg for a pie that is not as good as ‘advertised’, people will go to the many alternates that have sprung-up across Karachi over the recent years.
Oh, how I’d give anything to travel back to 1994 for a second slice of my first-ever pizza. Those really were good times and that really was great pizza. Try as I might, I cannot forget my first time.
The power of oriental cuisine is undeniable; we just can’t seem to get enough of it. When out with your wife, ask her what she’d like to eat and 5 out of 10 times, she’d suggest Chinese. Those garlicky flavors infused with chilies and other local spices cater to our more ‘refined’ Pakistani palates (open for interpretation), and are all the rage these days. I personally don’t think there’s anything wrong with giving a cuisine a ‘desi’ spin, as long as it is in good taste and doesn’t spiral out of control (if you catch my drift). Luckily for those of us who have grown to love this style of cooking, there have been some interesting entrants in Karachi’s ever-burgeoning restaurant scene over the past couple of years.
The Lantern, located near Do Talwar, Clifton, has been open for public for about four weeks now, and the team at Food Connection Pakistan graciously invited me for a bloggers’ meet-up a few days back. This Chinese eatery is a perfect venue for a memorable lunch with friends or a romantic dinner with the wife. It’s interesting that the restaurant has indoor as well as outdoor seating available, catering to the conditioned air lovers as well as customers who enjoy basking in the trademark Karachi breezes.
The Ambiance (9 out of 10)
As soon as you walk onto the driveway that leads up to the restaurant, you are welcomed by a rustic sitting area adorned by wooden chairs and tables. A collection of plants placed at intervals as well as along walls render the space homey and unpretentious, yet tasteful. Besides letting in plenty of natural light, a big glass window lets people on the outside a view of what’s going on inside.
A step indoors and you instantly get where the inspiration for the restaurant’s name comes from. Your eye is immediately drawn to the paper lanterns covering the entire length of the ceiling and not one of them is red. In stark contrast to traditional Chinese restaurants, the room feels open, light and airy, with everything decorated in greens and subdued pastels. More often than not, I prefer well-lit spaces where I can clearly see what I’m putting into my mouth, and The Lantern sure fits the bill. The next thing you end up checking out is the wall at the back, showcasing a vertical bamboo garden of sorts, bringing in a little bit of the warmth and freshness that the outside exudes. The wooden tables are laden with immaculate cutlery, chopsticks (for the more adventurous souls), and actual cloth napkins instead of the paper cop-outs; a quality restaurant should be able to manage their laundry.
It was interesting to meet the visionaries behind the restaurant; Gulraiz, Saud, Uzair and Ahsan (collectively known as the A-Team). These four individuals went their separate ways after completing their A-levels and converged several years later to solemnize their bond of friendship through the inception of The Lantern. The A-Team started off with an idea of opening up a tea-house/cafe, something on the lines of Samovar Tea House at Port Grand (owned by Gulraiz and his Austrian friend Matthias Gattermeier), but looking at the recent trends, Uzair thought a Chinese restaurant would be a better idea. Since Uzair has a family background in event management and catering, they decided to take up his suggestion.
Yousuf: What was the inspiration behind the name?
A-Team: Well, we just tried out a few names including the Wok-Inn, Red Door and Paper Lantern. Since we wanted the place to feel as un-Chinese as possible, we ended up with ‘The Lantern’. We carried the same un-Chinese theme into our decor as well, the only inspirations being bamboo shoots and paper lanterns. If you look closely, you’ll see that the lanterns used in the restaurant are plain paper lanterns and not the bright-red Chinese lanterns with tassels underneath. Also, the table settings are very rustic and lack the oriental touch.
Yousuf: Don’t you think there are enough Chinese restaurants already?
A-Team: In our experience, Karachiites love Chinese food as much as they love BBQ, if not more. Plus, there are very few Chinese restaurants in the Clifton/Defense area so opening one here seemed like a wise decision.
Our service is another area where we can distinguish ourselves from our competition. Unlike other restaurants, we take customized orders and have no qualms preparing anything that can be made within the confines of our kitchen. If we have the ingredients, we’ll make it for you; if a specific dish is served with Beef but you prefer Chicken, we’ll do it for you. A couple of days back, a customer requested some vegetables with oyester sauce and we served it to him; he really appreciated this gesture and we won over a loyal customer. We are not reinventing the wheel here, just trying to elevate conventional chinese cuisine to a whole new level.
Yousuf: What are the team dynamics here? How do you get along with your staff?
A-Team: The average age of our staff is about 23 years, so we have a very young team, open to improvement and evolution. We come here to work and have fun. We are not rigid, rather ready to adopt new ideas with time, learning, trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Our team has provided a lot of feedback and ideas into what you are seeing around you at the moment.
Yousuf: So what are your plans for the future?
A-Team: Well, there are a few things that we’d love to take care of down the line. First and foremost, we’d love to add a few exotic items to our menu, including Duck. Next, we plan to open a second kitchen that will cater to home delivery orders only; the existing one is running on full capacity for dine-in orders.
Food (7.5 out of 10)
The Lantern’s menu is deceptively simple and elegant, yet it manages to cater to vegetarians as well as non-vegetarians (seafood, chicken or beef aficionados). Believe me; I have seen Chinese restaurant menus that are the size of a full-length novella, some even daring to span over 8 pages. In my experience, the larger the menu, the harder it is to decide what to order. For the restaurant owners, a complex menu may make it difficult for them to maintain consistency in what their kitchen is producing.
The menu features several dishes with a ‘gravy optional’ choice; personally, dry items are more appealing to me as that way, you cannot camouflage the taste of the dish behind a veil of sauces. This is a daring move on the chef’s part as he needs to have a lot of confidence in his cooking, and his ability to create food that is appealing to his customers.
After careful evaluation of the menu, I decided to skip the cliché soup and go straight for the appetizers; talk about challenging the norms of our society. On Gulraiz’s suggestion, I ordered some Deep Fried Chili Prawns, served with sautéed Thai chilies and spring onions, a garnish of julienne vegetables and some oriental sauce on the side. This was perhaps the most Pakistanized of all the dishes I tried that night, and I totally mean that in a good way. The prawns, infused with chili, were crisp and spicy, OK on their own but a revelation with that exquisite honey-based oriental sauce. The balance of sweet and spicy, and the aroma that emanated from the platter was extremely appealing to me; I’d go to the Lantern any given day just for that dish. The extra chilies added for presentation were overkill but otherwise, I rate the dish a solid 9 (out of 10).
Sesame Prawns on Toast, another appetizer that came highly recommended by the A-Team, was by far my least favorite dish of the evening. It’s a chunky prawn paste buttered onto a piece of toast, topped with a generous sprinkle of sesame seeds and deep fried to a crisp. The texture of the toast was extremely interesting; what really put me off was the oil-soaked bread and the overpowering sesame flavor, the prawns feeling like an afterthought instead of being the highlight of the dish. I suggest you make sure the bread is nice and oil-free, cut down on the sesame seeds and let the taste of the prawn shine. I’d give this a slightly disappointing 6.
Then came the entrees and I started off with Beef with Black Bean sauce. This is one of those dishes that grow on you; the first few bites were really OK, but the more I ate it, the more I liked it, so much so that I gave it a solid 8 on 10. The taste of the black beans really shines through and even though the dish is a little on the sweet side, it certainly is one that you’d probably order next time you visit The Lantern.
When the server brought out what was supposed to be Chicken Chili Dry, I was a bit confused, as it was unlike any I had ever had; it turned out to be an interesting spin on a classic. The chicken chunks, deep fried with a batter coat, covered in a sticky sweet sauce and finished with some green chilies, were extremely crunchy. Even though I was expecting a bit more heat on the dish, the combination, overall, seemed pretty balanced. I’d rate it an 8 out of 10.
The best presented dish of the night, hands down, was Crispy Beef in Bird’s Nest. I gave it 8 out of 10 mainly because besides being attractive, it delivered on the taste. The deep-fried strips of beef lightly glazed with a sweet chili sauce were crunchy on the outside, tender on the inside, and just seemed to melt in my mouth; I couldn’t stop eating them. I did experience some problems tackling the noodle nest though, as it was really really tough to break into.
After all the excellent food that I had devoured, I barely had any room left for dessert. The team insisted I try the Fried Fruits Candy and I’m glad I did. It featured chunks of banana, kiwi and apple, deep fried to a crisp and served with sugar syrup, some icing sugar, some sesame seeds and a pinch of cocoa powder. Even though the fruit was deep fried, the inside of the fruit had not lost its actual texture, and I salute the chef for this feat. I could have probably put the sugar syrup as a dipping sauce on the side rather than lathering the lovely fruits with it, but that’s just me. It was one of the closest things I had ever had to a Chinese dessert, so I gave it 8.5 out of 10.
The Pricing (8 out of 10)
A decent meal at The Lantern would cost you anywhere between PKR 1000 to 1500 per person (plus tax), which is very similar to what it would at any decent Chinese restaurant in Karachi. The portions sizes could have been slightly bigger as people invariably end up questioning the value for money.
Eating out is one of the few forms of enjoyment for us entertainment-starved Karachiites, and places like The Lantern make it even more enjoyable. What impresses me more is the young, energetic team putting it’s heart and soul into this restaurant, and is willing to learn and evolve from experience. I try viewing things from a common man’s perspective and here’s what I think The Lantern should do:
It was a pleasure watching Gulraiz play the gracious host out front, while Uzair was busy expediting orders in the kitchen, making sure every plate that came out was according to his standards. I’m sure with such a dedicated team, the Lantern has the potential to be one of the most sought after Chinese restaurants in Karachi.
A word of advice: If you don’t want a new splatter paint job on your car, avoid parking it under that big ol’ tree on the right side of the entrance; your driver/cleaner is sure to curse you while he puts his blood and sweat into cleaning it the next day.
Fatburger recently started advertising on billboards all across Karachi. The billboards, featuring a mouthwatering Triple Fatburger, are pretty hard to miss, and being the burger-junkie that I am, I dragged my wife and kids to Dolmen Mall, Clifton for a bite last Sunday. Unfortunately for me though, the burger joint had yet to open for public. Disappointed and disheartened, I went home and ordered some pizza instead. They say that when you want something really badly, the whole universe conspires in helping you achieve it. The very next day, I received an exclusive invite for a pre-inaugural bloggers’ meetup at Fatburger, courtesy Food Connection Pakistan.
So at precisely 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, January 3, 2013, I parked my car in the Dolmen Mall basement and made my way to the second floor. Turns out, the whole area where the restaurant was supposed to be was cordoned off. I asked one of the mall guards for directions and he told me to take a barely-visible side-entrance.
As soon as you step in, you are embraced by this lively space reminiscent of an all-American diner. The place has a very casual atmosphere that is both welcoming and homely, someplace you can either hang out with friends or with family and have as much fun as you can possibly handle. The lighting is primarily done using strategically placed spotlights and is just right without being too overpowering. Should you choose, you can sit at one of the tables spread out across the restaurant, at one of the cozy sofas under the gigantic Fatburger logo, or at the sit-down counter where all the cooking, shouting and shaking (strictly within the confines of an electric blender) is done right in front of your eyes. Fatburger employees are a chatty bunch so if you’re feeling a little adventurous, the sit-down counter is THE place for you.
The first person I met there was Wasif, the Director at BIL Foods Limited (local franchisee for the Fatburger chain). I started talking to him but mid-way through our chat, I was whisked away by Tarek (Director of Marketing for Fatburger, Middle East and North Africa – MENA) to meet Jake (Director of Operations for Fatburger, MENA). Turns out, Jake was holding an informal Q&A for all attendees and I was asked to join the circle. Asiya (General Manager HR, Marketing and Corporate Affairs) joined us at the table too.
Jake started off with a brief history of Fatburger (see Wikipedia page for further information) and a few fun facts about the restaurant. Since I had a few burning questions for Jake, I started firing away:
Yousuf: There are many burger joints in Karachi. What is it that sets you apart?
Jake: Well for starters, we use freshly ground beef and the burger patty is hand-made, not manufactured in some processing plant. You should make a note of the unevenness of the patty when you order your burger; that’s because its made by hand. Moreover, we only use lean meat from 30-month old steers grown specifically for their meat. All the meat that we use in our restaurant here is high-quality USDA choice beef imported from USA and is 100% halal. The meat is flash-frozen and sent over to Pakistan to preserve its nutritional value. So in short, it’s a healthier version of your average burger where you get all the taste but little on the waist. Besides, everything is made for you fresh, right in front of your eyes, because we don’t have anything to hide from our customers.
Let me make one thing clear: we are NOT a fast-food restaurant. For most joints, the staff’s relationship with the customer ends once they take your money and hand you a receipt; for Fatburger, it’s where the relationship begins. There is a wait-time for processing each order and we like to utilize that to have conversations with our customers, making sure they are having the best time of their life. Customer service is our number one priority.
Yousuf: So have you customized your menu specifically for Pakistan?
Jake: As part of the Fatburger philosophy, we stick with what works best. Currently, we have the original Fatburgers, Jalapeno Fatburger (also in Chiken), a Western BBQ Fatburger, a Turkeyburger and Veggieburger (this option is still unheard of in Pakistan). You can customize these items using our condiments and add-ons. As part of our sides, we have Chili dogs, Fatwings, Fat fries, Skinny fries, Chicken nuggets and strips, Homemade Onion rings, Chicken salad, and Chili fries. You can choose to go with a drink with free refills or a real Ice Cream Milkshake to wash it all down.
When we launch in a new country, we start off with our core menu and after evaluating customer feedback and local trends, we add on other items. LTOs (Limited Time Offers) are also introduced from time to time.
Yousuf: I’ve eating a lot of burgers abroad but when I try the same burger in Pakistan, it tastes different, and I don’t mean that in a good way, plus the portion sizes are smaller. What are you doing to ensure this doesn’t happen with Fatburger?
Jake: We, at Fatburger, don’t like to cut corners. What you get anywhere else in the world is what you get here. We have a tried and tested recipe which works every time so we don’t try messing around with it. Tarek and I are here from the Fatburger corporate office in the Middle East because we like to keep a close relationship with our franchisees. Continuous quality monitoring and coordination ensures that the quality of our products doesn’t deteriorate.
Yousuf: What do you recommend I should try today?
Jake: You should definitely go for a Western BBQ Burger with an egg (if you’re feeling adventurous) with a side of onion rings and a milkshake. Our onion rings are actually handmade from fresh Spanish onions, not from frozen ones.
While I was waiting in line to place my order, I couldn’t help but notice the smiles on everyone’s faces behind the counter and in the open kitchen; working didn’t seem like a chore and the employees were really enjoying themselves. I was up next.
“Hello Sir. Welcome to Farburger. How are you doing?”, the lady behind the counter said.
“I’m doing good, and you?”, I inquired.
“Fine, thank you sir. What would you like to order today?”
I decided to ditch Jake’s advice and went for the unadulterated Fatburger. “Hmm. I’ll have a Fatburger without tomatoes, and some chili cheese fries.”
“Would you like a drink with your order?”
“Sure. I’ll have a milk shake. What flavors do you have?”
“We have vanilla, strawberry, chocolate and Oreo.”
“I’ll have a chocolate shake.”
“Anything else, sir?”
“No that’ll be all. Thank you.”
“Dine in or take-away?”
“Dine in, please.”
And then something really extra-ordinary happened. This lady taking my order proceeded with ‘The Call-out’, an authentic way of shouting out an order to the kitchen. I made a video of another transaction for your viewing pleasure.
“Thank you. Kindly take your receipt and this number. Your order will be ready within 10 to 12 minutes.”
As I made way to my table, all the employees there smiled at me, made small-talk and thanked me for coming to Fatburger.
While I was waiting for my order, one of my friends who had already received his order offered me an onion ring. That was undoubtedly the most unpretentious onion ring I had ever had, and I mean that in a good way. Perfectly cooked with a balanced seasoning, it was crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. I had little time to admire the down-to-earthiness of the onion ring as a waiter came up to my table and put my meal in front of me, well within the promised 10 minutes.
The chili fries looked irresistible but could have used a little more cheese. They tasted pretty good too. The chili was a perfect combination of sweet and spicy, not over-the-top but just-a-hint-o-spice. Even though my Pakistani palette craved more heat, I found the chili-fries combo pretty satisfying.
I lovingly unwrapped the burger and took my first bite. It was very good, better than most burgers I’ve had over the years. The patty was moist and nicely seasoned, not too hard not too soft. The second bite tasted even better as I got a hit of pickle with that one. Needless to say, I was enjoying myself immensely. Just then, a waiter came up to me and asked me if everything was to my liking. He also brought me some tomato ketchup and my hand-scooped Chocolate milkshake.
As I was focused on finishing my burger, I barely noticed Jake coming down to my table. I offered him a seat and gave him a few tips on what foods to try when in Karachi. While we were chatting away, I took a closer look at my milkshake. Topped with a generous serving of whipped cream, it looked really tempting. I wrapped my hand around the glass, stirred the straw to mix in the cream and took a sip. It was perhaps the best milkshake I had ever had; PERIOD. It was thick and luscious and phenomenal, everything that you’d ever want in a milkshake. I finished the burger and with a heavy heart and a full stomach, took a long loving sip, only to hear the slurp that signified the end of my relationship with the milkshake.
Even though the menu pricing is on the high side of things, the quality and the overall experience significantly compensates for it. Since these are not your average everyday ordinary burgers, you should keep in mind the nutritional advantage you get at Fatburger before really focusing out on the prices. Plus, there are a lot of options and a lot of variations that you can mix-and-match to your liking.
For me, a dining experience is not just about the food, it’s about the place itself, the people running it and the hospitality they extend to you. Fatuburger officially opens its first restaurant in Pakistan today at Dolmen Mall, Karachi and I suggest ardent burger-lovers should definitely give it a try.
Now, some words of wisdom for the team at Fatburger and BIL Foods:
Fatburger brilliantly succeeds in making a meal, traditionally considered to be fatty, healthy. I salute the entire team for their blatant disregard of the norms set by the burger industry giants and thank them for giving us something original, unpretentious and nutritious. Their burgers are succulent, non-greasy, and light on the waist, without compromising on the taste. I have to say that I was honored to be one of their first few customers and I intend to remain one for a long time. All the best with today’s opening.