Can ‘Noonsey Nihari’ become the Queen of Niharis?

After seeing everyone going gaga over Noonsey Nihari on SWOT, I decided to take my family there. Now I’m usually the type who orders a little more than is necessary so that there are ample leftovers for the next day as well.

Followed the same strategy at NSN as well, only this time NSN committed the Cardinal Sin of not packing the complete stuff. They left out the beef nihari, the item that was remaining in the most quantity.

Now this is something which I hate the most. A cockroach in food. That’s ok, it can happen. Dead fly. No big deal. But all the leftover food not packed? Unforgivable.

Up until that point, the experience had been more or less good, but this pretty much undid whatever good work they were able to do. It was no use calling them up to have a go at them as we found out the next day when we opened the packet.

Noonsey Nihari Beef Nihari
Noonsey Nihari Beef Nihari
Noonsey Nihari Chapli Kabab
Noonsey Nihari Chapli Kabab
Noonsey Nihari Chatkheelay
Noonsey Nihari Chatkheelay
Noonsey Nihari Ambiance
Noonsey Nihari Ambiance
Noonsey Nihari Interior
Noonsey Nihari Interior

It would have been understandable if the place was jam-packed, but there were only a few people there. That means it wasn’t an accident but a deliberate act.

From a marketer’s perspective, the last experience your customer has with your brand counts the most, and not the first impression, as in human interactions.

And for that last folly, I would re-christen the place to ‘Noon Se Naalaiq’ instead of ‘Noon se Nihari’.

Now let me divulge the actual experience of eating out there and will try to prevent the last heinous act from influencing my judgement.

Full marks to the management for the ambiance. You would be hard pressed to find a nihari house that good.  They could do away with some of the lights, however.

One major shortcoming here. For some inexplicable reason, they’ve installed fans in addition to the ACs. That’s not as bad as the fact that the fans are coupled with the lighting. We found out about it when the food came and I asked the waiter to switch off the fan directly overhead which was throwing air at us ferociously with the grim determination of turning our food to ice in a matter of seconds.

The waiter sheepishly replied that he couldn’t because he would have to turn out all the lights as well. I then asked him to at least slow down its ferocity a bit, and to my amazement he said that wasn’t possible either. If I was a BHAI, us kay naam ki parchi ab tak nikal aati. Alas, that has gone out of vogue in Karachi.

To all darling restaurateurs out there, try not to be a miser while laying the foundation of your restaurant by coupling all lighting and air-conditioning under a single switch. Spend a few bucks to buy some extra switches. You’re going to win all that money back in any case once you get started by charging an arm and a leg, why not provide your customers some semblance of convenience while you’re fleecing them?

Coming to the food. The chapli kababs were delectable. They had just the right amount of spices. The meat under the crust was tender and not over-cooked like I’ve seen in so many others. And the quantity was good too.

The Nihari was OK. No more. No less. But for a staggering price of Rs.580 which does not include even the Maghaz or the Nalli, it was not OK by any stretch of the imagination. In fact if you include both these sidelines, you’re looking at a whopping price of Rs. 750!

Unless you’re putting gold dust into that Nihari [maybe pearls would do too], I wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot pole. Which I did. My bad. But never again.

And therein lies the real problem with a high-end Nihari business model.  If you’re opening a fine-dining restaurant with exorbitant prices, its better to put some high-end dishes in it that at least have a perception of being high-end. Nihari, just like biryani, is the staple diet of Karachiites. They’re used to having a mind-blowing version at Javed, Sohail and Zahid at less than half of what Noon Se Nihari se charging.  It’s not something for which you would get all dressed up to have a restaurant.

A double plate of supremely sumptuous Nihari with all the bells and whistles at one of these joints would cost no more than Rs.300. And NSN’s version couldn’t hold a candle to these veterans’ delicacy.

Would you go for a biryani that costs almost a thousand buck? You wouldn’t. Unless of course you were sitting at a five-star hotel. And your friend was paying for it.

Right now people are thronging to NSN merely because of the novelty factor and not because of the taste. In some instance it’s also a battle of ‘Oh-my-you-haven’t-tried-that-out-as-yet’. But once the dust settles down, which it invariably will, NSN will have a tough time getting in repeat customers based on their Nihari’s current level of scrumptiousness. The fact that it does not have the best of locations will hurt it too.

So unless NSN re-invents its Nihari and takes it taste to the level of the Big Boys, it will have a tough time surviving merely on the Burger Awam’s penchant for hygienic Nihari.

We as a nation aren’t attuned to relishing hygienic foods. Otherwise the food joints which have been closed down time and again by the government’s food and health department for unhygienic conditions would have been shunned by the public, never to be profitable again. And yet they are thriving.

So if you think you can make this business model successful whereby you charge exorbitantly for something based on just hygiene and not taste, good luck with it.

TGI Fridays Ramadan Iftar Deal

TGI Fridays is offering an Iftar deal for Rs.1395 + tax = Rs.1618.2 which on the face of it appears quite expensive.

The following are the items TGI Fridays is offering part of the iftar deal:

  1. Portion of Bean Fries
  2. Soup of the Day/Salad
  3. One main entrée from a selection
  4. Soft drink/mineral water/iced tea

To get a glimpse into this deal, have a look at the TGI Fridays Iftar deal review.

TGI fridays Ramadan Iftar Deal
TGI fridays Ramadan Iftar Deal

TGI Fridays Makes a Hash of Iftar Deal

TGI Fridays makes a comeback to Karachi after a hiatus of more than 12 years. Back then it opened shop at one of the most happening places of Karachi – The Point – now popularly called the Park Towers.

The Point was the place to be in 1998 as the mall culture hadn’t taken hold of this coastal town yet, and it was for all intents and purposes the start of that culture. And TGI Fridays was smack in the middle of this metamorphosis/paradigm shift.

20140726_204621

TGI Fridays
TGI Fridays
TGI Fridays
TGI Fridays
TGI Fridays Karachi
TGI Fridays Karachi
TGI Fridays Karachi
TGI Fridays Karachi
TGI Fridays Karachi
TGI Fridays Karachi
TGI Fridays Karachi
TGI Fridays Karachi
TGI Fridays Karachi
TGI Fridays Karachi

We did have some good times there as it was the hangout for teenagers. It also was probably the first restaurant that kickstarted karaoke nights in this part of the world.

Sadly TGI Fridays couldn’t capitalize on it and left the Pakistani shores just a few short years later. It’s back again in town, and this time around it’s not in an envious position since the location isn’t very flattering, and the Karachi market is brimming with foreign franchises. Back then the Pakistani consumers didn’t have access to so many choices.

We decided to take TGI Fridays for a spin to see whether they have learnt any lessons from their last experience and offering something different especially when it comes to Ramadan deals.

TGI Fridays wasn’t very keen to offer any Iftar deal in Ramadan even in their last outing in Karachi, and although this time around they’re offering a deal, they might as well have not offered anything at all. That’s because their Ramadan deal isn’t adding any value to the customer.

TGI Fridays Iftar Deal

So what is TGI Fridays’ iftar deal all about?

Frankly, it’s one of the worst iftar deals I’ve come across in my 14 years experience of dissecting Ramadan deals. Not because of the items it is offering in its deals, but because of the actual value it is offering to the customers.

TGI Fridays Iftar menu
TGI Fridays Iftar menu
TGI Fridays Iftar Deal
TGI Fridays Iftar Deal
TGI Fridays Iftar Deal
TGI Fridays Iftar Deal
TGI Fridays Iftar Deal
TGI Fridays Iftar Deal
TGI Fridays Iftar Deal
TGI Fridays Iftar Deal
TGI Fridays Iftar n normal deal bill
TGI Fridays Iftar n normal deal bill

TGI Fridays is charging Rs.1395 + tax = Rs.1618.2 for its so-called Iftar deal. But if you buy all the items in this deal individually, the price comes out to be the same, and in some cases, less than the deal. So in reality, you lose money when you opt for this deal.

The following are the items TGI Fridays is offering part of the iftar deal:

  1. Portion of Bean Fries
  2. Soup of the Day/Salad
  3. One main entrée from a selection
  4. Soft drink/mineral water/iced tea

Now let’s do a simple calculation to determine the value if you bought them individually:

  1. Portion of Bean Fries Rs. 300/3 = Rs.100
  2. Soup of the Day/Salad = Rs. 325
  3. One main entrée [Say Fish & Chips] = Rs.625
  4. Soft drink/mineral water/iced tea [soft drink] = Rs.125
  5. Grand Total = Rs. 1175

See what I mean? You could have had all this at only Rs.1175 instead of the Iftar deal of Rs.1395 if you bought it out of the deal. Even if you the bean fries at full Rs.300, even then the total price comes out to be Rs.1375, Rs.20 less than the Iftar deal price.

Yes, restaurants make a killing in Ramadan season by offering enticing deals to lure the hapless customer. But in almost all of them, there’s a semblance of value addition for the customer and it’s not a complete rip-off.

Like I said before, TGI Fridays’ Ramadan offering is probably the worst iftar deal Karachiites have ever seen. And TGI Fridays needs to spank the naughty boy who came up with this raw deal for the customers. Not a good start for their first Ramadan after the comeback.

When you consider awesome deals like what Johnny Rockets is offering, this one just pales in comparison.

 

And now we dissect the items themselves in the Iftar deal.

TGI Fridays Cream Mushroom Soup

The soup of the day as part of the iftar deal at TGI Fridays that day was cream mushroom soup. And it was delectable. Contrary to what most restaurants serve, the soup had a hefty helping of mushrooms and the taste was enough to send your taste buds into overdrive. It got us all excited about the main course ahead. Little did we know what horrors lay ahead of us.

TGI Fridays  Cream Mushroom Soup
TGI Fridays Cream Mushroom Soup

TGI Fridays Fried Mozzarella

As part of the Iftar deal, we were supposed to get the fried bean fries but instead they gave the fried mozzarella served with a sauce that use as base for a pizza. It was alright, nothing to write home about.

TGI Fridays Fried Mozzarella
TGI Fridays Fried Mozzarella
TGI Fridays Fried Mozzarella
TGI Fridays Fried Mozzarella

TGI Fridays Tennessee Grill Chicken

Now I’ve never been to Tennessee and apart from the fact that the place is crawling with ghosts and ghouls, which Hollywood flicks have led me to believe, I can’t really comment on how Tennesseans like to have their grilled chicken. But I can’t really believe they like to have their grilled chicken rock hard, as if it has been languishing in a hell-hole for centuries just like the ghosts of Tennessee’s, and that it has been set free just now by some accidental human intervention.

TGI Fridays Tennessee Grill Chicken
TGI Fridays Tennessee Grill Chicken
TGI Fridays Tennessee Grill Chicken
TGI Fridays Tennessee Grill Chicken
TGI Fridays Tennessee Grill Chicken
TGI Fridays Tennessee Grill Chicken
TGI Fridays Tennessee Grill Chicken
TGI Fridays Tennessee Grill Chicken
TGI Fridays Tennessee Grill Chicken
TGI Fridays Tennessee Grill Chicken

That’s how harrowing the grilled chicken experience was. Portion-size wise, it was one of the most substantial portions I’ve ever seen on a platter of grilled chicken in any restaurant. But then again, when you’re charging Rs.1025 plus tax for a mere grilled chicken, you better fill the plate properly. And fill they did with three large breast pieces sidled with a generous helping of fries and a not-so-generous one of onion rings. The two sidelines are a customer’s choice.

So the platter was enough to satiate your appetite. Only problem was, how to get through the ordeal of munching on centuries old chicken. You knew you were in for some hard times when you tried to slice your way through the first chicken breast. It was harder than cutting a piece of rare beef steak. And if by some miracle you did manage to cut off a piece, trying to chew it was a challenge that would have delighted the likes of Fear Factor participants.

And it was really mind-boggling because the presentation of the Tennessee grilled chicken was spot on.

Something just wasn’t adding up. You looked at the inviting chicken breast, your mouth salivated. You munched on the breast, your entire mouth went dry as if the chicken had sucked all your saliva into it.

There was a sort of a sauce that came with the chicken in a small pot that seemed to have a specific gravity even less than water! Now wait, it was a gravy. I’ve no idea what the hell it was, but it did nothing to ease the tormenting, apart from lending a sweetened taste to the whole proceedings.

We tried in vain to ease the suffering by adding the mustard, the bbq sauce, whatever we could find on the table one after the other. All in vain.

In the end we gave up. The damned chicken from the depths of Tennessean hell won.

TGI Fridays Swiss Mushroom Burger

TGI Fridays Swiss Mushroom Burger was a treat to watch. It appeared large, with a succulent albeit rare beef patty sandwiched in between with a hefty dose of melted swiss cheese, mushrooms, pickles and onions.

Until we bit into it. The sensation was…….. nothing. Yep. You heard me. Nothing at all. No wait. That’s not entirely true. You could taste the pickles. But that’s just about it.

It really is a feat to devise a burger garnished with a dozen things and yet they all add up to a create a senseless sensation. We were a bit apprehensive about the rare beef patty since it looked almost raw- it was that pink. But our fears were unfounded. There wasn’t any taste in it.

Yet again, we were starkly reminded of the Tennessean connection. Maybe it wasn’t beef at all, but the remnants of a witch that was buried centuries ago in a Tennessee haunted house and now imported directly from that God forsaken place for the twisted palates of the Pakistanis. Scenes from the movie The Conjuring conjured up in our mind.

TGI Fridays Swiss Mushroom Burger
TGI Fridays Swiss Mushroom Burger
TGI Fridays Swiss Mushroom Burger
TGI Fridays Swiss Mushroom Burger
TGI Fridays Swiss Mushroom Burger
TGI Fridays Swiss Mushroom Burger
TGI Fridays Swiss Mushroom Burger
TGI Fridays Swiss Mushroom Burger
TGI Fridays Swiss Mushroom Burger
TGI Fridays Swiss Mushroom Burger

The only positive aspect of this fiasco is the freshness of the bun, something which is seen wanting at most foreign franchises. Moreover, the beef patty was thicker than the bun itself. Now if only it had some semblance of taste as well.

At Rs. 900 plus tax, it promises to stuff you silly without bothering your taste buds.

TGI Fridays Prayer Area

The prayer area was basically a corner in the main dining hall that was in full view of the public and could accommodate just one person at a time. However, that wasn’t much of a problem considering most of the diners weren’t bothered to offer their Maghrib prayers, so you could easily offer yours if you wanted to. But if you’re female, that could be a bit of a problem, unless you’ve no issues offering it in stark view of everyone in the diner.

TGI Fridays Iftar Deal Verdict

TGI Fridays may have positioned itself as casual dining the world over, but the prices they’re charging in this part of the world are way above what the casual diner pays in Pakistan. Casual dining in this part of the world means having a Rs.200-300 fast food or a plate of biryani at a local restaurant, not something in the range of Rs.1000-1500.

So TGI Fridays prices are skewed more towards the fine dining range, and as such when a discerning customer pays a visit, he will expect an experience a whole lot more than just casual in terms of the quality of food he’s being served, considering the price he’s paying for it.

TGI Fridays does appear to have made a comeback considering the crowd they’re pulling in right at the outset, but that can be a misleading indicator in a city where foreign franchises are a dime a dozen and competition from the local food operators is stiff.

If TGI Fridays can just add some zest to their offerings, it does stand a chance to not let history repeat itself.

 

TGI Fridays
TGI Fridays

 

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Johnny Rockets Iftar Ramadan Deal

Johnny Rockets is offering one of the most interesting Iftar deals by any foreign franchise this Ramadan. The only downside of Johnny Rockets iftar deal is that it is limited to fixed persons – either 4 or 6 persons. Any number of persons other than that, and the deal falls flat.

Johnny Rockets Ramadan Deal:

This is what Johnny Rockets is offering as part of its Ramadan deal:

  1. 4 or 6 drinks with unlimited refills
  2. 4 or 6 chicken tenders
  3. salad bowl
  4. chili fries
  5. 4 or 6 burgers [Choice of beef bacon, smoke house and st. louise burger]
  6. 4 or 6 ice cream

GO through the Johnny Rockets review of the deal to better understand the value of this deal.

Johnny Rockets Iftar Ramadan deal
Johnny Rockets Iftar Ramadan deal

Pure Health Cafe Iftar Deal

Pure Health Cafe Iftar Deal looks to be something a bit out of the ordinary from the usual suspects. Although Pure Health Cafe is offering a drink, platter and dessert for Rs.500 plus tax, it hasn’t given the details of either the platter or the dessert which makes it difficult to choose this from the plethora of Ramadan deals on offer in the market, or to even gauge whether this iftar deal is worth Rs.600 odd.

Pure Health Cafe  is the newest kid on the block and this is their first ever Ramadan. It remains to be seen whether Pure Health Cafe  is able to compete with the industry giants.

 Pure Health Cafe Karachi
Clifton Block 9
Karachi , Pakistan  

Phone: 021-35306817

Pure Health Cafe Iftar Deal
Pure Health Cafe Iftar Deal

Burger King Iftar Deal

Burger King is offering two different iftar deals this Ramadan, both of which are a bit vague in that they haven’t mentioned the specifics of it unless you can make out what is what from the visual.

Burger King is relatively new in the Pakistani market and in fact this is Burger King’s very first Ramadan in Pakistan. It remains to be see how Burger King competes with the likes of Hardee’s and Johnny Rockets as far as Ramadan deals go.

Burger King Ramadan Deal

Burger King Karachi

Phone Number: (021) 111 112 525
Address: 1.Opp. Boat Basin, 2. Dolmen city, 3.Near Metric Board Office, Karachi, Pakistan
Website: http://www.burgerking.com.pk
burger king ramadan deal
burger king ramadan deal

United King Iftar Buffet Deal

United King the most famous bakery in Karachi Pakistan is now offering for the first time an All You Can Eat Iftar Deal only at its Clifton outlet for Rs.875 inclusive of tax. This Ramadan deal is not really a buffet dinner deal as most of the items included are mostly snack pertaining to Iftar.

The following are the items you can expect to have in this United King bakery’s iftar deal:

 United King Iftar

  1. Sharbat
  2. Jalebi
  3. Samosa
  4. Spring roll
  5. Mix pakora

Buffet Dinner

  1. Salad
  2. Pizza
  3. Chicken pasta
  4. Fried chicken
  5. Drink
United-King-Ramadan-Deal
United-King-Ramadan-Deal

United King

Phone Number: (021) 111-022-022
Address: Near Bombay Light House, III Talwar, Block 8, Clifton, Karachi, Pakistan
Website: http://www.unitedking.com

 

Kababji Sheraton Offers the only Lebanese Iftar in Karachi

Kababji is Sheraton’s, in fact Karachi’s premiere Lebanese restaurant. Although there are others like Abaan and Damascus, none come close to Kababji in terms of offerings and ambience.

Kababji Lebanese Restaurant Sheraton Karachi
Kababji Lebanese Restaurant Sheraton Karachi
Kababji Lebanese Restaurant Sheraton Karachi
Kababji Lebanese Restaurant Sheraton Karachi
Kababji Lebanese Restaurant Sheraton Karachi
Kababji Lebanese Restaurant Sheraton Karachi
Kababji Lebanese Restaurant Sheraton Karachi
Kababji Lebanese Restaurant Sheraton Karachi
Kababji Lebanese Restaurant Sheraton Karachi
Kababji Lebanese Restaurant Sheraton Karachi

Kababji sheraton has been revamped since we last visited it. Although the décor is still very traditional, the lighting has been intensified a tad too much.

Iftar Dinner Buffet at Kababji Sheraton

Kababji’s Ramadan iftar dinner buffet is not as lavish as some of the other buffets in town, having about 25 odd items compared to 50+ offered by other restaurants, but it’s based on just one cuisine not offered by any other that is Lebanese whereas the others are a cornucopia of cuisines.

It costs Rs.1800 (Rs.1500 + GST + soft drink+ tip) making it one of the most expensive, if not the most, iftar buffets in Karachi. The fact that Kababji is housed within Sheraton hotel has got a lot to do with that exorbitant price tag.

The shawarma was the real deal unlike the ones that have sprung up all over the city. Most of them don’t know jack about creating a shawarma. The thing is, one of the basic ingredients of the real shawarma is the ‘charbi’ (fat) which is skewered on top of the slab of meat. When heat is applied to this arrangement via the burner, the charbi melts and permeates into the meat giving the trademark taste to the shawarma, something which is amiss in almost all the shawarmas available in Karachi. Kababji’s shawarma had this unique taste. So full marks to the Kababji sheraton team for maintaining the authenticity of the Arabic shawarma.

Ouzi or Baked lamb and spiced rice was the grandeur item personifying the Lebanese experience to the hilt. True to the Lebanese tradition, it was cooked in a gargantuan cooking utensil with an entire lamb, or in this case, a small goat. This colossal arrangement was placed at one end of the buffet table.

 

Iftar buffet at kababji sheraton
Iftar buffet at kababji sheraton
Iftar buffet at kababji sheraton
Iftar buffet at kababji sheraton
Iftar buffet at kababji sheraton
Iftar buffet at kababji sheraton
Iftar buffet at kababji sheraton
Iftar buffet at kababji sheraton
Iftar buffet at kababji sheraton
Iftar buffet at kababji sheraton
Shawarma at Kababji lebanese restaurant
Shawarma at Kababji lebanese restaurant
Iftar buffet at kababji sheraton
Iftar buffet at kababji sheraton
Iftar buffet at kababji sheraton
Iftar buffet at kababji sheraton
Iftar buffet at kababji sheraton
Iftar buffet at kababji sheraton

Lebanese cuisine is rich with an assortment of kababs and we looked forward to dishes like the Orfali kabab or the Laham Mishwe Kabab or even Dajaj Kabab, unfortunately the only one available was Kafta kabab.

The kafta felt like too much had been done with them. Remember the adage too many cooks spoil the broth? That’s what probably became the fate of this distant cousin of seekh kababs. They were definitely made from lamb meat, judging from the overpowering taste of the meat, but in order to diminish this smell and taste, the cook had over-compensated by putting one spice too many. The result was a mishmash that tasted very artificial. Then one of the foremost requirements of a kabab is that it should be juicy and succulent and should literally melt into your mouth. These did none of those things. On the other hand, they were barren and when you chewed on them, they had a rough texture as if the concoction had been prepared ages ago.

Humour fish was good but we missed the Samak Harra which epitomizes Lebanese cuisine. Ironically it would have suited the Pakistani palate more because it provokes your taste buds something which the chef had tried to do with the other items. Humour which tasted baked was devoid of any spices or remarkable taste.

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.386865768033819.96417.161242853929446&type=3

The chicken wings surprisingly were the best dish on display surpassing even the Ouzi.

Shish Taouk was succulent and tender, the chicken cubes easily melting into your mouth, but even here you felt the recipe had been tampered with to gel in with the Pakistani palate.

The beef boti was alright, although there was nothing Lebanese about it.

And that’s precisely the problem with Kababji’s iftar buffet. Apart from the few standard items like Hummus, Tabouleh and Shish Taouk, most of the items were reminiscent of the Pakistani cuisine. Fancy names were given to the items which were derivatives of some Lebanese dish but had been adapted to suit the Pakistani palate. And if you check those fancy names, you wouldn’t find many of those dishes in Lebanese cuisine.

What was the reason for such a strange strategy is not known, but we could speculate that the management faced failure last year when it launched the Iftar buffet dinner with the authentic Lebanese cuisine and people didn’t respond to it well. So they resorted to these tactics.

Iftar buffet at kababji sheraton
Iftar buffet at kababji sheraton
Iftar buffet at kababji sheraton
Iftar buffet at kababji sheraton
Iftar buffet at kababji sheraton
Iftar buffet at kababji sheraton
Iftar buffet at kababji sheraton
Iftar buffet at kababji sheraton
Iftar buffet at kababji sheraton
Iftar buffet at kababji sheraton
Iftar buffet at kababji sheraton
Iftar buffet at kababji sheraton
Iftar buffet at kababji sheraton
Iftar buffet at kababji sheraton

But most of all what we missed the most and were expecting Kababji to offer in its Iftar dinner considering the exorbitant price was the Rubian Mekly – Breaded jumbo prawns fried, served with Lebanese tartar sauce and French fries. That would have made our day, justified the price every cent and evoked a WOW response from all the customers. It would have dwarfed all the shortcomings, and even turned this critical review into a flowery one overflowing with praises.

Although a lot of regular items from its ala carte menu were missing including Shish Kabab, lamb shawarma, muhalabiyyah and Konafa Bil Ashta, it wouldn’t have mattered one bit had Rubian Mekly made the Iftar buffet. And so it usually happens, restaurants get everything right, but the omission of one single critical factor spoils the whole effort.

Iftar buffet at kababji sheraton
Iftar buffet at kababji sheraton
Iftar buffet at kababji sheraton
Iftar buffet at kababji sheraton
Iftar buffet at kababji sheraton
Iftar buffet at kababji sheraton

What we particularly liked about Kababji’s offering was that although soft drinks weren’t included in the iftar dinner buffet, a plethora of juices and other drinks were on offer that were really refreshing. Ok maybe the orange juice wasn’t refreshing or even good, tasting like some medicine, the others including apple, lemon mint and grapes were up to the mark. Then there was the sweet and salty lassi. And of course the mineral water was included in the package.

The dessert section had more to show the Lebanese culture than the savory one, although here as well you could find the standard dessert dishes like the caramel custard, chocolate cake and chocolate pastries. But apart from that, you had the Baklava which is the darling of Lebanese sweets.

 

Overall it was a good experience at Kababji Sheraton but our last experience at their A la carte dinner was much better. Kababji should do away with trying to match the Lebanese cuisine with the Pakistani palate and instead focus on maintaining the authenticity of the Lebanese cuisine. You’re able to elicit a WOW response from your customers when you stop trying to be all things to all people and just focus on your forte.

 

Okay experience. Apart from a few standard Lebanese dishes, you couldn’t discern whether you were having Pakistani or Lebanese cuisine.

Too much effort made to make the cusine acceptable to the Pakistani palate instead of preserving and showcasing the authentic Lebanese delicacies.

At Rs.1800 (Rs.1500 + GST + soft drink+ tip) it’s a bit on the high side considering you can have pretty much the same stuff at a standard Pakistani buffet deal for much less. The WOW factor just wasn’t there at Kababji Sheraton.

Olivetto’s Iftar Deal

Olivetto, the brainchild of Afroza Bhamani, is the latest addition to Karachi’s fine-dining foodscape.

Olivetto’s foray into the Ramadan iftar deal bandwagon in its very first year is a mixture of buffet deal and a la carte. While it’s far better than the other iftar platter + main entrée + dessert combo deals like the one offered by Fuchsia, it falls far behind the ones offered by veterans like Hobnob Café, Arizona Grill and Roasters. Even Necos‘s iftar deal although slightly expensive than Olivetto, fares better than Olivetto.

When we say it’s better, the major reason is that of the diversity of items on offer. Not only any item, but main entrees. For instance, Necos is offering its main entrées, each item worth over Rs.500, as part of its iftar dinner buffet. Same goes for Hobnob Café, Arizona Grill and Roasters.

Olivetto’s buffet is confined to Iftar items only: chana chaat, fruit chaat, samosa, jalebi, pakora, dahi phulki, sandwiches, khatta aaloo – the usual suspects. However, it has tried to innovate a bit with the addition of falafel, hummous, baba ganoush, moutabel and pita.

Olivetto followed the brilliant marketing acumen of ‘Under-promise over-deliver’ to the hilt by offering a single slice of pizza and a glass of soft drink that wasn’t mentioned on the menu. What’s more, the slice of pizza was brought individually to the table and not kept on the iftar buffet table to ensure that people didn’t take it for granted.

[slickr-flickr tag=”olivetto”]

What’s more, it was hot, fresh and scrumptious, showing that Olivetto really put the effort to get it right in spite of the fact that customers weren’t even expecting it. Simply brilliant.

In addition to this, there was a bottle of mineral water served as well which again wasn’t mentioned. The only drinks mentioned were tea and rooh afza. It seems Afroza Bhamani knows a thing or two about marketing.

Yes, they could make this strategy even more brilliant by offering a second round of pizza and drinks. Judging by our satiated appetites by the items on offer, we don’t think many people would opt for the second helping let alone a third one, but the goodwill this simple gesture would generate would be tremendous.

One thing worth noting here is that even the two types of sandwiches on offer were not part of the menu and were in fact part of the ‘over-deliver’ strategy. In order to ensure that people don’t take these sandwiches for granted, Olivetto would do well to serve the sandwiches separately just like the pizza.

While the roast beef sandwich was just okay, the chicken grilled sandwich was simply divine.

The fruit chat although refreshing was just another chat. Olivetto could definitely have sexed it up by including as many seasonal fruits as are available these days instead of just the rudimentary essentials. What’s more they could have made a cream fruit chaat! Now that would have given the customers something to cherish and the competitors  to think about since fruit chaat is one area no one pays much attention to.

Baba ganoush was delectable. Hummus we felt was a bit of a let down in the sense that the tangy taste of baba ganoush was present in it as well.  There are numerous ways of preparing the hummous and one of the most common ways is sans the tanginess. Here when you’re already offering one sour salad it makes sense to vary the taste of the other one.

The pita bread served with the iftar was in the form of long narrow strips and strangely hardened to the point of being crisp. However, the one served with the main entrée was hot and soft.

Apart from this iftar menu, Olivetto offers two different platters from which you can choose one. One they call the house platter and the other Mediterranean platter.

Both the platters comprise of a main entrée with a sideline thrown in for good measure and a dessert. However, there’s not much choice within the two platters. Once you choose one of the platters, you’ll have to go with the fixed items on the menu.

The Mediterranean platter comprises of the following:

  1. Lamb Chops and Beef Kabab or Samak Harra
  2. Shish Taouk with lemon and coriander sauce
  3. Vermicelli rice
  4. Om e Ali or Crème Brulee

We tried both the lamb chop version and samak harra version (you could choose only one in a platter).

Samak Harra is a Lebanese chilli fish. It is basically Sautéed fish fillet topped with garlic, cilantro, pureed tomatoes, onions and spicy seasonings, and sometimes sprinkled with toasled pinenuts. The Olivetto version was scrumptious.

Shish Taouk is a common Lebanese dish that comprises of grilled chicken skewers  marinated in olive oil, lemon, parsley, and sumac. While every other restaurant these days is offering this delicacy including BBQ tonight, the shish taouk at Olivetto far outweighed the rest of the competition. The biggest difference was in the quality of the meat itself and the way it was prepared. The chicken pieces were not only succulent; they literally melted in your mouth. Normally the chicken you would find in shish taouk at most Pakistani restaurants is rough and dry. What’s more, lemon is an inherent ingredient of shish taouk which almost all pakistani restaurants fail to incorporate. At Olivetto what you get is a rare gem.

The lamb chops were delectable as well. Maybe a bit over-marinated to offset any smell that is associated with lamb meat, but worth digging your teeth into.

For dessert, you could either go with Om e Ali or Crème Brulee. We tried both.

Om e Ali is an Egyptian dessert that contains phyllo dough or puff pastry, milk and nuts. There’s no rule as to what nuts to use, and we felt that Olivetto went a bit overboard with the nuts and all. It was too rich a dessert, but if that’s your cup of tea, then you’re going to love it.

Crème brûlée also known as burnt cream, crema catalana, or Trinity cream is a dessert consisting of a rich custard base topped with a contrasting layer of hard caramel. It is a strange dish, with sugar sprinkled on top of the custard and caramelized with usually a butane torch.

Although the custard base can be flavored with pretty much anything including chocolate, orange and coffee, at Olivetto it was vanilla flavored and served cold. Although we couldn’t get through it, having stuffed ourselves already, it was pure heavenly bliss. And if you yearn for your toddler days, the semblance of Cerelac taste in this french dessert is sure to give you a jolt of nostalgia.

The House Platter comprised of :

  1. Penne Arrabiata
  2. Chicken with mushroom sauce or pepper steak
  3. Gratin/mashed potatoes in sauce
  4. Roasted vegetables
  5. Italian bread pudding with ice cream

The chicken with mushroom sauce that we chose over pepper steak was simply divine.

The Penne Arrabiata however was mediocre.

The roasted vegetables were done sparingly. If you like your vegetables to be a bit raw, you would enjoy it.

The mashed potatoes with sauce wasn’t anything to write home about either.

The Italian bread pudding with ice cream was sumptuous, with the quantity enough to satiate your desire.

Although both the platters are enough to satiate your appetite especially when you take into account the iftar items and the pizza, on the face of it, it looks like you’ve been duped. Maybe because the menu claims it to be a platter and what you’re presented with is a solitary plate with all the items advertised bunched together.

Maybe they need to change the wording, removing the word ‘platter’, or if they continue to use it, rearrange the items to appear more expansive.

Although the service was generally good, one minor irritant we felt was the over-eagerness of waiters to leap to our table at every opportunity to pick up the plate irrespective of whether they were empty or not!

There’s a very thin line between being too attentive and too ignorant and the staff ought to be taught about the right timing.

Olivetto may have become relatively popular but the fact that it was completely deserted (once the Iftar deal was over) on a Saturday night ought to be a cause for concern. Maybe people were present in one of their private dining rooms but not a soul was in sight in the main hall. Maybe they need to constrain the liberal use of their private dining rooms so that customers have nowhere but to use the main hall. Unless there are sufficient people in a party, use of private dining room shouldn’t be allowed. If they don’t put a check on this practice now, pretty soon what they’ll have is an empty dining hall while everyone would be sitting smugly in their private rooms. That would not augur well for the brand one bit.

Olivetto’s tentative foray into iftar deals is quite good but if Olivetto is to compete with the likes of  heavyweights Hobnob Café, Arizona Grill, Roasters or even Necos, it will have to delve into the iftar dinner buffets big time.

BBQ tonight needs to fine tune its menu

Barbeque tonight continues to uphold its position as the premium dining destination in spite of a plethora of bbq restaurants including Kaybees, Wimpy’s, Zameer Haider, Ghaffar, Bundoo Khan, Meerath Kabab House and the entire Boating Basin food street. And this does not include all the other restaurants that are not bbq specialist but do offer them including the upscale Copper Kettle itself. Then we have the buffet restaurants – Village, Lal Qila, Shan-e-Mughlia – all of which offer bbq dishes.

So, in spite of cutthroat competition from established brands, what makes Bbq tonight stand out? A lot of reasons. Location is one major advantage that bar b.q tonight has. Nestled right at the junction which leads to Park Towers, Boat Basin and the Bilawal House, you just can’t miss the towering three-storey restaurant the size of a mini shopping mall. It can easily be considered the biggest restaurant of Karachi in terms of size.

It wasn’t this size always. Back in the good old days, bar bq tonight was a single-storey building and you simply couldn’t find a table if you didn’t book in advance. It used to be a  scene of utter chaos, with tables clustered all over the parking lot and sidewalk, and the cars actually parked far away in the residential area behind that you would be feeling hungry once again by the time you walked up to it.

Things have dramatically changed since then, you don’t have to wait for ages for a table to vacate. In fact you can go on a weekend with the place jampacked and still get a table right away. They claim on their website to have a table for you even in the peak hours and they deliver on their promise.

[slickr-flickr tag=”bbq tonight”]

Parking space, however, is still not enough, but you do have the option of valet parking.

The second biggest competitive advantage Bbq tonight is that of speedy service. In fact, make it the speediest service you’ll find at any a la carte restaurant in Karachi, which is commendable considering the number of people dining at any one time. Bar bq items are not something that you can prepare in a jiffy and yet bar bq tonight is able to do just that. The waiters will tell you that the food will be served in 15 to 20 minutes but it arrives even sooner than that, provided that you’ve not ordered a steak or something along those lines.

The portion size as well as the sumptuousness factor varies from dish to dish. For instance the Shish Taouk (a Turkish dish) that we tried was really delectable but the quantity was abysmally low considering that it’s priced at Rs.400. At that price point, a mere two seekhs and that also comprising of tiny chicken pieces is not acceptable.

The Royal Kabuli Pulao, well, there was nothing royal about it. If anything, it was more like a commoner than a royal. Priced at Rs.350,  the portion size was sufficiently large but the taste wasn’t up to the mark. For one, you would expect either lamb or beef to be used in a kabuli pulao, Bar bq tonight used chicken. What this did was keep the pulao bland which definitely would have benefited from the use of red meat which has its own unique flavor unlike chicken and would have brought the flavor in the pulao.

The bar bq mutton ribs are more of a royal treat than the pulao. Priced at a hefty Rs.850, the portion size is enormously generous, fit for three persons. And they’re definitely sumptuous, having just the right amount of charcoal effect without the bitter taste that ensues if they’re a bit overdone.

One minor glitch is the way they’ve coined their menu. Just look at the items under the Chef’s Recommendation heading. If their chef is recommending stuff like french fries and dal, then God help us.  In fact literally everything on the menu is either a specialty or a chef’s recommendation.

Our verdict is that although overall Barbeque tonight is a great place for enjoying some truly sumptuous offerings, not every item on the menu is worth trying out. The place also offers steaks and stuff, but you wouldn’t want to indulge in them here of all the places. Stick to barbeque items if you’re dining at barbeque tonight.

Spicy Chicken on Boating Basin

Chicken handi alongwith karhai gosht is one of most famous desi cuisines in Karachi. Once confined to consuming at home, it became the darling of eating-out when the fad of going to roadside ‘khokas’ on the highway became a full-fledged trend. The conversion of fad to trend was largely helped by the advent of proper restaurants that opened up on the highway seizing upon the opportunity of karhai mania.

A decade later chicken handi is going through metamorphosis and several different versions have made their way into the hearts and stomachs of voracious consumers. Spicy Chicken on Boating Basin is one such café that is leveraging the handi love affair to the hilt.

We paid them a visit on a recommendation to try out their chicken makhni handi. We were told they used barbequed chicken pieces in their handi, however, they didn’t taste like barbequed when we tried. If they were barbequed at all, it was really rare.

Made with cream and possible cheese, it is one of the heaviest gastronomical delights you’ll ever taste, it is that rich- guaranteed to make your cholesterol level shoot through the roof. And it doesn’t come cheap. A full handi worth a single kg of chicken costs a whopping Rs.700, the half version Rs.400. But it is definitely a dish to be tried.

Spicy Chicken however is not the pioneer of this version. It is not clear who is, but there are many cafes who offer this version including Baithak on the same food street.  The level of spiciness varies from place to place.

We also tested their Afghani Tikka and Behari Kabab. Afghani tikka is not everyone’s cup of tea. Made with lamb meat on skewers along with the fats (charbi) separately placed, many people are repulsed by this arrangement. And it’s not spicy either. However, if you like lamb meat or relish the thought of devouring skewered lamb charbee, you’re gonna love this. Recommended only for fans of Afghani cuisine, especially since just two skewers cost Rs.240.

The behari kabab was your standard affair, way too spicy but scrumptious nonetheless. At Rs.150 it was on the expensive side as well.

The garlic nan (Rs.30) didn’t have enough of garlic essence to be really consider a garlic nan. The paratha (Rs..25) was crumbling like hell.

The raita although delicious was devilishly expensive at Rs.50.

All in all, Spicy Chicken is a good place to delve into local delicacies. But don’t expect it to have any advantage either cost-wise, ambiance-wise or even taste-wise compared to the rest of the bunch on Boating Basin.

Chaman Ice Cream Parlor

Lahore, akin to Karachi, is not well known for upscale ice cream parlors. Maybe the packaged ice cream brands have done a remarkable job of keeping the consumer demand for the category satiated, maybe the Pakistani consumer doesn’t fancy ice cream as much as he fancies the halwas and the mithais, or maybe there’s a tremendous vacuum in this category and there’s no shrewd marketer to realize this opportunity.

In any case, both these mega cities fair poorly in this category.  In the category just below it, the one-size-fit-all ice cream parlor which tries to be everything to everyone, the track record of these two cities is not that bad. But even here, monopolistic trends reign supreme. For instance, when you say Lahore, the ice cream brand that is top-of-mind (apart from the packaged Yummy) is Chaman. Value-wise, this is equivalent to Baloch Ice Cream in Karachi, but while Baloch has a number of outlets all over Karachi, Chaman has just three in Lahore. And while Baloch has a strong competition, Chaman is almost a monopoly over there.

And now Chaman has arrived in Karachi. It started off with a fairly average launch, concentrating mostly on billboards to announce the arrival with no special deal offered on the launch, in fact no USP whatsoever. What it did do extremely well is get hold of ideal locations, both from the point of view of the target market and the number of members of the target market frequenting the area. It has opened two shops, one at Tariq Road near KFC, the other at Boating Basin.

And yet the place is not doing as well as it does in Lahore, in fact not as good as any good ice cream parlor ought to do.

But why? One of the major reasons is that the Chaman owner thought that it was already a well-established brand in Lahore and that the people of Karachi would know about it, even having tasted it on their visits to Lahore. Unfortunately for the Chaman guy, this assumption didn’t work.

Secondly, Chaman is charging a somewhat premium price of Rs. 50 per two scoops, again probably having the line of thinking that it is already an established brand and can charge whatever it wants. It’s strongest competitor, Baloch Ice Cream, has priced the same cup size at Rs. 35-40 depending upon the flavor.

Yes, there’s nothing wrong with charging premium pricing but you do need to be able to justify it. Chaman should definitely have done some brand activation, even reminding people of the rich heritage of Chaman in Lahore. It didn’t do that. It just put up a few billboards and they also give the impression that it was a new shop and not the king brand of Lahore.

The result is for all to see. Both the outlets are fairly deserted most of the time in spite of the fact that they are located at prime spots of Karachi.

Finally, the lackluster performance of Chaman is to an extent related to its taste. Although it has quite a number of flavors, more than most of the competitors, the taste itself is not that unique. It could be a case of Karachiites not liking the Lahori taste. It could be a case of Karachiites already having tasted similar tastes in other parlors at a much lower cost. That’s a disadvantage Chaman has in Karachi, a city which offers the ice cream consumer a plethora of choices in terms of prices and taste. It’s like being a big fish in a small pond to suddenly becoming a small fish in a very large ocean, although Lahore is no small pond by any stretch of the imagination, in this case it does.

When we tested five of their flavors – strawberry,vanilla, banana, pista and tutti fruit, they tasted more like the packaged ice cream brands rather than the handmade brands. And yes, that is a disadvantage. On top of that, Chaman doesn’t offer any toppings or cone options, a feature which has become a perquisite for any ice cream parlor in Karachi in this category.  They do have their sundaes and other similar desserts though.

So what can Chaman do to turn things around in Karachi?

The cheapest option would be to go for a social media strategy, targeting youth havens Facebook and Twitter. If that’s not possible, then go the traditional way of creating and distributing flyers. But what do the flyers proclaim? Just making flyers about the brand and its location is not going to cut it. What Chaman needs is to come up with innovative ways of offering its ice cream. Buy 1 get 1 free on the slowest night or day. Eat all you can ice cream option at an extremely affordable rate.

Most restaurateurs would balk at the idea of an ice cream parlor offering buffet. But why not? If you have a number of flavors, nothing should be stopping you from offering the buffet option. How much can the consumer eat anyway? A dozen scoops at the most. Just look at the positive side. Your ice cream would start turning over, meaning you don’t have to throw away the half your lot just because it didn’t get consumed. Then you’ll know which flavors the target market is favoring, and then position your offering accordingly.

Come up with innovative flavors. Chocolate cum vanilla, or vanilla chips, a tactic which Hot Spot excels at and which plays a major part in its popularity.

These two options represent just the tip of the iceberg. There are hundreds of things that Chaman can do to enhance its brand equity in Karachi without having to change the original recipe. But sitting on your butt expecting the brand to lift off on its own without any push is a sure recipe for disaster.

chaman consumerater
chaman consumerater

Qasr-Al-Nakheel – The great Arabic Hype

Qasr-Al-Nakheel is a very shrewd restaurant simply for advertising regularly in Jang. And the ad it has positioned in Jang gives an impression of a large restaurant. In reality it’s just one of the small café-esque joints on the Boating Basin food strip, the one with no point of differentiation between them, let alone innovation. Except the advertising aspect which Qasr-Al-Nakheel is utilizing to the maximum, which is evident from the number of people frequenting the place as opposed to its neighbors.

This just goes on to show the power of advertising, pure and simple, even though it’s ad is not that good. All it has done is place an average ad in the right place, that’s it.

So Qasr-Al-Nakheel has succeeded in communicating its offering to its target market. However, the quality of its offering is a different matter altogether, as we found out ourselves.

It has a diverse menu and we tried a number of things across different cuisines. We tested the Aghani platter, Aghani pulao and Prawn Tikka, and paratha to go along with it.

These days the platter/thali phenomenon is catching on fast and Qasr-Al-Nakheel has a number of such dishes. However, it would do well to not only increase the quantity of items in the platter but also the quality, in other words the sumptuousness factor.

In the Afghani platter we tried, it offered afghani boti and afghani kabab, salad, a couple of chatnis and some rice. For one, we were hard pressed to find the difference between the boti and the kabab. Not only did they both look the same, they tasted the same as well. The rice were below par. The salad and chutni/raita were good. Overall it didn’t make for a very appetizing delicacy, especially since it cost Rs.280.

The Aghani pulao fared better. You could literally feel the difference between the rice served in this pulao and the one in the platter. The Prawn tikka was alright, but it’s quantity was not. At more than Rs.200 you would expect the tikka to be fulfilling enough. It was also a bit on the spicier side, but that’s not a shortcoming since most consumers prefer the hot stuff.

The problem with Qasr-e-Nakheel is the problem which most restaurants in this part of the world have, that is, confused positioning.  They want to offer everything to everyone but end up offering average offering. The same problem persists with Qasr-Al-Nakheel. The name implies that it’s a Arabic café and although it does offer items like the Shawarma and Hummus to augment that brand essence, there are just not enough items to justify the Arabic orientation. What has Afghani cuisine got to do with Arabic cuisine? What has Shashlik go to do with Arabic cuisine? Absolutely nothing.

And therein lies Qasr-Al-Nakheel’s problem. In trying to be everything, it is unable to offer scrumptious dishes because there are just too many items on offer to allow the chef to focus on that critical factor. It may continue to do good business for some time on the strength of its ad in Jang and its location on the Boating Basin. But if it really wants to stand out from the crowd and build a brand that lasts like Jan’s Broast or Student Biryani, it will have to cut down on the number of cuisines and focus solely on Arabic dishes.  Experiment but all within the confines of that one cuisine that is your brand essence.

Salt n Pepper Village – Feeling the Heat

Salt n Pepper Village, one of the most famous buffet restaurants of Karachi burned down a couple of years ago. It made a comeback after just a few months of complete renovation.

We paid a visit to check how it has been faring in the second life. Although Village and Lal Qila are not the pioneers of theme-based restaurants in this part of the world, they are the ones responsible for making this category a hit with the masses. Buffet has never been the same with the arrival of these two more than a decade ago. There’s not much to choose between the two in terms of choice of food or even the sumptuous factor. Some people rate the sumptuous factor of Village more than the Lal Qila’s, but all in all, both are essentially the same.

However, when it comes to pricing, Village takes the lead. Village, however, has brought some innovation in its pricing structure lately. Now a buffet costs Rs.650 from Monday to Thursday, and Rs.795 from Friday to Sunday, both prices inclusive of taxes. The soft drink which is, as per buffet style default not included, costs Rs.50. The Floating Ship however broke away from this tradition when it first opened and offered cold drinks free with the buffet. Not anymore though. In fact, the restaurant itself appears to be no more, for it was closed when we passed it on the way to Village.

Now that’s a tragedy. Karachi doesn’t have that many buffet restaurants, and now one of the few has gone down. Maybe it is due to the cut-throat competition or maybe it’s the after-effects of the recession. And this seems to be affecting Village as well going by not only its pricing structure, but by what ensued on our latest trip there.

Village well, I called it earlier to make reservations. The guy at the other end assured me that there would be no need for reservations and that we will get the table easily. I found it odd, but then agreed to it. However, when we reached the place at about 10pm, the place was swarming with people especially in the waiting area. When I approached the receptionist, she said we would have to wait. On which I narrated the earlier conversation with their staff about not reserving the table. Suddenly, as if by magic, a table was made available for us.

So, yes, sometimes it pays to create a scene, especially in front of prospective customers. The ploy to keep the rates down during the week-day seems to be working for them. Or maybe there was going to be a holiday the next day- Kashmir day- that made people come to Village in droves.

The last time we were here was before the fire, and the first thing that hit us after the perfunctory round around the main table was the shrinkage of the menu compared to pre-fire era. There were only three BBQ items – chicken boti, chicken and beef seekh kabab, that’s it. Compared to its competitor Lal Qila, that is peanuts. The salad bar was too limited. There was no nan or chapatti available, just a strange looking paratha and a puri paratha, unlike Lal Qila which focuses specifically on these items.

Here’s a brief list of the main items with the verdict:

S.N Food Item Verdict
1 Tawa Fish Average
2 Fried Shrimp Excellent
3 Chicken boti Average
4 Chicken Seekh Kabab Very good
5 Beef Seekh Kabab Good
6 Chicken Fried Rice Good
7 Chicken Chowmein Very Good
8 Sweet & Sour Fish Good
9 Batair Average
10 Beef Lasagna Good
11 Pizza Bad
12 Mutton Steam Roast Good
13 A La Chicken Bad
14 Chapali Kabab Average
15 Chicken Karahi Good
16 Anda Chana Good
17 Fried fish Didn’t taste
18 Nihari Didn’t taste
19 Haleem Didn’t taste
20 Biryani Didn’t taste
21 Sautéed Vegetables Didn’t taste
22 Mutton Karahi Didn’t taste
23 Aalo Tarkari Didn’t taste
24 Saag Didn’t taste
25 Mirchi Fish Didn’t taste
26 Paya Didn’t taste

All in all, there were about 25 main course items. Although the number of items has gone down, it’s not the quantity but the choice of items on display as well as their sumptuous factor.

For instance, many items conspicuous by their absence were tandoori chicken, reshmi kabab, malai boti, behari boti or kabab, kata kat, shami kabab, chargha and even  chicken lever, something which the Revolving Restaurant is offering.

The next thing we noticed was the crowd build-up at the Batair and Fried Shrimp stalls. People were literally standing in a line to get their hands on these two delicacies. While the fried shrimp was simply divine, far better than its competitors Lal Qila and Shan-e-Mughlia, the Batair wasn’t up to the mark

For some inexplicable reason, people were flocking to the pani puri and chaat stall which was designed in the form of a traditional thela. You would have thought that people would be eating that stuff some place far cheaper than a Rs.650 buffet, but then, consumers don’t think or act rationally, something which shrewd brands realize and exploit to their advantage.

The Tawa fish was a real disappointment, especially since it looked appetizing. The problem it had was, well, it had no taste. Just plain white meat. Meat which was oozing with miniscule ‘kaantey’. Extremely bad choice of fish for a buffet. A fish of this type is eaten when it is the sole object of focus and you have all the time in the world to consume it, not in a buffet where people are on a rampage of gastronomical proportions to try everything out.

The chapali kabab tasted like it was made with those standard packaged Shan and National Masalas, and not the genuine recipe.

The chicken and beef seekh kabab fared much better. A glaring observation was the lack of meat on the ‘chicken botis’ found in most of the chicken entrees. This was epitomized by A’ la Chicken, something which ought to have boneless meat, and yet when I took a succulent looking chicken piece in my mouth, I was treated to a teeth shattering piece of bone.

A pleasant surprise was the chowmein. Now this is a dish which is omnipresent in all buffet dinners irrespective of whether it’s a desi, continental or Oriental cuisine. And in almost all instances, it is made bad, average or worse. At Village, it was very well made. It looked to be cooked in a sort of garlic sauce with just the right amount of garlic essence to tantalize your taste buds.

The dessert section was more or less the same story. Some good stuff and the rest nothing to write home about. The ice cream bar with just two choice of flavors was a disappointment, specifically because the ice cream wasn’t any special offering of Village but one of those packaged ones, probably Wall’s. The Gulab Jamans were good, so was the Caramel Custard. The Gajaraila, although looked good, was nothing to write home about.

The item most popular with the masses was the Kulfi. There were two varieties available – one the falooda type, the other ‘dandi’ wali.

Salt n Pepper Village rose to the pinnacle of the buffet category by sheer quality and taste. It looks like to be losing the plot, something which so many restaurants do after having achieved the No.1 position. All is not lost though. They just need to realize that in spite of the crushing recession coupled with inflation, the competition is still getting tougher, and the way to combat both simultaneously is stick to those virtues which made you famous in the first place.

Nandos Scores Big with Espetada Rustica

We have always been a fan of Nandos’ marketing endeavors, not just their tongue-in-cheek humorous print ads reflecting the prevailing conditions (headed by the creative department of Adcom), but also their in-house branding efforts. The way they have woven stories seamlessly into their ambiance, something which the other franchises have utterly failed to do in spite of having a long and rich tradition themselves, speaks volumes for the ingenuity of their marketing department.

However, I have never been a fan of their food. Nine times out of ten, I have come out a disappointed customer. I would have thought I  was the odd man out until I saw the share of the Pakistani market that Nandos has as found out by Aurora in their December issue – a meager 6%, which just goes on to show I’m not the only one not satisfied with their offering.

A case can be made in their favor that Subway as well has only a 6% share although it has far more outlets than Nandos. To set the record straight, Nandos has just three in the entire metropolis of Karachi. But then, it could have deliberately kept the outlets low because it expect demand for more.

When it comes to aggressive sales promotion and pricing, Subway wins against Nandos hands down. Although Subway doesn’t come up with new innovative dishes likes Nandos does, what it does do is put a clever spin on its lone offering at a price that is unbeatable. Put another way, the amount of stuff you can have at a particular price at Subway wouldn’t fulfill you at all at Nandos.

That brings us to their new marketing toy- the Espetada Rustica. If you strip away the hype, there’s nothing to it- just five pieces of tender grilled chicken served with baked vegetables, a bun and butter sauce. But the way it is presented in that unique vertically inclined skewer and the story to go with it that Christopher Columbus was addicted to this on his New World Adventures. Now the late discoverer of America may never even have heard or seen this dish, let alone be addicted to it, but such is the power of storytelling in branding that this delicacy has become the darling of the consumers. I can’t think of a time before when the consumers rushed to Nandos for some new offering as they have responded this time. A friend of mine celebrated his wedding anniversary at Nandos courtesy the Espetada Rustica.

Of course the print and the radio medium had a big part to play in this state of affairs since it was advertised on both these mediums. While the radio ad was good, especially the heavy accent used to portray possibly a Portuguese chef, the print ad would have made the great David Ogilvy turn in his grave.

Ogilvy was always a great fan of the white background, or at least a light one which would highlight the foreground elements. Nandos always goes against this convention. And it just doesn’t work completely. Just look at the ad, the background is red, the skewer is red and so is the drink! No contrast whatsoever. And if that wasn’t enough, the details of the entrée are written in microscopic font on a green background. Who on earth would be able to read that without a magnifying glass? And this isn’t the first time they have committed this folly. The fact that the cuisine has become well-known with the consumer doesn’t mean the print ad was a success. Maybe all the people driven towards the entrée was the sole result of the radio ad or even the billboard.

Now the crucial part- the taste. In that department, the Estrada Rustica is quite good. It comes in two flavors, the mild and the hot. We checked out the mild one, so cannot comment on the other one. The size of the portion was generous, enough to satiate the appetite of a healthy adult. The accessories could have been much better both in diversity and portion. A few boiled/backed pieces of assorted vegetables just doesn’t cut it. They should have at least thrown in the potato wedges for good measure, even if they are not part of the original 16th century recipe, that is, if there is really an ancient recipe of it. In any way, something extra must have been included, considering the price of the offering.

And now we come to the second crucial part – the pricing. Simply put, it is exorbitant. At Rs. 575 plus tax plus a drink plus the tip, you are looking at an Rs.850 meal, and there’s no appetizer or dessert. Now that’s pretty steep. When Nandos first launched  the offer, the drink called Blanko was included in the 575. Not anymore. You have to pay Rs.120 plus tax for that too. And it’s not even in the menu. Another fantastic marketing gimmicky.

Coming to the drink, it is offered in two flavors, either a sprite or a coke. Trust me, take the sprite version, for the other one is simply undrinkable. Not that the sprite one fares much better. We couldn’t discern the taste completely, but it tasted like a cross between a hair spray and a talcum powder. We tried our hardest to identify the brands of the powder and the hair spray, but the citrus taste courtesy slices of apple and orange in this ‘Portuguese’ drink created a hurdle in this endeavor.

We asked the waiter what on earth were the ingredients of the drink, and the poor soul had no idea himself. He said a strange syrup is imported the contents of which are confidential, and this syrup is used to make this drink. Swell.

But you have got to hand it to the Nandos people for sexing up the presentation of the drink as well with that ancient shaped bottle to go with the Columbus tale. And the volume was generous enough, about 300-350 ml.

Another brilliant marketing tactic they have come up is the use of cards to entice the first time customer for a repeat visit. The card is divided into six coupons, each coupon valid for a single visit. For the 2nd visit, you get chicken wings for free if you spend a certain amount, for the 3rd wedges and so on.

On our second visit, as promised we got the chicken wings, and they were simply divine. The thing to praise here is that the Nandos people didn’t try to cheat by offering less just because it was free, something that other franchises are prone to do.

Nandos ought to continue with this innovative style of coming up with strange and supposedly exotic dishes and marketing them aggressively. Yes, the price of Estrada Rustic is a bit too steep, which I reckon includes the cost of the marketing campaign. Otherwise, Nandos could easily have priced this product at Rs. 300-400 considering there’s no unique or expensive ingredient in it. But then, I’m also in favor of charging a brand premium if you can position your brand favorably in the consumer’s mind. And Nandos has succeeded at that in this case.