Category Archives: Arabic

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.

Abaan Taste of Lebanon

Abaan is a Lebanese restaurant that has opened up recently in Karachi to cash in on the growing Pakistani interest in Middle Eastern cuisine.

Although a handful of Arabic cuisine restaurants exist in Karachi, almost all of them are open-air cafesque types. What’s more they aren’t the upscale types a la Zamzama. Although they do offer some semblance of Lebanese cuisine, they aren’t predominantly Lebanese.

Kababji in Sheraton was the only premium Lebanese restaurant in Karachi. Now enter Abaan, which aspires to offer stiff competition to Kababji. And judging by the initial response it’s getting, it can prove to be a star in the making.

We checked the place out on a Saturday night. And it passed the litmus test, for a sizeable crowd on a weekend gives you a rough idea that the place will not crash and burn before it even takes off.

[slickr-flickr tag=”lebanon”]

The initial response Abaan is getting is due to two major factors: one, it has advertised in Dawn and second it has a Facebook page with around 116 fans. Most of them will check the place out at least once, and if it’s any good, will refer it to friends and family as well.

Secondly, it is the only restaurant in Karachi where you can consume Arabic/Lebanese cuisine in an upscale setting. Apart from Sheraton’s Kabab ji, there’s no other A-list restaurant catering to this segment. As such this is an attractive niche that Abaan has positioned itself in.

However, it’s survival in the long run will depend upon a couple of critical factors. The biggest of them is the location. Even if the owners couldn’t afford space on Zamzama or the rapidly developing food avenue on Khayabane Shahbaz, they could at least have rented space in some other happening commercial district, even Khayabane-Ittehad would have sufficed. Khayaban-e-Jami maybe a major link road, but it doesn’t have any restaurant or even any other major shop.

If this wasn’t enough, Abaan has opened up in the office of advertising agency BBCL. When you enter a restaurant, the last thing you want to see is an office and a photography studio. But that’s precisely what you’re faced with upon entering Abaan. The actual restaurant is on the 2nd floor of BBCL’s office for which you’ve to take the elevator. Spoils the ambience right then and there.  First impressions being everlasting is an adage that still holds true.

Another major shortcoming is the space or lack thereof. Although the ambience is acceptable with some Middle Eastern elements thrown in for good measure, the layout of the place is too stifling. If it was Zamzama where the rent is sky-high, it would have made sense to keep everything close, like most other restaurants on it.

But when you’re far away from the madding crowd, you ought to conjure up a spacious layout, where there’s ample privacy for each table.

Finally, the biggest problem Abaan will face is that of repeat customers. The thing is, a restaurant of this caliber (and stiff prices) needs select loyal customers who can afford to dine at the place multiple times a week. And most of these customers will be found on the Facebook Group SWOT where as many as 900 foodies share their experience of eating out.

Unfortunately, Abaan has already received a negative review on that forum. Which means most of the potential customers who can afford to bring repeat business to Abaan will be turned off by this following review posted on the SWOT group:

Osama Mustafa:

“I went to Abaan for dinner last night. The ambiance was nice we were promptly greeted and seated. We ordered the following dishes the Mezzeh platter for starters. And for the main course I ordered the chicken Shawarma and my wife ordered the chicken liver and sheesh Taouk and both of us ordered Liban as our drinks.
The Mezzeh platter had too many micro servings of the assorted starters too many irrelevant things were there not enough of the authentic items . The meat kebobs were over done on the outside and the crispy bread served was partially crispy with stale pieces in between. Now for the main course. The Sharwama in pita was pathetic. The meat was dry from being shaved in advance is my guess but the entire dish did do some time on the kitchen counter because it was lukewarm , the fries were soggy and the sauce had set with a dry layer . My wife’s chicken liver was a bit over cooked but the sauce was good thef sheesh taouk was also not fresh the meat was dry and looked like it had been sitting on the service counter her fries were also stale . To add insult to injury the drinks we ordered were 2 Laban one salty and one sweet to our surprise both tasted exactly the same sweet and salty. A note to the chef the nestle yoghurt you used to make our Laban is sweet and cannot be used in making a salty Laban. We sent both drinks back and the replacement tasted exactly the same. The experience left little desire to return. A note to restaurant owners there is nothing worse than serving a dish that has gone cold!!!! I did register the complaint with the Maitre d I was politely told that “things will be better next time”

And then there’s one positive review as well:

Samaya Alamgir:

“Ok so i just got back from Abaans on ittehad and i seriously dont know what the negative reviews were about!! the food is absolutely amazing! From the Hummus to the mixed grill to the baklava. Everything was splendid and much better than most places attempts at lebanese fare. I was reminded of Patoukh on Edgeware road in london.”

We decided to check Abaan out after reading this review. Yes, there are glitches in the presentation and quality of food but it’s not as bad as this review projects.

We started off with the assorted Mezzeh, which encompasses pretty much all the Arabic appetizers- hummous, tabouleh, mutabbal, baba ganoush, feta cheese the works. At Rs.450 exclusive of 17% GST, it’s a bit stiff.

Hummous was delectable but we felt it was way too tangy similar to the moutabel also called baba ganoush sometimes.

Tahini seems to be missing from the ingredients which was evident from the texture of hummous.

Although there’s no standard taste of hummous with numerous variations available throughout the world, still the majority refrain from making the hummous sour.

The Shish Kabab had French fries strewn all over it! It comprised of two skewers of lamb cubes which were charcoal grilled, a single skewer of grilled vegetables and a pita bread. Then there was the garlic sauce along with cucumber mint yoghurt. Priced at Rs.495, the serving size could have been much better. On top of that, the surface of lamb cubes was charcoaled excessively while the inner was slightly raw.

This points to the fact that the grilling was done in a hurry, which is baffling considering that the food was served a good 25 minutes after the order was taken.

On the face of it, that’s not bad, because some people prefer it that way- well done on the outside and slightly raw from the inside. However, not everyone is enthusiastic about this arrangement; therefore the waiter ought to ask how the customer prefers his meat to be done.

All in all the dish was palatable, and the garlic sauce played a major role in tilting the odds in the favor of the dish.

Service could have been a whole lot better. When they served the Mezzeh, they provided only one pita bread and didn’t mention that the refills were free. Only later when the main course had arrived that they brought another pita bread as a refill, which was too late.

Then they took their own sweet time revving up the generator when they lights went out. Even then they were indecisive, trying feebly to light up a candle as an afterthought. Only by then the generator had started. It would have been better had they lit up the tiny candles that were already placed on every table. That way the place wouldn’t remain shrouded in total darkness if the generator doesn’t fire right away.

The Abaan special ‘Kasbah’ was appalling. It was basically rice with tiny pieces of what seemed like boiled chicken and pieces of almonds mixed in. There was literally no distinct taste in it. And at Rs.195, the quantity wasn’t up to the mark.

If you’ve had this cuisine in the Middle East and yearn for the same taste, Abaan is not for you.

But if you’re simply looking to devour Arabic cuisine in a proper restaurant as opposed to the makeshift arrangements of Damascus and Arabian Nights, then Abaan is your best bet.  Although Kabab Ji at Sheraton fares much better, price-wise Kabab Ji is way too exorbitant and you’re better off checking out Abaan which offers better value for money.

Chullo Kabab Subhani-Remnant Irani Cafe

Chullo Kabab Subhani is one of the ancient Iranian eating houses in Saddar, from the days when the café culture was thriving, Saddar was then the real centre of Karachi instead of today’s congested and mangled mess of cars and smoke, and people used to frequent these cafes just for the sake of having an intellectually stimulating conversation. That culture of meeting people at cafes is being revived by T2F (The Second Floor) in DHA created by Sabeen Mahmud.

 

Chullo  kabab house may not be the popular haunt it once used to be amongst the masses, but it still packs a punch. Although it claims to be an Iranian restaurant, most of the dishes it offers are Pakistani. It’s claim to fame is the Chullo dish. Also called Chelo Kabab, it’s the national dish of Iran. Basically it comprises of plain rice with skewered pieces of kabab, afghani boti, chicken tikka boti, fish or whatever it is that you’ve ordered from the ‘Dishes for Foreigner’ category, lining the circumference of the oval dish in which it is served.  On top of the rice, a small slab of butter is placed which melts under the steaming rice.

 

The portion size is generous although at Rs.250, the price is a bit hefty considering you’re having a meal at an old restaurant in not the most pleasant of localities of Karachi.

[slickr-flickr tag=”chullu”]

The problem with the Subhani version of Chelow Kabab is that it’s far removed from the original recipe.

 

To begin with, Chelo (Persian for rice) Kabab comprises of Persian rice and not the Pakistani basmati rice. Then beside the butter, the steaming rice is topped with raw egg and Somagh (powdered Surmac).

 

Finally, the dish is already accompanied by Iranian sidelines that includes  a plate of fresh herbs called sabzi (basil, cilantro, fenugreek greens, tarragon, Persian watercress or shaahi), a variety of flat breads, called naan or noon (sangak, lavash, barbari), fresh white cheese (panir), sliced and peeled cucumbers, sliced tomatoes and onions, yoghurt, and lemon juice. Persian gherkins (khiyarshur) and pickles (Torshi) are also considered essential in most regions.

 

And to down it with, doogh – a Persian sour yoghurt drink flavored with salt and mint – even carbonated water in some versions.

 

All of this was missing from the Chullu Café Subhani version

 

Even the tradition of how the dish is presented is missing. The Iranian way is for the sidelines and the steaming rice covered with a tin lid are served first. Then the waiter arrives with two skewers which are placed directly on the rice and quickly pulled out with the help of nan-e lavash (flat bread).

 

The two most common kababs served are one barg (fillets of beef,lamb or chicken) and the other koobideh (minced meat kabab of either beef,lamb or chicken). And this combination is famously called the ‘Sultani’ (for the sultan).

 

 

We tried the Afghani boti and chicken boti versions and found both of them to be delectable. But it’s not something that’s going to be liked by everybody. One of the downsides of the dish is that it’s too dry – you just have the plain rice and skewered meat, that’s it. And the skewered meat is not going to melt in your mouth; you’ll really have to work at it. There’s no gravy to go along with it and if you remove the butter as well, you’re pretty much left with nothing. There are no sidelines along with the dish although a few fries and a solitary skewered tomato are thrown in for good measure.

 

And its not spicy. So if you’re into spicy cuisines, then you’ll have to order one of the Pakistani dishes they’re offering to go along with the Chullo . But then you’ll lose the unique taste of this dish.

 

It’s location is pretty much accessible. Just turn left at the Mehran hotel intersection on Shahrae Faisal if you’re coming from Metropole Hotel side and right if you’re coming from the airport side. About a km or two down this road, there’s an intersection leading into Saddar. Chullo  Kabab house is just on the left corner of this intersection. It’s pretty much visible. You can’t miss it. The place has a family dining hall upstairs as well.

 

Chullo  Kabab house is definitely worth checking out if you want to try something different from the same old stuff. Just don’t expect an upscale ambience where you can take the entire family or that special someone. An evening with friends is definitely on at this place.

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.