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.

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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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The Patio Iftar Dinner Deal

The Patio Iftar Dinner Deal is one of the most basic deals available in the market as far as Ramadan deals go. Only you order two main dishes at the Patio, you’ll be given an Iftar platter comprising of the following:

The Patio Iftar Platter:

  1. Dahi bara
  2. Fish fingers
  3. Qeema samosa
  4. Aaloo chana chaat

THE PATIO Clifton
F-50/1, Block 4, Clifton Karachi, Pakistan.
Karachi , Pakistan   View Map

Phone: (92-213) 530-9871

The Patio Iftar Dinner
The Patio Iftar Dinner

Cafe Chatterbox Iftar + Dinner Deal

Cafe Chatterbox has offered Ramadan deals one way or the other ever since it opened shop back in 2005. It is the brainchild of Naila Naqvi and operates under the umbrella of Pie in the Sky bakery.

This year Cafe Chatterbox  is offering a sort of buffet iftar coupled with a la carte dinner and dessert at Rs. 995 + tax.

Here’s what they’re offering:

Cafe Chatterbox Iftar:

  1. BBQ chicken wings
  2. Dahi phulki
  3. Quesadilla
  4. Mushroom & spinach Vol au Vent
  5. Corn n vegetable samosa
  6. Vegetable Ratatouille tartlets
  7. Cheese cigar
  8. Arabian Filafel
  9. Tomato pasta salad
  10. Fruit chat
  11. Chick Pea chat
  12. Spicy tangy potato

 Cafe Chatterbox Dinner:

Choose only one:

  1. Beef Rendang with yellow rice
  2. Spicy noodles with oriental tomato sauce with grilled chicken
  3. Grilled chicken with Morrocan sauce

 Cafe Chatterbox Dessert:

Assorted cakes, brownies and pastries.

 

Iftar-Buffet-Dinner-2014-at-Cafe-Chatterbox-Zamzama-DHA
Iftar-Buffet-Dinner-2014-at-Cafe-Chatterbox-Zamzama-DHA

Cafe Chatterbox DHA
3-C Zamzama Commercial Lane 3rd D.H.A. V
Karachi , Pakistan  
Phone: (92-21) 3-583-0337, 3-586-9548

Deli ramadan iftar deal

Deli restaurant has been offering Ramadan deals of some sort ever since it opened shop back in February 2007 on Zamzama in Karachi. It has yet to offer a buffet iftar dinner, mostly rely on a mixture of iftar items followed by a single main course culminating in dessert.

Here’s what Deli is offering in its iftar deal this Ramadan at Rs. 1395 + tax:

Deli Iftar

  1. Chana chat
  2. Fruit chat
  3. Chicken wonton
  4. Falafel
  5. Hummus
  6. Izmeh
  7. Fatehyar
  8. Pita brea
  9. Mint lemonade

Deli Starter:

Can only choose one:

  • Grilled calamari
  • Carpaccio
  • Greek feta cheese salad
  • Classic Caesar’s salad

Deli Entrée’s:

Can only choose one:

  • Stir fry chicken khaosway
  • Pan fried chicken with grain mustard dill sauce
  • Penne Arrabiata
  • Roast beef wasabi sandwich
  • Thai tamarind fish with steamed rice
  • Stir fry beef in oyster sauce with steamed rice

Deli Dessert:

Can only choose one:

  • Salted caramel lava cake
  • Mango mousse
  • Apple crumble with fresh custard

 

Will Latte Lounge become the next Copper Kettle?

Latte Lounge Rustic Café and Bakeshop is a  ‘CK-esque’ type café that serves you an amalgam of sheesha, burgers, pastas and steak while doubling as a bakery as well.

The fact that it has remained below the radar for so long and yet continues to exist says something about its resilience. Located at the obscure Nishat Commercial Area with not an eatery in sight, Latte Lounge couldn’t have chosen a worse place to open shop. At night, the whole street gives the aura of a ghost town. Grillers in the Mist is the only other restaurant nearby and even that has opened up only recently, while Latte Lounge has been around for about five years.

We visited the place in the evening on the 2nd day of Eid and the place was doing brisk business at that time. The three-in-one strategy (Sheesha/bakery/diner) is working great for the place.

Dikirim oleh Restaurants Uncut pada 5 Oktober 2011

Although from a branding point of view, this is a bad ploy – offering everything under the sun – given the location of Latte Lounge, it’s actually working to its advantage.

Latte Lounge is a strange little place. There’s no proper layout to the place. You’ve got the sofas, chairs-tables and the couches, not to mention a ‘takht’ as well, all arranged haphazardly around the joint. There’s nothing baroque about the décor. What Latte Lounge has tried to do is emulate the typical American home – the use of bricks, predominance of wood especially the floor panels – all this and more reek of the American Dream.

What we particularly liked about the place was the dim lighting. Most of the cafes have the tendency to literally flood their joint with lights. Not Latte Lounge. And no it’s not pitch dark either a la Purple Haze.

We tested three of their offerings: Smothered Steak Burger Rs.395, Chicken bbq panini Rs. 460, Jalapeno cheese burger Rs.385.

Jalapeno cheese burger was scrumptious. However, the patty didn’t taste all that fresh. Tasted like it had been frozen for a couple of days before seeing the fire of the grill. It goes to their advantage that they still managed to pull it off loaded with jalapenos, cheese and a fat juicy patty.

Chicken bbq panini was good but a disappointment compared to the other two. For one, it was too small compared to the other two and almost a hundred rupees costlier. On top of that there was no coleslaw. And if that wasn’t enough, fries were replaced by onion rings.

It would have been better if they had used onion rings with the burgers, if they had to be used at all. The advantage with fries is that they have a universal appeal as well as the ability to satiate your appetite at no great cost.

At the very least, the option of fries ought to be offered with the panini.

We considered testing one of their desserts as well but when we found out that the ice creams used in the dessert was Igloo instead of one of their homemade ones, we decided against it.

No use spending a couple of hundred bucks on a branded ice cream you can have for less than Rs.50 in the market.

They really need to come up with their own versions of ice creams if they want their dessert section to have the ability to lure the crowd. Copper Kettle’s success had a lot to do with the enigmatic Caked Alaska with its sumptuous ice cream than any other single factor.

One good thing worth mentioning about Latte Lounge is that the GST is included in the menu prices, what this means is that the value for money is far better than any place on Zamzama or even the emerging food street of Shahbaz.

Another tempting feature is the offer of free ice cream with any of the main entrées, although a scoop of Igloo doesn’t sound very tempting.

In fact that’s not the only special deal on offer. You buy two appetizers and get the third one free. Brilliant marketing tactic.

Latte Lounge is always in the thick of things – offering something or the other- ensuring that the brand is in a constant state of motion. When it rained, they turned even that disastrous event into an opportunity, offering a deal tailor-made for the rainy season.

And all these deals are intimated through their Facebook page, which is yet another success story. Having an astounding 28,000+ fans, Latte Lounge is fully capitalizing on the power of social media.

Its Facebook page is created with pagemodo and has all the bells and whistles, making use of such varied apps as goso and autobudder to create birthday packages, loyalty cards, graffiti option for the fans, and a whole host of other options to engage and involve the target audience.

The page is always abuzz with some news, mostly announcements of viewing of English Premier League matches. The page also carries numerous superb pictures of customized cakes and cupcakes that Latte Lounge offers.

Dikirim oleh Restaurants Uncut pada 5 Oktober 2011

In short, Latte Lounge has left no stone unturned in keeping its customers engrossed, whether through screening of sports events, special deals or customized desserts.

One thing that becomes clear from all the people active on the facebook page as well as those frequenting the joint is that Latte Lounge is geared towards the youth.

As such it wouldn’t be a great idea to land at the place with your family. Just go there when you want to have a good time with your friends.

In spite of its shortcomings, we did like Latte Lounge and are definitely going to test its main entrées the next time around.

As to the million-dollar question about Latte Lounge filling the void left behind Copper Kettle, there are too many nostalgic moments associated with CK especially for the generation that grew up in the 90s to be able to do that.  Then there are too many cafés vying for a share of the market for any single one to be able to hold his own. Copper Kettle had the competitive advantage of being the first and the only one for a long time that it was able to firmly etch itself in the prospect’s mind.

However, Latte Lounge is fast endearing itself to a niche community of youngsters and if it continues to follow this strategy to the hilt, very soon it would have cultivated a crop of brand evangelists that could take it to the brand pinnacle.

Location
Hours
Mon – Thu: 11:00 am 12:00 pm
Fri – Sun: 11:00 am 1:00 am
Email
[email protected]
Phone
021-35350877,021-35348631, 0321- 2434406
Website

Grillers in the Mist

Grillers in the Mist is yet another upscale restaurant of Karachi located in Nishat Commercial Area DHA phase 6.

Grillers in the Mist has been receiving some good reviews in the mainstream media as well as the social media. There was a review of Grillers in the Mist published in Dawn magazine. Then it has come up in the discussions on the facebook group SWOT as well.

[slickr-flickr tag=”grillers mist”]

Location is the biggest impediment for Grillers in the Mist as it is for any business, especially one in the food service industry. The only other restaurant in the area is Latte Lounge and even that is at the other end of Nishat.

At least Latte Lounge is on the main road of Nishat Commercial. Grillers in the Mist doesn’t have even that advantage. You are unlikely to find it unless you’re really looking for it. And this problem was evident from the fact that the place was deserted on a Saturday night.

This does not augur well for a restaurant. Not on any day. And on a weekend night it’s criminal. Although both Grillers in the Mist and Latte Lounge are similar with respect to their offerings, there’s actually a world of difference between their brand essence.

Although both have dual floors, Grillers in the Mist a basement, and Latte Lounge a first floor; Grillers in the Mist has contrasting ambience on its two floors. While the basement is geared towards a younger clientele with dingy dark interior and huge cushion sofas with a bar at one end serving Sheesha, the ground floor has a picture perfect ambience meant for fine-dining with your standard chair-table arrangement.

And with the place deserted most of the time, you’ve the entire place to yourself, an ideal place for you to take that special someone to have a quiet private dinner. They could definitely do with the dimming of the light on the fine-dining floor  a bit as it is a bit too bright, especially when compared to the dark interior down below.

 

One thing worth mentioning about the basement is that one of the walls is adorned with pictures of Pakistani film and TV stars of yesteryears. Whether these pictures are exclusive is not known, but the reason for this addition to the décor is the father of the restaurant’s owner who was a stalwart of the film industry. Latte Lounge on the other hand has a laid-back ambience through and through. Apart from a sheesha lounge it also doubles up as a bakery.

When it comes to menu, Grillers in the Mist has a far more extensive offering than Latte Lounge, offering numerous varieties of pastas, burgers, steaks other similar stuff. Yes, Latte Lounge does all of these things, but the varieties are less. We tried two of their offerings:

Fettucine Alfredo, one of the most popular pastas especially in this part of the world  Rs.495 was good but not great.

It’s biggest drawback was lack of adequate salt. Now salt may be the most underestimated ingredient if there ever is one. Overdo it, and you spoil the whole dish, underdo it, and the inherent taste of the entrée just doesn’t come forth. It doesn’t matter if you sprinkle salt on top. It just cannot compensate for the salt added whilst cooking. At Rs.495, it had sufficient value for money as far as the overall quantity and the quantity of star ingredients is concerned.

Chicken Stroganoff at Rs.500 was palatable with adequate quantity but again the flavor was not strong enough. It would be premature to pass judgment on Grillers in the Mist based just on these two dishes considering the fact that it scored pretty well on other fronts including the service. We felt we should have gone at least for one of the grilled items especially when the name of the restaurant carries the word grill.

The dawn review for instance lavished praise on the chicken with tarragon sauce and one of the beef steaks. Having said that, there’s no doubt that these two dishes are not the specialty of Grillers in the Mist as many of the other restaurants in this category make better versions of them.

What Grillers in the Mist ought to do now is how to overcome its shortcoming of an obscure location by offering unbeatable offers, the likes of which have never been seen in the fine-dining category of Karachi.

Hobnob Cafe Iftar Dinner Buffet

Hobnob Café has risen from the ashes of Copper Kettle and straight away plunged into the Ramadan Iftar mania. Hobnob Café iftar deals which costs Rs.1200 includes all taxes and is more or less an emulation of Copper Kettle’s Ramadan deal offers the following:

  1. Chana Chaat
  2. Fruit Chaat
  3. Dahi phulki
  4. Chicken sandwich
  5. Aaloo Samosa
  6. Spring Roll
  7. Chicken corn soup
  8. Chicken wings
  9. Chicken crust
  10. Manchurian chicken
  11. Ginger chicken
  12. Egg fried rice
  13. Italian steak
  14. Bbq mix
  15. Fettuccine
  16. Beef chili dry
  17. Grilled fish olives and capers sauce
  18. Henny penny
  19. Beef and prawn sauce
  20. Mini-tarts
  21. Caramel Custard
  22. Chocolate cheesecake
  23. strawberry cheesecake
  24. Caked Alaska

 

One thing Hobnob Café has done tremendously well over its competitors is the use of soft drinks. While almost all its competitors offer a miserly glass of sherbet, or even if they do offer soft drink, it’s just a solitary glass, Hobnob offers an entire 1 litre bottle to each table in addition to a bottle of home-made lemonade. In fact they’re offering unlimited refills of soft drinks.

[slickr-flickr tag=”hobnob”]

And yes, there’s the option of hot beverage at the end of the meal as well. Now these three drinks wouldn’t put a dent in Hobnob’s pocket but the goodwill it generates is tremendous. If anything, this simple gesture won us over.

 

Although the service was generally good, we felt that the waiters were a bit late in identifying the empty plates on the tables and picking them up. This was evident even at Necos, the sister brand of Hobnob. The reason is that  both restaurants are a la carte, Ramadan being the only time they offer buffet meals. Therefore the staff is not that well-versed in the art of buffet.

 

Although both brands are owned by the same entrepreneur and serve pretty much the same categories of continental cuisines, you could clearly see the distinct demographics at each restaurant. While Necos had the A-listers frequenting it, Hobnob Café had an amalgam of SEC (Socio-economic class) A and B. Even Nilofer Saeed is well aware of this fact, hence her presence at Necos instead of Hobnob Café.

 

Overall there’s more diversity and depth in menu at Hobnob café compared to Necos.

 

The crusted chicken was an awesome experience. Akin to Arizona Grill’s chicken with mushroom, Hobnob’s version had the same feel to it but more generous pieces of mushrooms and an eclectic creamy cheese feel to it.

 

Fettuccine was a peculiar dish, eons away from its authenticity. By definition, Fettuccine is a type of pasta in the form of narrow ribbons. Here the pasta was nowhere to be found, unless the chef had shredded the pasta into pieces. All you could find was the sauce with all the frills. But without the main attraction, the frills all but fizzled out.

 

The egg fried rice was the standard  affair. So was Beef chili dry.

 

There’s something wrong with the recipe of chicken wings and drumsticks being used both at Necos and Hobnob Café. Not only was the taste awful, the chicken actually stunk!

 

The chicken sandwich was a pleasant surprise. Not many restaurants put much effort into getting their sandwiches right, but Hobnob Café came up with something that was truly scrumptious. The fact that it was served hot also enhanced the flavor.

 

We didn’t try most of the traditional items, but judging  by the taste of samosa and roll we did try, they weren’t anything to write home about.

 

Grilled fish olives and capers sauce was a no-frills affair. If you like your fish to be least tampered with; you’re going to love this. Generous fillet with no rich condiments.

 

Beef and prawn sauce had an overwhelming taste that pervaded your olfactory buds.

 

If you loved Copper Kettle’s Henny Penny, then you’re going to be disappointed with Hobnob Version. We don’t know what went wrong, but the magic just wasn’t there.

 

The Italian steak was a mixed bag. Just like Karachi’s ethnic wars on top of gas and electricity shortage, it had too much going at the same time. We felt the benign presence of pepperoni, then there was this larger slab of beef that wasn’t so benign. Sometimes you felt it wasn’t a steak but lasagna. They could definitely do with simplifying matters here.

 

The bbq mix was an assortment of bbq chicken pieces and seekh kabab. While the chicken pieces were sumptuous, the seekh kababs were pretty ordinary. It was a strange dish, completely out of line with the rest of the menu, and probably put there to add another dimension to this iftar deal.

 

And it was a hit with the customers as the dish was finished quite soon and wasn’t refilled.

 

Chicken Manchurian and chicken ginger didn’t look very inviting, probably put there as a filler material to up the number of dishes. Besides, there was enough attraction in the rest of the menu that you could afford to leave these two items. Therefore we didn’t test them.

 

We also skipped the chicken corn soup.

 

In the dessert section, you had a plethora of standard items including assorted mini-tarts, chocolate and strawberry cheese cake, caramel custard and pudding. And to trump it all, Caked Alaska in all its glory. Okay, maybe not in all its glory as the brownie tasted a bit out of character especially the freshness factor. It wasn’t on the buffet table and was served when you asked for it.

 

Contrary to Necos, most of the dessert items were fresh. In fact the chocolate cheese cake was finished by the time we had advanced to the desserts. And it wasn’t refilled. In a way that’s both good and bad. Bad in the way that the customer gets pissed off when he can’t get his hands on something that others had. And good in the way that nothing is left over to be used to piss off the customers the next day.

 

 

Compared to Necos, Hobnob Café offers more bang for the buck. Not only is the menu more diverse, it also offers soft drinks and the deal costs almost Rs.150 less than Necos. The difference between the two brands is that of demographics as well as the method of preparing the food. While Hobnob’s dishes are oozing with creamy concoctions with a bit of desi touch, Necos focuses on sparing use of artery clogging concoctions as well as sticking to the authentic recipes instead of introducing the desi dimension.

 

 

Of the deals we’ve tried in the last three years, Hobnob Café offers the most value for money in the category of Continental Iftar buffet. Maybe the reason is that this is the first year of Hobnob Café after the demise of Copper Kettle. Having a point to prove, they’re doing that extra bit to exceed the customer expectations.

 

In any case, if you’re looking to stuff yourself silly this Ramadan for just once with something other than desi and bbq items, we recommend you do it at Hobnob Café. Just ensure you make prior reservations.

 

You can have a look at the buffet table pictures posted on Hobnob Café Facebook page to help you nail your decision.

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.

N’eco’s Natural Store & Café Iftar Deal

N’eco’s Iftar Deal Rs.1343 inclusive of tax and service charges.

8-C- Lane 1, Bukhari Commercial Area

Phase 6, D.H.A.

Karachi, Pakistan.

Tel: (92-21) 3-584-4517 | E-mail: [email protected]

N’eco’s Iftar Buffet Menu:

  • Aaloo Samosa
  • Aaloo Roll
  • Pizza
  • Dahi pulki
  • Chana chaat
  • Fruit chaat
  • Chicken sandwich
  • Pepper Steak
  • Pasta in Tomato Sauce
  • Cumin Chicken
  • Beef in oyster sauce
  • Chicken wings in bbq sauce
  • Mexican chicken
  • Necos fish
  • Seafood Al-Forno
  • Plain rice
  • Tiramisu
  • Chocolate cake
  • Cup cakes
  • Chocolate mousse
  • Kheer
  • French Toast
  • Custard
  • Lassi
  • Imli Juice
  • Lemon lime
  • Cucumber detox drink

N’eco’s Natural Store and Café is a novel concept in Karachi’s foodscape. Nestled in the midst of pimp habitat and infamous spas in the obscure Bukhari commercial area (DHA phase VI), Necos is an ultra-niche café fixated on natural and organic products. It won’t appeal to everyone’s olfactory sense and it hasn’t tried very hard to do that. Until now.

It’s a fairly small café with hardly enough accommodation for roughly 30-35 people.

Although Necos is only a year old, with chips broken from wall edges, it seems that the place was being used for some other purpose and that it wasn’t renovated properly when Necos management took over.

Necos Iftar deal will not be able to hold a candle to the likes of Roasters, Arizona Grill or even Lal Qila and Village both in terms of variety and value for money, but it does offer unique varieties worth having a go at.

Nilofer Saeed, the owner not only of Necos but also Hobnob Café and Hobnob bakery, was seen schmoozing around right off the bat, playing the proverbial hostess. It looked as if she knew pretty much everyone present. It also points towards the fact that Necos has a very specific clientele who return and keep the café running. Obama needs to take a leaf from her book if he stands any chance of getting re-elected.

What’s more, contrary to other restaurateurs, Nilofer Saeed was happily devouring her own delicacies along with the others, showing by example that she herself is the biggest brand evangelist of Necos.

[slickr-flickr tag=”necos”]

One of the biggest flaws we found with Necos Iftar deal was also one of the simplest. For a café having the brand essence of being in line with nature and then going ahead and serving lemonade made from the packaged Limopani is definitely not on.

How much would have real lemons cost Necos? It’s all the more ironic because they also served one of their fresh detox juices which was flavored with herbs and cucumber.

The Imli juice tasted more like vinegar drink and didn’t appeal to our senses. Then there was the chilled lassi as well. All in all the drinks section was covered pretty well contrary to Necos’ contemporaries who are content with serving a miserly glass of lal sherbet.

The chicken mozzarella pizza was delectable. The thing commendable about it was that the entire crust was loaded with mozzarella with the chicken pieces interspersed in just the right balance instead of being stuffed. Nilofer Saeed had also done well to keep the  pizza coming in small quantities right from the oven as well as keeping the plate on a small burner to ensure the ‘Al Forno’ effect.

The beef steak with pepper sauce had to be the best of the lot. But it’s no wonder considering Nilofer Saeed’s prior expertise with steaks at Copper Kettle. Of course those who prefer the rare or well-done steaks are going to be disappointed, because the pepper steak was just about medium but the beef tender enough.

Cumin chicken was sumptuous, a concoction where the herbal condiments of Necos were felt in all their glory.  It comprised of grilled chicken breast topped with roasted cumin sauce. Cumin (Zeera) actually is a small plant of the parsley family whose aromatic seeds are used for flavoring purpose. Strangely enough, the true taste of zeera didn’t come through, which was a good thing.

The chicken wings were the worst of the lot. The crime? Stale foul-smelling chicken. In fact the smell was so strong that even the strong sauce couldn’t stop it from pervading your senses.

Lesson: It’s better to serve one item less if that item has the potential to be your undoing.

Necos fish seemed to be another entrée accentuated with herbs and stuff to the extent that the real taste of the fish was lost in between. It comprised of fillet of sole, pan-fried and served in an Asian style yellow-curry sauce. Maybe a bit toned-down version would do the trick. Not that the entrée wasn’t palatable.

Seafood Al Forno was an interesting concoction of shrimps and fish. In cooking, al forno is an Italian phrase describing food that is “at/from the oven”. What’s more, it is usually used for pizza, bread and pasta.

In this case Al Forno phrase didn’t make much sense as the entrée didn’t appear to be ‘straight from the oven’ by any stretch of the imagination.

Mexican chicken, a sort of a chicken chilli was remarkably mediocre and looked like to be a filler item rather than any worthwhile entrée. Here again grilled chicken breast was used immersed in what they claimed to be spicy Mexican-style sauce.

Pasta with chicken and tomato sauce may not compete with the high-end pasta varieties but surprisingly scrumptious.

Beef in oyster sauce had the most peculiar of tastes, with the beef coming across as if it had been overcooked.

Desserts overall were disappointing. And the major reason for that wasn’t just the lack of variety but the lack of fresh products on offer.

To begin with, both varieties of cupcakes although appealing to the eyes were downright stale beneath the façade. Same goes for the humungous chocolate fudge cake with cream sandwiched in between that you could just devour with your eyes. Unfortunately not with your mouth, because your taste buds instantaneously told you that the cake had seen better days.

We didn’t try the Tiramisu but have a feeling it wouldn’t have fared any better than its chocolate sibling.

The saving grace was the chocolate mousse and the French toast with whipped cream and banana.  Their forte was their freshness which came out refreshingly in each bite.

We tried neither kheer nor custard.

Although a total of 48 dishes were being advertised by Necos, 26 dishes were on offer for the deal.

We feel Necos could do a whole lot better by offering more specialties from their main menu in the Iftar deal. One particular entrée conspicuous by its absence was the crepe. Crepe are not only cost-effective but they would add another dimension to this iftar deal.

We also feel that Fettuccine Alfredo would serve much better than the simple pasta with the tomato sauce, adding prestige to the buffet menu.

Also Crispy Fish which is deep-fried fish fillet and comes with sautéed vegetables and tartar sauce is a much better choice than Ne’cos fish.

The second improvement needed is that of freshness, especially that of the desserts. If any of the items is not fresh, it’s far better to avoid serving it, even if that means curtailing the menu. By now they should have a fairly good idea of what customers love and thus adjust the quantity of each item accordingly.

All in all Necos iftar deal is fair enough viewed in the context of their normal menu prices.  Go for it only if you’re looking for something different from the mainstream buffet bandwagon and are not concerned about the number of dishes or the value for money.

However, if you fancy a buffet loaded with artery-clogging concoctions, this is not the place for you.

Necos is finally spreading its wings, aggressively promoting itself on KarachiSnob. However, it’s torn between focusing on its organic retail products and its café offerings. It would do well to divide them into two different sections, placing emphasis on each one at a time. In short a rethinking of their branding strategy.

Kahva Cafe and Grill

Kahva café and grill located just on the outskirts of the Sindhi Muslim Food Street has been around for the last several years. How it has managed to survive all these years is amazing considering the fact that you would hardly find it buzzing with people. Not that it wears a deserted look every time, but it just doesn’t have the appeal to make crowds throng to it just like Roasters or even Nandos a few 100 metres away from Kahva do.

Kahva has all the ingredients of an upscale café, the ambience, the upholstery, even the prices. The dining hall has the perfect blend of lighting something which so many upscale cafes and restaurants fail at.

And yet it is not pulling the sort of traffic that its brethren Roasters is. To be fair, Roasters had the brand essence already established via its Zamzama outlet, so the consumers thronging the place already what they were getting into. Roasters also had the competitive advantage of being owned by Nadeem Raja, the owner of already famous Arizona Grill who knew how to make a restaurant successful.

[slickr-flickr tag=”kahva”]

Kahva on the other hand had to start from scratch. On top of that, the name doesn’t exactly exude the image of a sophisticated suave café. The most you would associate with the name Kahva is a swanky Shisha bar. And Kahva doesn’t even offer Sheesha. It does, however, offer numerous coffee options, from Mocha to Latte, the complete works.

Just like Roasters and in fact most of the eating houses on that strip, it is located on two floors. Both floors are styled on the pattern of a lounge with sofas and all. There is of course the conventional dining table arrangement also incorporated into the scheme. The aesthetics of it all is right up there with the very best.

What Kahva is lacking behind in is the core product- the food. Not all, but one of the items that we tried- something which is common and sure to be tried by most of the people coming to the place – was totally horrendous. Called the Biccacio sandwich, it was supposed to be made of chicken cubes marinated in herbs and spices and served in freshly baked oregano bread along with fries and coleslaw. Priced at a whopping Rs.345, the sandwich was, to start with, just below the average size. In fact if you compare it to what you can get for pretty much the same price at Roasters, it can aptly be called tiny. And remember that GST is charged in addition to the price. So the actual price of the sandwich is a mind-numbing Rs.407.

The size, sadly, wasn’t the only thing wrong with the sandwich. The description belied the ground reality. Instead of being marinated with herbs and spices, the chicken cubes seemed to be inundated with tomato sauce. Again nothing wrong with that if the sauce itself was palatable which it wasn’t. The coleslaw that accompanied it wasn’t upto the mark either. The only saving grace was the fries, both in taste and quantity.

Two of the other items that we tried were, thankfully, the complete opposite of this torrid experience. The Alfredo Fettuccini, a special pasta made with mushrooms, chicken and a garlic cream sauce was simply divine. Priced at Rs.390, the quantity was also just about right. Yes, the chicken pieces could have been a few more but it doesn’t matter that much. The garlic essence in the sauce was not overdone which some restaurants are prone to do.

The jumbo prawns in peppercorn sauce served with garlic rice were sumptuous. Priced Rs.545 they were at par with the Roasters and Arizona Grill’s offering. The only glitch was that the shell wasn’t removed and that spoilt the mood a bit working on that.

One mind-boggling we found at Kahva was that the soft drink was priced at Rs.75. Add GST to that and it comes out to be a staggering Rs.88.5. If you were lounging at a five star hotel and paying this much premium on an ordinary drink, it would make sense. Here it is nothing short of mind-boggling. The only rationale we can come up with is because the place is a wi-fi hotspot and has plasma screens installed, people come to enjoy the ambience and order a soft drink for that privilege. So Kahva is charging the premium for sitting around in the soft drinks.

But they need to at least reduce the rates for those who’re already having a meal there, or better still include the drinks free of cost in the meal. It’s not a big deal but it would help to boost the brand loyalty.

Kahva maybe a good place to dine out, but being good alone is not enough to prosper as many restaurants and cafes have found out the hard way. Kahva will need to ensure a decent turn-over to be able to succeed in the long run, considering the cut-throat competition it faces in the neighborhood.

One thing it needs to immediately implement is offer lucrative meal deals especially on its snack category, because the few people who came in while we were there went for that option. The most popular deal on that food strip is buy one, get 50% off the second one. It could go for that option, or any other option, as long as it is attractive enough to lure the consumers in and then works its magic on them to keep them for life.

Village Iftar Deal

This is the first Village Restaurant opposite Avari Towers and not the Salt n Pepper Village on Seaview that most people are familiar with. It has been around for more than four decades, one of the famous restaurants of the yore. It opened up on the famous Mereweather Road behind Palace Cinema in the 60s proabably owned by the cinema owner. Now it appears just a shadow of its glorious past.

One of our fellow critics fondly remembers visiting Village frequently in his childhood, which was a happening place back then. We decided to have a go at their Ramadan Iftar deals which they religiously come up with every year. Their price goes up every Ramadan just like the rest of the bunch, but is still cheaper than most of the others at Rs.650 which includes the tax, unlimited Roof Afza and tea. The cold drink costs Rs.40.

Judging from its ambience, price point and menu items, it can safely be put in the category of Mela type restaurants. And herein lies its problem. Mela has become such a branded force to be reckoned with in the mid-range category, that no one can compete with it by a long shot. Offering 54 varieties at Rs.449 + tax( which comes out to be Rs.526), it blows away the competition.

Village like Mela is open-air. However unlike Mela whose ambience gives the feeling that you’ve come to attend a wedding (it is located in a defunct marriage lawn) Village fares better on this count. It has a very retro sort of ambience  with greenery aesthetically embedded into the setting which exudes an air of calmness and sooth. Then there’s the candlelight placed on each table which further adds depth to the ambiance. Just be prepared to wrestle with the mosquitoes once the sun sets. Mela on the other hand does not have this nuisance.

Another advantage Village has over Mela is it’s location. Located just across the towering Avari with the defunct Metropole Hotel adjacent to it, it’s not only easily accessible but upscale enough. And this is something which may deter people from visiting Mela. Previously located on Shahrae Faisal opposite the majestic Lal Qila, it is now located smack in the middle of marriage lawns on Main Rashid Minhas Road. Just ask someone from the other side of Kala Pull to come to Mela and his response will tell you exactly what I mean.

Then Mela offers just one glass of Rooh Afza at the Iftar time while Village provides you with unlimited supply of the red sherbet throughout the evening.

One final advantage Village has over Mela is the number of visitors. Village has so few customers that you can easily access all the items whenever you want. Not so at Mela where you have to literally stand in a line if you want to have one of the sought-after items like prawn, fish and barbeque. It’s that crowded.

But that’s just about it. Village lags far behind Mela in terms of items offered. While Village offers a paltry 13 main items, Mela boasts of 20 plus items including the delectable Sajji. Village offers just two desserts, Mela around 10. There were just two salads at Village, Mela has a huge assortment of salads. And don’t forget Mela is Rs.125 cheaper than Village.

In terms of prayer and Wudhu facilities, both of them offer adequate space.

Here’s the complete list of items on offer at Village:

Iftar  Items:

  1. Kabuli chana chaat
  2. Kala chana chaat
  3. Fruit chaat
  4. Cream fruit chaat
  5. Aaloo ke pakoray
  6. Kachori with bhaji
  7. Samosa
  8. Spring roll
  9. Jalebi

Dinner Items:

  1. Chicken corn and hot n sour soup
  2. Palak ghosht
  3. Chicken Karhai
  4. Chicken tikka boti
  5. Seekh kabab
  6. Chinese fried rice
  7. Chicken white sauce
  8. Chicken chowmein
  9. Sweet n sour prawn
  10. Chicken red curry
  11. Chicken wings
  12. Fish n chips

The iftar items were your average stuff. Nothing remarkable about them. The salt content of the kachori bhaji was way too much though.

The dinner items were a mixed bag. The palak ghosht was full of bones with a rare ghosht here and there.

The bbq chicken boti was top notch. Usually what buffet style restaurants do is add a lot of bone-pieces to the platter. Not Village. They had ensured that each piece had succulent flesh to it. The seekh kabab were your standard offering.

The sweet n sour prawn were palatable with enough prawns thrown in to mix. The fish finger was disappointing. The crust was too thick, the pieces too small. The chicken wings were good but you couldn’t tell the difference between the bbq and them. The Chinese platters chowmein and fried rice were pretty much okay.

The chicken karhai was scrummy but we felt that the chicken pieces were not fresh. The nan and kulcha were dry and hard. Biryani is one dish that is present in every buffet big and small and here it was conspicuous by its absence.

The lack of salad and dessert options was a big damper to what overall could have been good value for money. Really, jalebi and gulab jaman alone do not make for a good sweet tooth experience. At the very least they should offer a pudding, a kheer and a kulfi/ice cream. Even one of those items would suffice.

The gulab jamans, by the way, were awesome. The tea, although not the Kashmiri type, was good as well.

At Rs.650, it’s not a bad deal considering that they aren’t many people visiting the place so you can have a peaceful private dinner, with not even the waiters infringing upon your privacy. Which was in a way a drawback. Whenever you went for another helping, your previous plate was still lying around when you came back. Almost all the waiters were huddled together at the back doing God knows what.

So service is a big flaw at Village.

village map

Diner’s Iftar Deal

Diner’s is one of the new breed of upscale restaurants that are dotted on the DHA landscape away from the Zamzama crowd, owned by the couple who run Sawasdee nearby.

Located smack in the middle of the Khayaban-e-Shahbaz commercial area, we had been receiving mixed reviews about the place for quite some time. People either loved the place, or hated it altogether. There were no mixed feelings about it. The most common complaint was that the quantity was way too low to justify the prices they were charging.

We decided to check out their Iftar deal and in the process get to know what Diner is all about.

From the outside, it projects an aura of a sophisticated food joint with dimly lit interior offering you the opportunity to dine in ample privacy. From the inside, it’s sophisticated alright, but the privacy part does not hold good as it has a fairly bright lighting which we felt they need to tone down to ensure a more calming ambiance. Overall the ambiance is top notch.

Right, now getting down to the business. This Ramadan most of the restaurants have changed their strategy of offering dinner buffet. Now they offer you an Iftar platter after which you’re allowed to choose just one item from their regular menu. While some restaurants are straightforward about their deal, others are not.

Saffron for instance has claimed to offer Iftar dinner buffet but in reality they’re offering the buffet for just Iftar items and in the end it’s back to just one item from the main menu. Which is pretty steep considering that they charge a staggering Rs.1250+ tax which comes out to be Rs.1463 and that does not include the soft drinks! No wonder the place was deserted even on a Saturday evening. Even the rich this summer are selective about throwing their money away.

Diner on the other hand has gone the traditional way of offering a complete dinner buffet like the category leaders Copper Kettle, Arizona Grill and Roasters. But there’s a catch here. It’s not exactly buffet but ‘Eat all you Can’ in the same vein as Pizza Hut. You’re given a menu and you have to order anything you like and as much as you like from that. Then there’s another catch. You can only do so till 9pm. You would think two hours starting from the time of Iftar would be enough to try everything out. If you’ve been to Pizza Hut’s deal, you know it’s a pretty chaotic scheme.

We got to Diner’s in the nick of time and found the place partially filled; in fact the top floor was pretty much deserted. And yet the service was slow, no, make it excruciatingly slow. Everything seemed to be happening in slow motion. On that entire floor, there was just this one table occupied (our entry made it two), there were three waiters on the prowl, and yet they couldn’t decide what to do.

Going by the way the waiters were scurrying about excitedly, it seemed Diner’s had for the first time received even this much customers for their Ramadan deal. The Iftar platter which should have been delivered right away along with the dates, was brought six to seven minutes late. To be fair to them, they were all very courteous and it is the restaurant management’s responsibility to direct their activities.Iftar platter- diner

There was no prayer area. They had just designated a miniscule corner for praying that could accommodate only two persons. And the least they could have done was keep proper ‘Jaanamaz’ for that purpose instead of making people pray on large-sized white napkins.Iftar Menu- Diner

On top of everything, people who were sitting downstairs were coming up to pray in this corner, making it extremely difficult for us to offer our prayers on time. After fifteen minutes had elapsed with no sign of us getting the turn, we asked the waiters to arrange for our prayers in the other corner of the room which had space since the place was mostly deserted even by that time.

Maybe Diner’s hasn’t allocated proper space for prayers because most of their customers don’t offer the prayers after Iftar. That is the only sound logic we could come up with.

We visited the place on the tenth of Ramadan. Why the management hadn’t learnt from its mistakes from the last ten days is beyond us.

Oh, by the way, an appetizer platter  arrived while we were waiting for the prayer turn.Appetizer- Diner

The platter comprised of chicken strips, Buffalo wings and mini beef burgers. The strips were simply divine – chicken with cheese with a thick crispy coating. Buffalo wings are basically deep-fried chicken wings cooked in spicy hot cayenne pepper sauce. They were first made popular by Anchor Bar, Buffalo, New York in 1964, hence the name. The wings were dipped a bit too much in the sauce and they were more sour rather than spicy, but good enough.

The mini beef burger were sumptuous as well but won’t appeal to everyone. If you like your beef heavily marinated in all types of spices and stuff to tone down its authentic smell and taste, then you’re not going to like these. They were the real deal – beef with all its ‘Heeng’ glory.

After this we ordered from the menu which comprised of 12 main entrées along with a host of soups, appetizers and salads, a total of 17 items. The format, as already revealed before, is that you could order any item any number of times, and the total cost of all this is Rs.895+ tax which comes out to be Rs. 1,047.15. You add a further Rs. 75 for a soft drink and that makes it Rs.1122.15. It is pretty steep but considering what the others are offering this year, it’s not a bad bargain.

For the first round we ordered four dishes. The chicken and mushroom crepe was delectable, remarkably similar to the Roasters one. The Fettuccine Alfredo with Prawn, quite a mouthful, the name, isn’t it? Fettuccine (literally “little ribbons” in Italian) is a flat thick noodle made of egg and flour which is wider than the conventional round ones. Alfredo is basically the name of the restaurant ‘Alfredo alla Scrofa’ in Rome. It was named by the Italian restaurateur who owned the place and created this dish back in 1917.Chicken mushroom crepe- Diner

Fettuccini Alfredo with prawn

pepper steak- DinerThe dish would have got full marks had it not been for the prawns. The prawns we felt were a bit on the stale side judging from the strong smell emanating from it. The pasta itself was palatable.

Next up was the Mushroom steak. We had directed the steak to be well-done. What came out was a small lump of meat which was burnt on the outside and raw from the inside.

The Margherita Pizza was a disappointment as well. The razor thin crust wasn’t so much as a problem than the razor-thin topping. It is named after Queen Margherita of Savoy when she visited Naples in 1889 and was served this pizza resembling the colurs of the Italian flag, red (tomato), white (Mozzarella) and green (basil).

This wrapped the first round. The second round for which we ordered almost immediately took more than half an hour to arrive while the first one arrived within fifteen minutes. This was mind-boggling considering the same type of dishes were ordered the second time around.

The grilled chicken with tarragon sauce was the highlight of this round. Tarragon is a type of herb also called ‘dragon herb’. The chicken was succulent and the sauce sumptuous.Grilled chicken with tarragon sauce

penne arabiataFiesta chicken pizzaThe Penne Arabiata with chicken and tomato sauce was the weakling of this round. Arrabbiata is a Roman sauce of garlic, tomatoes, and red chili cooked in olive oil. In this case, it was simple bland with no distinct taste.

The roast beef sandwich was pretty ordinary as well. The fiesta pizza with chicken fared just marginally better than its Margherita counterpart.

If you look closely at the pictures, the portion size is frugal. If that’s tailored to the Iftar deal so that people don’t waste much, then it’s alright. However, if this same size is served in normal offerings as well, then people have been complaining rightly about it, because at more than Rs.500, you expect the dish to satiate you enough.

In the end we tried the solitary dessert on offer, vanilla ice cream with brownie. The ice cream tasted like one of the popular yet bland brands, the brownie was mediocre although served hot.

Overall, we found Diner’s Iftar deal a mixed bag. It definitely scores a whole lot better than what’s on offer at some of its contemporaries, but the slow service especially the serving of the meals which was to be supposed to be buffet-style should have been prompt. We felt there may have been an element of deliberately stalling for time so that the customer consumes the least amount of dishes in the allocated time till 9pm.

However, if you haven’t been to Diner before and really want to sample their offerings, this deal is as good as any to do that.

The Copper Kettle on Stadium Road

Copper Kettle is the father of the ‘cafesque’ restaurant category in Karachi’s foodscape. Pre-Copper Kettle, Chinese restaurants ruled the roost followed by a few Usmania-style restaurants. With the advent of Copper Kettle, the whole scenario underwent a paradigm shift.

With competition in this category heating up, Copper Kettle has responded with diversification and expansion. The diversification strategy culminated in the creation of a new brand Hobnob – a bakery which serves most of the dessert delicacies of the parent brand. The expansion strategy has been much more subdued with just a single other outlet operating in Karachi on National Stadium road.

Although the prices at this joint are the same as the original one on Zamzama, some innovation has been introduced into this joint to make it more appealing. And that innovation is a buffet dinner on the first floor whereas the A la carte version is maintained on the ground floor.

We didn’t try the buffet version but the grapevine has it that it’s nothing to write home about. But then, what can you expect from a buffet that costs a mere Rs.500 at an upscale joint? We did check out the items on the buffet, and although there aren’t that many to begin with, whatever items they do offer look to be good value for money.

We went for the A la Carte version and apart from their usual items, we decided to have a go at their desi offering as well.

The desi item we did try – BBQ platter – was alright, nothing spectacular that you would expect from CK. It comprised of two large seekh kababs and an assortment of behari kabab,bihari boti and chicken boti. The nans that were served with it were horrendous. It would have been better had they served paratha or even chapathi with it.

Henny Penny-chicken stroganoff
Henny Penny-chicken stroganoff

The fried shrimps weren’t any good either. In fact when you consider the price and the comparison with Arizona Grill and Roaster’s Battered Fried Shrimp, it would pale in comparison. Its biggest drawback was that the crust was too thick reeking of ‘bason’ and overshadowing the taste of the core ingredient- the shrimp. Simply the worst item that we ordered on this visit.

BBQ Platter -Copper Kettle
BBQ Platter -Copper Kettle

The Henny Penny (Boneless chicken stroganoff in fresh cream and mushrooms, served with  fried rice) was as usual brilliant but the quantity was a bit on the down side.

Jumbo Prawns-Copper Kettle
Jumbo Prawns-Copper Kettle

The Chicken Chuck was good as well with just the right amount of stuffing, remarkably similar to what is on offer at Secret Recipe. Quantity-wise it topped the list.

Chicken Chuck-Copper Kettle
Chicken Chuck-Copper Kettle

The Caked Alaska wasn’t upto the mark either. Presentation-wise it was right up there but the brownie/cake didn’t have the usual brilliant taste. On top of that the ice cream was melting like hell and we had to plunge into it at full speed before only the milk remained. At Rs.230 plus tax, you expect better than this.

Caked Alaska-Copper Kettle
Caked Alaska-Copper Kettle

Overall, this outlet seems to have something amiss with respect to the original joint. The taste wasn’t quite there nor was the quantity. Is it a deliberate ploy or just some operational shortcoming isn’t clear.

Whatever the shortcomings, the joint itself is doing good business. It’s neighbor Domino’s had a terrible time with the place deserted most of the time. It eventually moved from there to the happening strip of University Road adjacent to the Pizza Hut.

Marketing-wise Copper Kettle is following the standard format – have a facebook page with all the offerings of the brand including hi-resolution pictures of the items, and then offer special promotion deals from time to time specially for the lunch time when business is slowest.

And Copper Kettle is doing well here what with 10,667 fans as of writing this review. The page and the strategy was developed by Shahjehan Chaudhary’s Homexpress which is responsible for most of the upscale restaurants’ social media strategy.

It is an effective strategy which works for most restaurants making use of it although it can backfire a bit as well like it did for CK when someone complained on their facebook wall about the quality of caked alaska being offered on the special deal.

But at least they’re getting the feedback in real time, and if they’re serious about maintaining their quality, they will pay heed to the comments emanating online.

Roasters Coffee House & Grill- Riding High

Roasters started out as a coffee house but then popular demand by the regular clientele forced the owner Nadeem Raja to introduce main entrées into the foray, as revealed by him to Mahmood Nanji on the program Success Stories.

With time, Roasters has morphed into a full-fledged restaurant with the coffee business confined to a mere sideline option.

If you’re familiar with most of the upscale restaurants in town including Roasters, you will notice Roasters has an uncanny resemblance to one particular joint. In fact most of the items on display are identical. That place is Arizona Grill and the reason is both joints are owned by Nadeem Raja.

Wouldn’t that lead to cannibalization of sales? To an extent, yes. Fortunately, they are not located that close to each other, although all the four joints are in the same locality, two at Zamzama and the other two at Bahadurabad and Sindhi Muslim Society.

The most similar dish and probably the best item on both restaurants’ menus is the Battered Fried Shrimp. Heavenly stuff, these shrimps.  The surprise element was the price. At Arizona Grill, this dish costs almost Rs.600 whereas at Roasters it is priced less than Rs.500! Talk about brand premium. There’s literally no difference in the taste, quantity or even in the presentation, apart from the garlic sauce that is served with Arizona version but is absent in the Roasters version.

Roasters- Battered Fried Shrimp

There are of course, differences as well. Crepe is one of the specialties of Roasters but nowhere to be found in Arizona Grill.

The quantity, well, Arizona Grill fares a wee bit better on this aspect than others.

We tested five of their main entrées, and found their sumptuous factor to be remarkably high compared to their contemporary restaurants. The Onion and Pepper Chicken was the worse of the lot, and even that wasn’t all that bad. The chicken itself wasn’t badly done, there was the strange sprinkling on top that spoiled the whole dish.

The chicken waffle is a bold dish for two reasons. One, waffle is not something that is known amongst the Pakistani consumer, let alone be popular amongst it. Secondly, waffle is mostly used as a morning or evening snack; on top of that it is slightly sweet. Our consumer may have become accustomed to the red-sauce sweet-and-sour chicken and prawn and what not, getting used to waffle may take time or may not happen at all. It’s bound to become popular only if more and more eateries start serving it.

Roasters- Chicken Waffle

The Roasters’ chicken waffle was alright, nothing extraordinary. We felt that the waffle itself could have been done a whole lot better. It should have been soft but was quite hard.

The solitary beef burger on the menu was not only tasty but humongous. It ought to satiate the appetite of even the ‘healthiest’ of eaters.

The two crepes that we tried were simply divine. Even the now defunct Crepe Factory couldn’t come up with this level of’ scrumptulicious’.

The pasta was the second best thing on the menu, with just the right amount of spices and herbs used to accentuate the flavor.

Both the joints, Zamzama as well as Sindhi Muslim Society, were checked out and the ambiance, service and food were found to be remarkably uniform. Service was good enough, although at the Sindhi Muslim outlet when we ordered different forms of potato with different dishes, we got only the French fries with each one. Minor glitch.

The privacy factor could be jacked up a bit, although it’s far better than others of its kind especially at Zamzama.

It’s marketing strategy is a little bit subdued. They have come up with the standard lunch deal which most of the upscale restaurants are following diligently – buy one and get the other at 50% off. However the way this promotion is presented at all restaurants including Roasters – “50 % off Lunch Deal”, it gives the impression that you would only be required to pay 50% on your total bill. A bit deceptive, especially since the actual deal doesn’t offer that much of a difference in the total bill.

Why? Many reasons. For one, the GST is not included in the waiver. Then the deal is valid for only the main entrée. Any appetizer or dessert you order will be charged at full price. And the biggest of all, you need to order even number of main entrees to be eligible for the meager discount. If you order 3 or 5, only one dish would be eligible for the discount.

And herein lies an opportunity for some shrewd restaurateur to tinker with the terms of the deals and make it more attractive than what the rest of the bunch is offering. How?

Include even the starters and desserts within the deal. Then if a customer orders three or five dishes, offer a 25% discount on the odd one out. And if someone is bold enough to order seven dishes, how about the eighth one completely free? These small measures have the potential to tilt the level playing field in the favor of the restaurateur who implements them, that is if, someone is bold enough.

A great opportunity which almost all restaurateurs fail to take advantage of is offer tantalizing deals on the slowest day, which for most is Monday nights. Gun Smoke is one shrewd place which is offering Eat All You Can deal on a Monday night although the deal is a bit too stifling. Then Aqua Lounge is offering a Crab Buffet on Monday night. Although not a bad idea, but who would have a crab-only buffet on Monday of all the nights, and that also for Rs.1000+ tax?

That’s literally creating a barrier for anyone even remotely interested in that deal. So what gives?

Your deal has to be too good to be true, yes it has to be that irresistible, even if it means you don’t make any profit on it. After all your purpose is turn the slowest night into the fastest one, to make sure that the place is thronging with people and people are falling over each other to get their hands on that deal. What this would do is stir a commotion and spread like wildfire. No one to date has been able to conjure up this sort of hysteria on a slow night, weekend yes but not when the going is tough.

Coming back to Roasters, apart from this one deal, there’s no deal, advertising or brand awareness strategy by them. All the branding endeavors are internally driven. They don’t even have a Facebook page which is a major shortcoming considering that almost the upscale joints maintain a regular presence there, interacting with their customers, offering new deals and basically just keeping in the thick of things. It’s even more bizarre since the sibling brand Arizona Grill does have a major presence on facebook with more than 12,000 fans.

Although there’s a group by its name, it’s probably created by a fan and doesn’t have much to offer, not even the menu.

All in all, Roasters has done tremendously well to rise up to the first-tier upscale restaurants from being a mere coffee shop, competing with the category leaders, leaving even the parent brand Arizona Grill behind.

Secret Recipe Café – Striving not to remain a Secret

Secret Recipe is a Malaysian restaurant franchise that is holding steady in spite of the fact that is located on a jinxed boulevard in Khayaban-e-Shahbaz. The jinx seems to only work on restaurants and so far it’s victims have been U&Me café and the Bread People, two joints that were adjacent to where Secret Recipe is now located, and vanished without a trace. Now it has the jazzier Studio Café to contend with which is the only other beacon of light on this deserted street which gives a haunted look at night. Continue reading Secret Recipe Café – Striving not to remain a Secret