Kababji is Sheraton’s, in fact Karachi’s premiere Lebanese restaurant. Although there are others like Abaan and Damascus, none come close to Kababji in terms of offerings and ambience.
Kababji has been revamped since we last visited it. Although the décor is still very traditional, the lighting has been intensified a tad too much.
Kababji’s Ramadan iftar dinner buffet is not as lavish as some of the other buffets in town, having about 25 odd items compared to 50+ offered by other restaurants, but it’s based on just one cuisine not offered by any other that is Lebanese whereas the others are a cornucopia of cuisines.
It costs Rs.1800 (Rs.1500 + GST + soft drink+ tip) making it one of the most expensive, if not the most, iftar buffets in Karachi. The fact that Kababji is housed within Sheraton hotel has got a lot to do with that exorbitant price tag.
The shawarma was the real deal unlike the ones that have sprung up all over the city. Most of them don’t know jack about creating a shawarma. The thing is, one of the basic ingredients of the real shawarma is the ‘charbi’ (fat) which is skewered on top of the slab of meat. When heat is applied to this arrangement via the burner, the charbi melts and permeates into the meat giving the trademark taste to the shawarma, something which is amiss in almost all the shawarmas available in Karachi. Kababji’s shawarma had this unique taste. So full marks to the Kababji team for maintaining the authenticity of the Arabic shawarma.
Ouzi or Baked lamb and spiced rice was the grandeur item personifying the Lebanese experience to the hilt. True to the Lebanese tradition, it was cooked in a gargantuan cooking utensil with an entire lamb, or in this case, a small goat. This colossal arrangement was placed at one end of the buffet table.
Lebanese cuisine is rich with an assortment of kababs and we looked forward to dishes like the Orfali kabab or the Laham Mishwe Kabab or even Dajaj Kabab, unfortunately the only one available was Kafta kabab.
The kafta felt like too much had been done with them. Remember the adage too many cooks spoil the broth? That’s what probably became the fate of this distant cousin of seekh kababs. They were definitely made from lamb meat, judging from the overpowering taste of the meat, but in order to diminish this smell and taste, the cook had over-compensated by putting one spice too many. The result was a mishmash that tasted very artificial. Then one of the foremost requirements of a kabab is that it should be juicy and succulent and should literally melt into your mouth. These did none of those things. On the other hand, they were barren and when you chewed on them, they had a rough texture as if the concoction had been prepared ages ago.
Humour fish was good but we missed the Samak Harra which epitomizes Lebanese cuisine. Ironically it would have suited the Pakistani palate more because it provokes your taste buds something which the chef had tried to do with the other items. Humour which tasted baked was devoid of any spices or remarkable taste.
The chicken wings surprisingly were the best dish on display surpassing even the Ouzi.
Shish Taouk was succulent and tender, the chicken cubes easily melting into your mouth, but even here you felt the recipe had been tampered with to gel in with the Pakistani palate.
The beef boti was alright, although there was nothing Lebanese about it.
And that’s precisely the problem with Kababji’s iftar buffet. Apart from the few standard items like Hummus, Tabouleh and Shish Taouk, most of the items were reminiscent of the Pakistani cuisine. Fancy names were given to the items which were derivatives of some Lebanese dish but had been adapted to suit the Pakistani palate. And if you check those fancy names, you wouldn’t find many of those dishes in Lebanese cuisine.
What was the reason for such a strange strategy is not known, but we could speculate that the management faced failure last year when it launched the Iftar buffet dinner with the authentic Lebanese cuisine and people didn’t respond to it well. So they resorted to these tactics.
But most of all what we missed the most and were expecting Kababji to offer in its Iftar dinner considering the exorbitant price was the Rubian Mekly – Breaded jumbo prawns fried, served with Lebanese tartar sauce and French fries. That would have made our day, justified the price every cent and evoked a WOW response from all the customers. It would have dwarfed all the shortcomings, and even turned this critical review into a flowery one overflowing with praises.
Although a lot of regular items from its ala carte menu were missing including Shish Kabab, lamb shawarma, muhalabiyyah and Konafa Bil Ashta, it wouldn’t have mattered one bit had Rubian Mekly made the Iftar buffet. And so it usually happens, restaurants get everything right, but the omission of one single critical factor spoils the whole effort.
What we particularly liked about Kababji’s offering was that although soft drinks weren’t included in the iftar dinner buffet, a plethora of juices and other drinks were on offer that were really refreshing. Ok maybe the orange juice wasn’t refreshing or even good, tasting like some medicine, the others including apple, lemon mint and grapes were up to the mark. Then there was the sweet and salty lassi. And of course the mineral water was included in the package.
The dessert section had more to show the Lebanese culture than the savory one, although here as well you could find the standard dessert dishes like the caramel custard, chocolate cake and chocolate pastries. But apart from that, you had the Baklava which is the darling of Lebanese sweets.
Overall it was a good experience but our last experience at their A la carte dinner was much better. Kababji should do away with trying to match the Lebanese cuisine with the Pakistani palate and instead focus on maintaining the authenticity of the Lebanese cuisine. You’re able to elicit a WOW response from your customers when you stop trying to be all things to all people and just focus on your forte.