Tag Archives: Arizona Grill

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.

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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.

Arizona Grill’s Buffet Dinner

Nadeem Raja’s Arizona Grill is one of the category leaders in the upscale ‘restaurantscape’ of Karachi. As such it has a reputation to protect especially when it comes to Ramadan deals. Today’s consumer empowered by the social media has become extremely unforgiving. One false move on the restaurateur’s part and before you know it, the whole wide networked world is talking about it.

We checked out Arizona Grill’s stamina for dishing out the perfect iftar dinner by visiting on the very last day of Ramadan’s gastronomical orgy.  Apart from a few hiccups, the iftar bonanza is something you could rely on to tantalize your taste buds.

The purely continental iftar dinner is something which Evolution restaurant is credited for coming up. Although Evolution was a latecomer to the foray of upscale restaurants, it revolutionized the iftar dinner by offering its main entrées as part of the buffet offering. Before it, the restaurants refrained from including the expensive items and instead used the standard buffet items to fill up the table.

Evolution came and upped the ante, as well as the prices. In 2002 when the prices for a buffet iftar used to be somewhere between Rs.200-350, it came up with a buffet costing Rs.500 which was astronomical by that era’s standard. Of course today 500 bucks would fetch you only the cheapest buffet in town.But in those days 500 bucks was a great deal of money.

That didn’t deter the consumer from thronging the place. There was limited space for moving about what with the buffet items taking up half the space, and people were falling over each other trying to get their hands on the steaks and the pastas. It was complete mayhem. We know this for a fact because we checked out Evolution’s iftar buffet back in 2002 when it was first introduced, and we can safely conclude that Arizona Grill’s offering pales in comparison to that buffet both in terms of taste and the number of items on offer.

However, whether that offering holds good even today is  a big question mark since we haven’t checked on Evolution’s quality standard since 2007.

Notwithstanding the comparison with Evolution, Arizona Grill’s iftar dinner buffet is a force to be reckoned with. At Rs. 895 plus tax equal to Rs.1056, it may not have the most number of items on offer, roughly around 35, it’s the weightage of certain items that tips the balance in its favor. Here’s the complete listing of the offering:

Iftar Items
1. Chicken Wings
2 Samosa
3 Spring Roll
4 Pakora
5 Chana Chaat
6 Fruit Chaat
7 Dahi Barey
8 Egg n cheese sandwich
9 Beef sandwich
10 Chapali kebab
Dinner Items
11 Hot n Sour Soup
12 Black Pepper Steak
13 Chicken Shashlik
14 Beef Chilli
15 Chicken Mushroom
16 Vegetable Chowmein
17 Fried Rice
18 Sweet n Sour Prawn
19 Fried Fish
20 Country Fried Chicken
21 Pasta a la Pesto
22 Mushroom Lasagna
23 Mashed Potatoes
Desserts
24 Vanilla Ice Cream
25 Malt Cake
26 Cheese Cake
27 Egg Pudding
28 Apple Crumb
29 Bread Pudding
30 Fresh Fruit
31 Chocolate Mousse

In addition this, there were about 3-4 salads and two sauces, one with the chicken wings and the other with the fish. Both were sumptuous and could be had easily with the other items as well.

The fish was by far the best item on offer. It was golden crisp just the right amount without any hint of over-cooking. The same cannot be said of the sweet n sour prawn which left the impression of something which is slightly burnt. The same goes for the beef chili. In fact no one so much as touched this dish which even looked uninviting. The country fried chicken was quite good, just a tad short on salt, which was the case with the pasta as well. It not only tasted devoid of the requisite herbs that give a pasta its exquisite taste, but any other worthwhile meat ingredient.

The chicken mushroom was delectable, so was the shashlik. The steak was a bit on the bland side. Not the best steak Arizona Grill offers otherwise anyway. The lasagna was palatable as well loaded with mushrooms and stuff.

The iftar items were your standard affair. Nothing remarkable about them.

Coming to the desserts, the malt cake was scrumptious. The verdict on cheese cake could go either way – depends on how much you prefer the sweetening factor to sour. The Sports Bar iftar dinner offers the perfect blend in its cheese cake. Arizona Grill’s version was dominated by the cheesy part with even the base almost non-existent. If you prefer your cheese cake that way, then your’re gonna love it.

The apple pudding was surprisingly horrible. The mousse was simply divine.

We do feel that Arizona Grill could change this experience from being just pleasant to delightful from next year by just tweaking a few changes at little or no investment:

  • The salt content wasn’t upto the mark in many instances. It was either too low or too high. Just by ensuring the appropriate salt level, the taste of the dishes could be enhanced manifold.
  • Drop the beef chili. No one was interested in it anyway. Introduce either chicken steak or better still ‘chicken and mushroom crepe’. It already is a smash hit at its sister brand Roasters so Arizona Grill won’t have any trouble adding it here as well.
  • Both Shashlik and sweet n sour prawn taste essentially the same having the same reddish sweet gravy. A better option would be to remove the shashlik and introduce prawn tempura instead. No other restaurant is offering two prawn dishes. It would help Arizona Grill stand out from the crowd, especially since people love prawn dishes. And if it can afford to include its heavenly divine battered fried shrimps, that would be fantastic.
  • Ensure the prawns are not overcooked. Also since it’s the prawn pakora-style, it’s better to make it bigger.
  • Improve the level of service by focusing on even the minor things. We had one short date on our table. We asked at least three waiters for the extra date before it arrived. It wouldn’t cost a fortune to place some extra dates on each table.
  • One glass of lemonade is too stingy on the part of Arizona Grill. It doesn’t cost much, and it would help increase its standing in the eyes of its customers by offering unlimited drinks of the lemonade or any sherbet for that matter.
  • Replace the bland branded vanilla ice cream with a homemade version. Or maybe have a brand alliance with Hot Spot or some other well-known ice cream parlor and offer that. It would go a long way in enhancing the value of the overall dessert experience.
  • And now the worst part about their service. There was no prayer space. None at all. There was this tiny ‘dasterkhan’ on which you can offer your prayers one at a time and of all the places, right at the entrance where people were coming and going. Even if majority of your customers don’t pray, it doesn’t mean you can ignore this essential part of an iftar deal. There are always going to be a few who would. And the least you can do for them is to buy a decent Jaanamaz for them  and a secluded space to pray. This was the worst arrangement we found at any Karachi restaurant, upscale or otherwise. Even Fuchsia fared much better on this count.

In spite of all its shortcoming, Arizona Grill’s iftar deal was one of the best deals we tried this Ramadan.

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.

Gun Smoke Steaks & Burgers

Gun Smoke continues to provide stiff competition to its competitors Arizona Grill and Copper Kettle with its wide array of burgers and steaks.

And Gun Smoke’s reputation has become bigger than the actual product behind the brand, which is precisely what brands are created for – to charge brand premium for the larger-than-life perception.

The biggest reason for this is that Gun Smoke has managed to cultivate more brand evangelists than its competition. These brand evangelists have not only joined the Gun Smoke Facebook page in droves (16,000+ todate), they have created video ads of Gun Smoke and uploaded them on youtube. Here are three of them:

Gun Smoke Promo

Gun Smoke ad

Now they may not be the most sensational ads you’ll ever see, but these ads are made by ordinary people who love this brand so much that they’ve put in the time and effort to create them. How many of Gun Smoke’s competitors can boast of this?

Consistency is  the second  most potent weapon of any powerful brand and Gun Smoke has it.

If you’ve been to Gun Smoke, you must be familiar with their menu pattern.  The basic offering of the main entrée remains the same, the only thing you change is the choice of meat – chicken or beef, and the item itself – burger or steak.

For instance, if you choose Mediterranean Garlic, you can have burger or steak in that particular recipe and within that category, beef or chicken. Confused? It’s like this:

  1. Mediterranean Garlic Beef Burger or
  2. Mediterranean Garlic Chicken Burger or
  3. Mediterranean Garlic Beef Steak or
  4. Mediterranean Garlic chicken steak

That means for every single recipe there are four combinations.

In the case of sandwiches and pasta, the scheme is a bit different.

Here’s the complete menu.

In this visit we tested four of their offerings: Mediterranean Garlic Steak (Beef), Whiskey River Steak (chicken),   Royal Burger (Chicken) and Gourmet Cheese Burger (Beef).

Whiskey River bbq steak-- Gun Smoke
Whiskey River bbq steak-- Gun Smoke
Mediterranean garlic beef steak- Gun Smoke
Mediterranean garlic beef steak- Gun Smoke

Although Gun Smoke’s steaks are pretty much renowned, taste-wise you would be hard-pressed to differentiate them from Copper Kettle, Arizona Grill, Roasters or even Secret Recipe.

Portion-wise you are going to end up disappointed. Gun Smoke could do a whole lot better in offering generous portion sizes like its rivals. While the rivals offer generous helping of vegetable, garlic sauce and French fries, Gun Smoke offered spinach. Can you believe that? Who would want to have that with steak? How does that work? (“Hey honey look, these fine cowboys are so concerned about our health they’re giving us spinach!”)

Maybe some people do fancy creamed spinach, none from our party did. A better strategy is to offer options, something that doesn’t require any extra effort on their part, like buttered sweet corn or grilled vegetables, something they’re already offering with other menu items.

To be fair, we didn’t try the Sheriff’s Cut category, which we reckon is just the super-sized version of the existing steaks. Maybe taste-wise they’re different as well. At almost 1000 bucks, they better be all that and more.

Most people say that taste (especially that of the steaks) is the USP (Unique Selling Proposition) of Gun Smoke. We found out that the salad bar option with each steak  is the real USP. At second comes the ambiance which the youth especially have taken a liking to.

No rival of Gun Smoke has come up with the salad bar, which is fast becoming the in-thing in this part of the world. Although many restaurants have come up with a salad bar, apart from Pizza Hut no one has been able to leverage it in the form of deals as Gun Smoke has done.

However, it would be better for Gun Smoke to allow the customer to have the salad with the dinner and not before it. What happens is that you’ve the salad 10 minutes before the steak arrives, and by then your expectations have risen to quite an extent that when you see just the potatoes or spinach, it makes for a sorry site.

Just imagine how potent the whole deal would look if the salad bowl is placed along with the steak? It would enhance the worth of the whole deal.

Coming to the burgers, they are no more tastier than most of the rivals, but at least portion-wise they are right up there with the competition. One burger ought to satiate your appetite well, what with the generous helping of French fries, coleslaw and the humungous burger itself.

The coleslaw is a bit too crispy with sparse use of mayonnaise whereas Karachiites are weaned on the pasty softer version.

Gun Smoke has done a pretty swell job of building a strong brand. But it still need to tie the loose ends if it is to become a great brand loved not only by Pakistanis  but people abroad.

The pathway to greatness has already been defined in the earlier article Gun Smoke- The Resilient Brand. What can be added to that strategy is that Gun Smoke will have to upsize the portion size of the steak, add more sizzling sidelines to them, and then offer some scintillating deals to maintain the flow of consumers throughout the week.

That is one weakness of Gun Smoke. On some days of the week, the place is pretty deserted which doesn’t do any good to the brand equity especially if a first-time customer walks in. Introduce something along the lines of Purple Haze’s Ladies Only Night on Tuesday where pretty much everything can be had at 50% discount!

Of course Purple Haze is not of the same caliber as Gun Smoke but even then it ought to be willing to try Haze’s strategy if it’s effective. The aim should be to drive traffic to your place even if that means cutting your profit margin a bit.

Gun Smoke has also introduced breakfast deals in line with the prevailing trend of the upscale restaurants. And those deals are prominently displayed on the table. However, the deal itself is not that appetizing. Not many people are going to throng the place for a mere egg with steak at a price that is pretty much the same as the dinner’s. Gun Smoke will need to come up with better deals if its customers are to be tempted out of their bed on a holiday morning.

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.

Once Upon A Time At Arizona Grill

Arizona Grill was one of the early brands to jump on the bandwagon jumpstarted by Copper Kettle. Pre-CK era, Chinese restaurants ruled the roost. Then came CK and the café-esque culture with bizarre names and menus chalked on blackboards came into vogue.

While many restaurants and cafes that emulated this style crashed and burned, Arizona Grill is going steady after almost a decade of existence. Arizona Grill was a me-too brand that started out fixated with CK, so much so that it even copied some of the menu items, including the famed Continue reading Once Upon A Time At Arizona Grill