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

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.

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.

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.

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

New Nan King – Just Another Chinese Brand?

Back in the 80s, when café rage was yet to hit the Karachi foodscape; branded franchise (Pizza Hut, KFC & McDonalds) were non-existent, and places like Copper Kettle and the Zamzama street were still in the womb, Chinese restaurants were the place to hit if you wanted to have an upscale eating out experience. Most of the Chinese restaurants in the city including Peking, Kowloon and Hong Kong were concentrated in the PECHS and Bahadurabad area. And the king of the lot was none other than Continue reading New Nan King – Just Another Chinese Brand?