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.

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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.

BBQ tonight needs to fine tune its menu

Barbeque tonight continues to uphold its position as the premium dining destination in spite of a plethora of bbq restaurants including Kaybees, Wimpy’s, Zameer Haider, Ghaffar, Bundoo Khan, Meerath Kabab House and the entire Boating Basin food street. And this does not include all the other restaurants that are not bbq specialist but do offer them including the upscale Copper Kettle itself. Then we have the buffet restaurants – Village, Lal Qila, Shan-e-Mughlia – all of which offer bbq dishes.

So, in spite of cutthroat competition from established brands, what makes Bbq tonight stand out? A lot of reasons. Location is one major advantage that bar b.q tonight has. Nestled right at the junction which leads to Park Towers, Boat Basin and the Bilawal House, you just can’t miss the towering three-storey restaurant the size of a mini shopping mall. It can easily be considered the biggest restaurant of Karachi in terms of size.

It wasn’t this size always. Back in the good old days, bar bq tonight was a single-storey building and you simply couldn’t find a table if you didn’t book in advance. It used to be a  scene of utter chaos, with tables clustered all over the parking lot and sidewalk, and the cars actually parked far away in the residential area behind that you would be feeling hungry once again by the time you walked up to it.

Things have dramatically changed since then, you don’t have to wait for ages for a table to vacate. In fact you can go on a weekend with the place jampacked and still get a table right away. They claim on their website to have a table for you even in the peak hours and they deliver on their promise.

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Parking space, however, is still not enough, but you do have the option of valet parking.

The second biggest competitive advantage Bbq tonight is that of speedy service. In fact, make it the speediest service you’ll find at any a la carte restaurant in Karachi, which is commendable considering the number of people dining at any one time. Bar bq items are not something that you can prepare in a jiffy and yet bar bq tonight is able to do just that. The waiters will tell you that the food will be served in 15 to 20 minutes but it arrives even sooner than that, provided that you’ve not ordered a steak or something along those lines.

The portion size as well as the sumptuousness factor varies from dish to dish. For instance the Shish Taouk (a Turkish dish) that we tried was really delectable but the quantity was abysmally low considering that it’s priced at Rs.400. At that price point, a mere two seekhs and that also comprising of tiny chicken pieces is not acceptable.

The Royal Kabuli Pulao, well, there was nothing royal about it. If anything, it was more like a commoner than a royal. Priced at Rs.350,  the portion size was sufficiently large but the taste wasn’t up to the mark. For one, you would expect either lamb or beef to be used in a kabuli pulao, Bar bq tonight used chicken. What this did was keep the pulao bland which definitely would have benefited from the use of red meat which has its own unique flavor unlike chicken and would have brought the flavor in the pulao.

The bar bq mutton ribs are more of a royal treat than the pulao. Priced at a hefty Rs.850, the portion size is enormously generous, fit for three persons. And they’re definitely sumptuous, having just the right amount of charcoal effect without the bitter taste that ensues if they’re a bit overdone.

One minor glitch is the way they’ve coined their menu. Just look at the items under the Chef’s Recommendation heading. If their chef is recommending stuff like french fries and dal, then God help us.  In fact literally everything on the menu is either a specialty or a chef’s recommendation.

Our verdict is that although overall Barbeque tonight is a great place for enjoying some truly sumptuous offerings, not every item on the menu is worth trying out. The place also offers steaks and stuff, but you wouldn’t want to indulge in them here of all the places. Stick to barbeque items if you’re dining at barbeque tonight.

Rangoli- The next Buffet King?

‘I’m the owner of three satellite channels and I had a very bad experience at your restaurant. Your staff is very rude and I have made video of your place with my mobile and I intend to show this on my channels’.

This was the latest entry on the comments book at the front desk of Rangoli, the buffet joint that has managed to inch towards the top 3 buffet restaurants. The person hadn’t written his name but had given his cell number, which is a bit strange. Rangoli has established itself as a major player on the buffet scene which is paradoxical to this complaint. If the customer service of a company, especially that of a service provider sucks, then there’s no way it can become a top player. And yet Rangoli is still climbing the charts.

Maybe this complaint was a one-off case, but then our own experience wasn’t swell either as far as dealing with the desk staff is concerned. This would be revealed later in the article, but first the good things.

As far as the sensory branding strategy is concerned, Rangoli has really made inroads, making full use of 3 out of total 5 five dimensions, namely, sight, sound and taste. It would do well to integrate the other two dimensions (touch and aroma) as well.

The first thing that hits you (after dealing with two sullen fellows at the desk guaranteed to piss you off) is the pleasing ambiance. Although the food hall is brightly lit, the dining hall is dimly light with spacious seating arrangement and enough space between tables to allow sufficient privacy. A balanced privacy in a public place such as a restaurant is an important factor which many restaurants especially those at Zamzama choose to ignore. Rangoli has done justice to this factor.

Then in line with the brand essence of Rangoli, there’s the desi live music with tabla and harmonium and all. What’s interesting is they are rendering the latest Indian songs in the traditional folkloric style, imbibing the senses with a soothing effect.

Coming to the food items, first the salad bar. Unlike Village and Lal Qila, Rangoli has come up with a comprehensive salad bar with all the standard items and more. At Village and Lal Qila, you couldn’t even find the coleslaw, an item that has really hit off with the masses.

The second differentiating factor is the prawns. Prawn and fish are two items that you are almost certain to find in all buffet restaurants irrespective of whether they are desi or continental. However, the way they are cooked varies from restaurant to restaurant. The Tempura style is increasingly becoming popular for the prawns, and you’ll find it at both Village and Rangoli. However, Lal Qila and Shan-e-Mughlia are still stuck on the desi style of basun smeared prawns which isn’t as good as the tempura.

The third differentiating factor is the Sajji. Although Mela does offer it and it’s as good as the Rangoli one, Mela doesn’t belong in the league of these upscale buffet restaurants. In this league, there’s no one else offering the Sajji.

Then there are a number if minor plus points, like the pasta which is cooked right then and there for you and was by far the best dish amongst the plethora of offerings.

Like Village, Rangoli isn’t big on barbeque items, offering just two- chicken boti and seekh kabab. However, both were good enough with succulent chunks of chicken on offer. On the other hand, Lal Qila excels at this cuisine offering a number of diverse bbq items.

One of the minor shortcomings of Rangoli is the division of the food hall into two areas. The problem is that the second smaller section which holds a slew of delectable items like Sajji, Mutton Roast, Pasta, Chicken Handi and Pani Puri is obscurely located with no sign pointing towards it. What’s more, you couldn’t see into that room because the view is blocked by a frosted glass door! We noticed it only after we had moved onto the desserts.

The beef pasta was a pleasant surprise as not many buffet restaurants are able to make this properly. The fried rice were too ordinary. There’s the chowmein missing which has also become part and parcel of most desi buffet dinners. There is however the spaghetti which is alright.

Apart from the afore-mentioned dishes, no other dish on the menu is worth discussing. That’s because they are pretty much what every other buffet dinner offers with no great taste. There’s the nihari, karhai, haleem, Anda Chana, fried rice, thai fish and a number of other items with no great taste.

In the dessert section, although the ice cream on offer had only one flavor – vanilla, it was quite delectable. It wasn’t one of those tasteless ice cream brands which you find at most restaurants but a homemade specialty. Apart from this, the other items more or less the standard affair.

Now we come to their customer service part and why that owner of three satellite channels may have been rightly pissed off. When we arrived at the place at about 8.45pm, we were ushered into the dining hall with the warning that the first shift was going to end at 9.30 pm and that we better hurry up. We were taken aback and asked the head waiter how could he expect us to wrap up the dinner in less than an hour, and that also a buffet one?

What did he say? Okay, we could stay half an hour more but then we should remember taking care of him at the end. Sounds familiar? For all it could have been our policewalas asking for a bribe politely.

We went back to the counter, asked for the dinner+ bowling game deal where we would play first and then come back in the ‘second’ shift where there would be no time constraints. Now, here’s the best part. The guy at the counter refused to reserve seats for us even though we were paying him in advance to book the seat. His audacious reply – that the place gets full by the time we would come back and that they couldn’t risk even a small table lying vacant when it could be earning money by accommodating a customer!

That’s the worst reply you can give to your customer, that the next money making opportunity is more important than the present customer, that he’s no more than a money-minting opportunity. Well, in reality that is the case but you don’t bluntly say it to his face.

No wonder the three-satellite owner guy was pissed off, something similar surely must have happened to him.

It wasn’t just what the desk clerk was saying but his entire body language gave the impression that he didn’t give a damn about the customer, what he only wanted to achieve was filled tables. Period.

Although customer service is not the most promising aspect of any Pakistani business, the utter disdain for your customer is something which is seldom witnessed. With this sort of attitude, Rangoli is surely going to suffer in lean times in spite of all its competitive advantages.

Salt n Pepper Village – Feeling the Heat

Salt n Pepper Village, one of the most famous buffet restaurants of Karachi burned down a couple of years ago. It made a comeback after just a few months of complete renovation.

We paid a visit to check how it has been faring in the second life. Although Village and Lal Qila are not the pioneers of theme-based restaurants in this part of the world, they are the ones responsible for making this category a hit with the masses. Buffet has never been the same with the arrival of these two more than a decade ago. There’s not much to choose between the two in terms of choice of food or even the sumptuous factor. Some people rate the sumptuous factor of Village more than the Lal Qila’s, but all in all, both are essentially the same.

However, when it comes to pricing, Village takes the lead. Village, however, has brought some innovation in its pricing structure lately. Now a buffet costs Rs.650 from Monday to Thursday, and Rs.795 from Friday to Sunday, both prices inclusive of taxes. The soft drink which is, as per buffet style default not included, costs Rs.50. The Floating Ship however broke away from this tradition when it first opened and offered cold drinks free with the buffet. Not anymore though. In fact, the restaurant itself appears to be no more, for it was closed when we passed it on the way to Village.

Now that’s a tragedy. Karachi doesn’t have that many buffet restaurants, and now one of the few has gone down. Maybe it is due to the cut-throat competition or maybe it’s the after-effects of the recession. And this seems to be affecting Village as well going by not only its pricing structure, but by what ensued on our latest trip there.

Village well, I called it earlier to make reservations. The guy at the other end assured me that there would be no need for reservations and that we will get the table easily. I found it odd, but then agreed to it. However, when we reached the place at about 10pm, the place was swarming with people especially in the waiting area. When I approached the receptionist, she said we would have to wait. On which I narrated the earlier conversation with their staff about not reserving the table. Suddenly, as if by magic, a table was made available for us.

So, yes, sometimes it pays to create a scene, especially in front of prospective customers. The ploy to keep the rates down during the week-day seems to be working for them. Or maybe there was going to be a holiday the next day- Kashmir day- that made people come to Village in droves.

The last time we were here was before the fire, and the first thing that hit us after the perfunctory round around the main table was the shrinkage of the menu compared to pre-fire era. There were only three BBQ items – chicken boti, chicken and beef seekh kabab, that’s it. Compared to its competitor Lal Qila, that is peanuts. The salad bar was too limited. There was no nan or chapatti available, just a strange looking paratha and a puri paratha, unlike Lal Qila which focuses specifically on these items.

Here’s a brief list of the main items with the verdict:

S.N Food Item Verdict
1 Tawa Fish Average
2 Fried Shrimp Excellent
3 Chicken boti Average
4 Chicken Seekh Kabab Very good
5 Beef Seekh Kabab Good
6 Chicken Fried Rice Good
7 Chicken Chowmein Very Good
8 Sweet & Sour Fish Good
9 Batair Average
10 Beef Lasagna Good
11 Pizza Bad
12 Mutton Steam Roast Good
13 A La Chicken Bad
14 Chapali Kabab Average
15 Chicken Karahi Good
16 Anda Chana Good
17 Fried fish Didn’t taste
18 Nihari Didn’t taste
19 Haleem Didn’t taste
20 Biryani Didn’t taste
21 Sautéed Vegetables Didn’t taste
22 Mutton Karahi Didn’t taste
23 Aalo Tarkari Didn’t taste
24 Saag Didn’t taste
25 Mirchi Fish Didn’t taste
26 Paya Didn’t taste

All in all, there were about 25 main course items. Although the number of items has gone down, it’s not the quantity but the choice of items on display as well as their sumptuous factor.

For instance, many items conspicuous by their absence were tandoori chicken, reshmi kabab, malai boti, behari boti or kabab, kata kat, shami kabab, chargha and even  chicken lever, something which the Revolving Restaurant is offering.

The next thing we noticed was the crowd build-up at the Batair and Fried Shrimp stalls. People were literally standing in a line to get their hands on these two delicacies. While the fried shrimp was simply divine, far better than its competitors Lal Qila and Shan-e-Mughlia, the Batair wasn’t up to the mark

For some inexplicable reason, people were flocking to the pani puri and chaat stall which was designed in the form of a traditional thela. You would have thought that people would be eating that stuff some place far cheaper than a Rs.650 buffet, but then, consumers don’t think or act rationally, something which shrewd brands realize and exploit to their advantage.

The Tawa fish was a real disappointment, especially since it looked appetizing. The problem it had was, well, it had no taste. Just plain white meat. Meat which was oozing with miniscule ‘kaantey’. Extremely bad choice of fish for a buffet. A fish of this type is eaten when it is the sole object of focus and you have all the time in the world to consume it, not in a buffet where people are on a rampage of gastronomical proportions to try everything out.

The chapali kabab tasted like it was made with those standard packaged Shan and National Masalas, and not the genuine recipe.

The chicken and beef seekh kabab fared much better. A glaring observation was the lack of meat on the ‘chicken botis’ found in most of the chicken entrees. This was epitomized by A’ la Chicken, something which ought to have boneless meat, and yet when I took a succulent looking chicken piece in my mouth, I was treated to a teeth shattering piece of bone.

A pleasant surprise was the chowmein. Now this is a dish which is omnipresent in all buffet dinners irrespective of whether it’s a desi, continental or Oriental cuisine. And in almost all instances, it is made bad, average or worse. At Village, it was very well made. It looked to be cooked in a sort of garlic sauce with just the right amount of garlic essence to tantalize your taste buds.

The dessert section was more or less the same story. Some good stuff and the rest nothing to write home about. The ice cream bar with just two choice of flavors was a disappointment, specifically because the ice cream wasn’t any special offering of Village but one of those packaged ones, probably Wall’s. The Gulab Jamans were good, so was the Caramel Custard. The Gajaraila, although looked good, was nothing to write home about.

The item most popular with the masses was the Kulfi. There were two varieties available – one the falooda type, the other ‘dandi’ wali.

Salt n Pepper Village rose to the pinnacle of the buffet category by sheer quality and taste. It looks like to be losing the plot, something which so many restaurants do after having achieved the No.1 position. All is not lost though. They just need to realize that in spite of the crushing recession coupled with inflation, the competition is still getting tougher, and the way to combat both simultaneously is stick to those virtues which made you famous in the first place.