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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.

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.

Roasters Burgers UNcut

Roasters’ Burgers are the biggest you’ll ever see in this part of the world. You’ll notice these humungous objects from far off as the waiter approaches with them. It doesn’t get bigger than this. And if you can’t satiate your appetite with one of these, then you need to get your stomach examined.

We tested two of their fast food offerings- Caesar Chicken Sandwich and Chicken Bacon Royal. Funny thing is, even if you order a sandwich, it invariably comes out to be a burger as in the case of Caesar chicken sandwich.

The chicken Caesar sandwich, well, if you’re into mild stuff, you’re gonna love this. It’s devoid of any strong essence. Just your crunchy romaine lettuce entwined with a healthy slab of very mildly grilled chicken with a price tag of Rs.395. We would have recommended this meal as a diet had it not been oozing with mayonnaise. Overall a very subdued offering, but enough to satiate your appetite.

The Chicken Bacon Royal Burger’s description promises to give you a heart attack, what with golden crisp chicken on top of which sit bacon strips and mushrooms and even garlic mayo. We went for that option but were disappointed not to get a heart attack. Reason being, there’s still ample room for improvement (read filling). The chicken patty was a bit too thin, and the bacon strips could have been more generously stuffed, especially at a hefty price of Rs. 395. Nevertheless it’s good stuff to sink your teeth into.

Chicken Bacon Royal
Chicken Bacon Royal

The fries content was more than sufficient in all meals.

However, it’s the lack of coleslaw or some other worthy sideline like garlic sauce that is the main drawback of

Roasters’ burger offerings. On the face of it, it may not appear to be that big a deal, but when you consider that all the competitors are offering  generous helpings of either coleslaw or garlic sauce with their burgers, you need to wake up to that reality.

But it’s not the real reason that Roasters should start offering these sidelines. The thing is, the Pakistani consumer got spoilt by the earlier snack-walas who started offering these delicacies along with the main entrée, and the trend was continued by their successors.

The result: whenever a Karachiite orders a burger no matter where, he always expects something extra other than the main attraction. And if he doesn’t get that extra stuff, no matter how delicious the burger, he always feels disappointed that something is amiss.

One other major reason especially for

Roasters is that since their buns are gigantic, the patty inside sometimes is unable to compete with it for size, which essentially means that some portion of the bun is invariably going to be empty.

Now, if you’re not offering any pasty sideline, what is the customer going to dip his empty bun into?

Pizza Hut came with the novel solution of filling the crust ends with either cheese or sometimes even seekh kabab, and that strategy proved to be quite successful. While

Roasters can’t offer that option, it can certainly make do with the earlier solution of coleslaw.

And that is the only real shortcoming of

Roasters’ burgers. Otherwise they are the very best you’ll find in town at a price that is pretty competitive.