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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.

Village Iftar Deal

This is the first Village Restaurant opposite Avari Towers and not the Salt n Pepper Village on Seaview that most people are familiar with. It has been around for more than four decades, one of the famous restaurants of the yore. It opened up on the famous Mereweather Road behind Palace Cinema in the 60s proabably owned by the cinema owner. Now it appears just a shadow of its glorious past.

One of our fellow critics fondly remembers visiting Village frequently in his childhood, which was a happening place back then. We decided to have a go at their Ramadan Iftar deals which they religiously come up with every year. Their price goes up every Ramadan just like the rest of the bunch, but is still cheaper than most of the others at Rs.650 which includes the tax, unlimited Roof Afza and tea. The cold drink costs Rs.40.

Judging from its ambience, price point and menu items, it can safely be put in the category of Mela type restaurants. And herein lies its problem. Mela has become such a branded force to be reckoned with in the mid-range category, that no one can compete with it by a long shot. Offering 54 varieties at Rs.449 + tax( which comes out to be Rs.526), it blows away the competition.

Village like Mela is open-air. However unlike Mela whose ambience gives the feeling that you’ve come to attend a wedding (it is located in a defunct marriage lawn) Village fares better on this count. It has a very retro sort of ambience  with greenery aesthetically embedded into the setting which exudes an air of calmness and sooth. Then there’s the candlelight placed on each table which further adds depth to the ambiance. Just be prepared to wrestle with the mosquitoes once the sun sets. Mela on the other hand does not have this nuisance.

Another advantage Village has over Mela is it’s location. Located just across the towering Avari with the defunct Metropole Hotel adjacent to it, it’s not only easily accessible but upscale enough. And this is something which may deter people from visiting Mela. Previously located on Shahrae Faisal opposite the majestic Lal Qila, it is now located smack in the middle of marriage lawns on Main Rashid Minhas Road. Just ask someone from the other side of Kala Pull to come to Mela and his response will tell you exactly what I mean.

Then Mela offers just one glass of Rooh Afza at the Iftar time while Village provides you with unlimited supply of the red sherbet throughout the evening.

One final advantage Village has over Mela is the number of visitors. Village has so few customers that you can easily access all the items whenever you want. Not so at Mela where you have to literally stand in a line if you want to have one of the sought-after items like prawn, fish and barbeque. It’s that crowded.

But that’s just about it. Village lags far behind Mela in terms of items offered. While Village offers a paltry 13 main items, Mela boasts of 20 plus items including the delectable Sajji. Village offers just two desserts, Mela around 10. There were just two salads at Village, Mela has a huge assortment of salads. And don’t forget Mela is Rs.125 cheaper than Village.

In terms of prayer and Wudhu facilities, both of them offer adequate space.

Here’s the complete list of items on offer at Village:

Iftar  Items:

  1. Kabuli chana chaat
  2. Kala chana chaat
  3. Fruit chaat
  4. Cream fruit chaat
  5. Aaloo ke pakoray
  6. Kachori with bhaji
  7. Samosa
  8. Spring roll
  9. Jalebi

Dinner Items:

  1. Chicken corn and hot n sour soup
  2. Palak ghosht
  3. Chicken Karhai
  4. Chicken tikka boti
  5. Seekh kabab
  6. Chinese fried rice
  7. Chicken white sauce
  8. Chicken chowmein
  9. Sweet n sour prawn
  10. Chicken red curry
  11. Chicken wings
  12. Fish n chips

The iftar items were your average stuff. Nothing remarkable about them. The salt content of the kachori bhaji was way too much though.

The dinner items were a mixed bag. The palak ghosht was full of bones with a rare ghosht here and there.

The bbq chicken boti was top notch. Usually what buffet style restaurants do is add a lot of bone-pieces to the platter. Not Village. They had ensured that each piece had succulent flesh to it. The seekh kabab were your standard offering.

The sweet n sour prawn were palatable with enough prawns thrown in to mix. The fish finger was disappointing. The crust was too thick, the pieces too small. The chicken wings were good but you couldn’t tell the difference between the bbq and them. The Chinese platters chowmein and fried rice were pretty much okay.

The chicken karhai was scrummy but we felt that the chicken pieces were not fresh. The nan and kulcha were dry and hard. Biryani is one dish that is present in every buffet big and small and here it was conspicuous by its absence.

The lack of salad and dessert options was a big damper to what overall could have been good value for money. Really, jalebi and gulab jaman alone do not make for a good sweet tooth experience. At the very least they should offer a pudding, a kheer and a kulfi/ice cream. Even one of those items would suffice.

The gulab jamans, by the way, were awesome. The tea, although not the Kashmiri type, was good as well.

At Rs.650, it’s not a bad deal considering that they aren’t many people visiting the place so you can have a peaceful private dinner, with not even the waiters infringing upon your privacy. Which was in a way a drawback. Whenever you went for another helping, your previous plate was still lying around when you came back. Almost all the waiters were huddled together at the back doing God knows what.

So service is a big flaw at Village.

village map

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.