Lahore food diary: Prawn ‘karahi’ and ‘crème brulee’ at an old hauntPakistan
We have been frequenting the eatery ‘Kim’s’ from the days it was Hilton Lahore. Today the chefs of Avari Hotel are probably among the best in the city. To have a good meal the trick is to consult them for a combination that suits your taste.
My very first visit to this place was with a senior journalist colleague, Nawab Safiruddin Ahmad Barlas, the Nawab of Loharu; a genuine Nawab if there was ever one in Lahore, and honest to the very core. The hotel had just opened and during a break from covering the proceeding of the Punjab Assembly, we ordered tea and a stand full of pastries and sandwiches.
When the tea was served, Nawab Sahib inspected the new Rosenthal crockery, and stopped me from having it. He asked for the bill, and having paid we left. The manager, like me, was shocked and as we walked out I asked: “What was the problem Nawab Sahib?”. “Terrible, shocking, the Rosenthal saucer was chipped”, he said. Nothing more was said.
But then I have learned to trust this place. Last week I visited this eatery with an old doctor friend. As we settled down a strategy came to mind. I called the chef and said: “I know you have the best Mulligatawny soup in Lahore, tell me of a new combination that will thrill”. The chef got the drift of what we were seeking. He said: “Then leave the order to me”. Doc looked at me suspiciously. “You feeling OK?” I smiled. “Just wait. I have a feeling he will deliver”.
First came the Mulligatawny Soup backed with a basket of excellent breads, a few even toasted and buttered. Thank the Almighty they still provide good cotton napkins, and the waiters do not look down your throat. We set about enjoying this unique soup, a curious creation of colonialism, or call it a cocktail of Madras ‘mulli ka panni’ and a dozen or so additions. Excellent and filling to say the least. It is now an international favourite.
We then waited for the next surprise. I had a suspicion something unique was in the pipeline for the chef peeped from the kitchen door to see if we had finished our soup. Journalists have a habit to noticing minor details. “I bet he will do an instant dish”, I predicted.
Five minutes later came, in all its majesty, a ‘Prawn Karahi’ with excellent a basket of various types of ‘naan’ and ‘roti’. So we set about exploring. Oh, the taste was unique and if you happen to be a prawn fan this is worth a try. It was a satisfying surprise and the doctor ate more than me. Not surprised.
At the end the chef sent in two ‘Crème Brulee’, one for each, with golden tops of caramel with a green mint leaf atop for effect. This is certainly a top-class sweet and difficult to beat in any circumstances. A silence descended on us as we let the sweet do its work. I suggested that after this there was no need for any tea or coffee. I let the three tastes linger, and they certainly did for quite a long time. The chef was thanked and we left satisfied customers.
Let me mark this experience on the Michelin Scale of one to nine. For food taste it gets eight, for food quality seven, for presentation seven, for price it gets six (no cheap walkover), for service quality six, for quality of crockery and cutlery six (no longer Rosenthal here), for ambiance six (sadly, the ‘Kim Effect’ no longer exists) and seven for the menu range. This gives this experience an average of 6.6 out of nine, which is very good. I have a feeling they need to work harder on the non-food variables. Highly Recommended.
Last week I mentioned that the true Kashmiri ‘kulcha’ which we enjoyed with yogurt for breakfast in our youth is now difficult to find. Even more difficult to find is the ‘namkeen kulcha’ which is a pure Kashmiri bread that is consumed with pink Kashmiri salted tea. Mind you I am a Nilli Bar Jatt, so do not get confused about me.
Published in Dawn, May 24th, 2015
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