Tavern Grill – The Crème de la Crème

One thing that has become quite common in Karachi is the sudden surfacing of restaurants serving mundane burgers and fries/steaks, Mexican and similar dishes. Every now and then there’s a new burger joint opened there, sandwich place here, or steak located around the corner. When one has so many choices to choose from, in order to survive, not only does the quality have to surpass that of its competitors, but so must the customer service. Nowadays, certain places miss the mark based on various factors; maybe the quality of service isn’t what you would expect from a new place; or the picture you saw of a dish on their Facebook page is clearly NOT what you have in front of you in your plate; or maybe the small plate of ‘barely visible’ pasta is exorbitantly expensive. What ever the reason for your dissatisfaction and resenting taking the decision to visit that specific establishment, when you DO find a place which meets the mark in this smorgasbord [pronounced “sch-mor-gaz-bord” – a metaphor used to indicate any diverse group; synonymous with a vast array of possible choices] of restaurant options, you feel ecstatic and gastronomically awakened!

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Situated at a prime location, Tavern Grill greets you with a welcoming entrance and staff, escorting you up a spacious wooden staircase. Playing, is a selection of excellent music from an era devoted to worthwhile and meaningful compositions, rather than just a catchy tunes with nonsensical words, which is almost everywhere; and in my opinion, is simply noise, nothing more. The menu is diverse in nature, ranging from burgers to steaks, Mexican to Italian, and places in between. However, the vital point to note, which makes Tavern’s wide array different from others who do the same, is that the dishes are competently created and consistently cooked; a rare feature to see.

The owner, Mr. Zubair Dossal, is always present, to not only greet his customers personally at their tables, but also to keep a watchful eye on the quality of food and staff. This courteous host reveals a quality and element many restaurants have been missing; that of care and concern regarding the customer’s needs and satisfaction, not just the monetary benefit hoping to be gained from opening up a restaurant.

For the starters/appetizers, the Tavern platter and Buffalo wings were ordered.

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The platter had various fried items such as thick onion rings, with crunchy onions coated in medium brown batter; and mozzarella sticks, with cheesy and stringy mozzarella, battered and fried; jalapeño poppers, large jalapenos stuffed with shredded chicken and cheesy sauce. Last, but definitely not least, my favourite from the platter; the fried calamari! 20150912_180248

But not the typical calamari you would expect to find at other places; no, the rings of calamari were moist and broke off from a single bite rather than attempting to saw through it with your teeth because it’s rubbery and overcooked. All these were accompanied with delicious sauces to mix and match with.

20150912_180304The Buffalo wings were also deep-fried and tossed in a buffalo hot sauce which was a combination of Frank’s Red Hot sauce and Tavern’s special twist to shake it up a bit. The sauce was not like the typical hot sauces found in Pakistan, which is really just Tabasco and painful to eat in large quantities or excess amount. This sauce had a balance of flavour which, if you’ve ever had Buffalo wings in America/Canada, etc., you would know exactly what the flavour should taste like; and eating these wings brought back feelings of nostalgia and happiness with each bite! The sauce made you nose tingle in delight when you smelled the wings; a blend of tangy and spicy making you crave more! In order to cool it down and balance the heat, it was accompanied with sour cream and fries.

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For those who have had the Roasters’ burger, the burgers at Tavern will give Roasters a run for their money! Tavern’s burgers are quite large in size, which will have you struggling to determine an action plan and figure out, not only where to begin, but how?

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NOTE: the orange-ish liquid at the bottom is NOT oil; it is the hot sauce that the fried chicken breast was smothered in! DELICIOUS!

Though I personally enjoy beef burgers far more than those with chicken, primarily for the reason that many people cannot cook chicken properly; and by ‘properly’ I mean that the chicken is either, completely overcooked and dry, or, in fear of overcooking it, it is raw; I may switch over to eating chicken burgers instead of beef purely based on the burgers at Tavern Grill! After inquiring from Mr. Dossal as to the method of preparing and frying the chicken burgers, I was informed that Tavern Grill individually weighs and assesses the cooking time for each chicken breast, which was a pleasant surprise!

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The burger had fresh and soft buns, a large chicken breast which wasn’t overcooked and perfectly juicy in the center, battered and deep-fried, then smothered in the same hot sauce used for the Buffalo wings.

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An Up-Close look at the Beautiful Behemoth of a burger I had! =D NOTE: the orange-ish liquid at the bottom is NOT oil; it is the hot sauce that the fried chicken breast was smothered in! DELICIOUS!

Complementing the succulent chicken breast in the burger bun were crunchy onions, crispy lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, pickled jalapeños and cheese melting off the sides. YUM! Not to mention, golden and crispy fries with delicious coleslaw.

Finally, for dessert, I tried a slice of their popular Mud cake. The size of the slice of cake was also just as generous as the burger I just had, instead of a sliver, which most places serve; it was moist, soft and decadent without being exceedingly sweet; poured on top was a thick chocolate sauce. Heaven!

[Unfortunately, I was too engulfed in its richness and deliciousness to take a picture; however, next time I visit Tavern Grill, I will be sure to take a picture of the cake slice!]

What else can a person ask for in a restaurant other than hospitality, genuine concern for the quality of your food and experience; value for money; and to have no feelings of regret or discontent when the bill arrives at your table? To find a place which has not only rekindled the flickering gastronomical fires in the customers who visit, but also in the dead embers of the culinary realm in Karachi, Tavern Grill has become a new favorite amongst many, including myself! It is highly recommended!

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One last up-close look at the Burger before ending this Post!

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Turkish Food In Pakistan – Babagoosh Turkish Doner!

Whilst travelling, my motto is, as is the same for many people, to try new cuisines and explore; be it cuisines from Arab countries, Eastern European, central European, Asian, or all the way deep in the heart of Latin cuisine. The list, variations and flavours are endless! However, travelling can pose as a difficulty on one’s bank account so we search for authentic cuisines in the comfort of our own countries and cities.

During my annual visit to Islamabad, Pakistan, I have recently come to notice restaurants, cafés and other establishments popping up almost as frequently as in Karachi and I try my best to sample and assess as many as possible within the given circumstances and timeframe. Moreover, there weren’t any malls in Islamabad up until the last few years when two, ‘Centaurus’ and ‘Safa Gold’, were opened for the residents of the Twin Cities, Rawalpindi and Islamabad. During this specific visit in July 2015 I revisited a favorite which I stumbled upon the previous summer when I wanted to explore Safa Gold mall, which, at the time had not been completely set up. There were numerous vacant spaces in the mall and its food court, but a few places had opened up in the nearly half empty mall, one of which was ‘Babagoosh’.

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I was a bit hesitant to try it based purely on the fact that food from food courts are rarely amazing, and are rarely edible without feeling queasy afterwards. But I took a chance, and I am so thankful I did! Babagoosh, an establishment which served Turkish Doners, had only three items, with only a beef, chicken or vegetarian choices, but that was more than enough!

NO holding back! Doner Platter During My SECOND visit. Smothered in the two sauces!

NO holding back!
Doner Platter During My SECOND visit. Smothered in the two sauces!

I examined their counter and witnessed a beautiful sight; the meat rotating on the vertically-placed thick metal rods, slow cooking and I could see from where I was standing the fat glistening down the large beef mixture as well as the chicken mixture on a rod next to it, so as to keep it moist and not dry out. I ordered the Beef Doner Kebab and it was overflowing with the deliciously slow-cooked meat I saw cooking just moments earlier with salad and two sauces. I enjoyed it so much that my family and I visited this mall primarily for the Doner from the food court approximately 3 times a week; and sometimes, my family members went alone or with their friends. This Turkish Doner was the highlight of my trip in 2014, which made me THAT much more excited to visit in 2015!

My FIRST visit to Babagoosh during my trip in 2015. Doner Platter with a light drizzle of the sauces on top

My FIRST visit during my trip in 2015.
Doner Platter with a light drizzle of the sauces on top

During this particular visit in 2015, I can honestly say that the taste of the Doner Kebab and the Doner Platter were far better than what I had the year before. The Doner Kebab is round pita bread which is lightly toasted and cut in the middle, but not completely until the end, so as to make a pocket. Within this pocket is layered your choice of either marinated, slow-cooked beef or chicken which has been sliced by a serrated knife and slightly thinly; but not too thin so as to make it similar to paper. Then layered on top is the thinly cut salad comprising of lettuce and cabbage. And the final addition is the two sauces; one which is white and other red. Both sauces complement one another so beautifully and add such a wonderful depth to the flavour of the overall Doner; and also openhandedly added on top as a finishing touch. Both sauces are creamy; the white sauce is more of a garlic aioli and the red sauce is a slightly sweet and spicy concoction wherein the chili flakes can be seen, if looked at carefully enough.

It should be pointed out that Turkish food, like most food in that region of the world, is not spicy, but rather, filled with flavour and kept simple. The ingredients are allowed to speak for themselves and shine with the help of other ingredients; they are not hidden away in spices or coated in heavy batter then deep fried, etc. Like a symphony, where each ingredient is equivalent to a different instrument with its own part to play thus adding more depth to the overall creation, or in this food-based scenario, the flavour. Captivated and spellbound by its melody which continues ringing in your mind in the distance even when a lengthy amount of time has passed since you last heard it; subconsciously and unintentionally humming its tune. Similarly, for one year, I constantly thought about the Doner and how it may have changed, maybe for the better; but so excited to sample and evaluate their progress in the 12 months that have passed.

Doner Platter with a light drizzle of the sauces on top

Doner Platter with a light drizzle of the sauces on top

That being said let us return to the harmonious song sung by this Turkish Doner kebab which had me slowly trusting food from food courts once again. These three elements were so generously packed into the pita that it was overflowing from the mouth of the pocket of the pita and you were forced to first eat it with a forkin order to be capable of taking a proper bite without having the sauces smeared on your cheeks and nose (which is something I learned hence, I am informing you well in advance =p )! This Doner kebab is accompanied with a beverage and golden, crispy, thick-cut fries; which are smothered in the sauce of your choosing, or both, if you’d like.

My FIRST visit to Babagoosh during my trip in 2015. Doner Platter with a light drizzle of the sauces on top

My FIRST visit to Babagoosh during my trip in 2015.
Doner Platter with a light drizzle of the sauces on top

The second item on the menu after the kebab was the Doner Platter, which consisted of the same elements you would receive in your Doner kebab, plus the fries and these were placed in three separate sections of a rectangular take away container. On the far left were those beautiful crispy fries in nearly the same amount you would receive had you ordered the Doner Kebab; the salad rested on the far right with a slice of tomato placed on top; and in the center, the focus of the whole box, was the meat of your choosing! I chose beef so the various slices of marinated beef; soft, tender, and juicy, were layered one on top of the other until it reached just as high as the salad and fries. Then, if desired, the sauces were poured on top of all three sections. I usually had a small amount in my Doner Platter, which lightly grasped all that it touched while slowly made its way down the ends of the beef and salad slices, like thick lava. And because you can never have too much of those mouth-watering sauces, I requested some extra in small containers to pour, to which they happily obliged. There was so much in the take-away container that once the top was closed, the top would get some of the sauce on the top inside. The Doner Platter was even more generously placed and also a bit more in price, but honestly, worth every single penny! I went there two times in one day, at some point! It is highly addictive and the highlight of my trip, regarding food.

Pita in the back. Doner Platter During My SECOND visit. Smothered in the two sauces!

Pita in the back.
Doner Platter During My SECOND visit. Smothered in the two sauces!

Pita in the back. Doner Platter During My SECOND visit. Smothered in the two sauces!

I look for value for money and in most situations I am satisfied spending the amount requested for the item(s) ordered, be it in Pakistan, Canada, Dubai, or elsewhere. However, in Islamabad, I was not very satisfied compared to what the prices once used to be regarding ‘value for money’ in many of the new restaurants, cafés, etc. that have recently opened in the last few years. Even at the most simplest of places where you would expect that the prices would be more reasonable based on their ambiance, seating arrangements, and location were just as overpriced as those in 4-star expensive hotels. Sadly, I felt like I was cheated many times EXCEPT at Babagoosh. In a city such as Islamabad, where the standard of living is so high that you would also be expected to pay even more for dining out, even at the most simple places, Babagoosh is ONE place where TWO assumptions were disproved; firstly, that you must overspend for food that could have been much cheaper and feel instant regret when the bill arrives; and, that food from food courts in malls may having a fighting chance after all! I not only went several times on my own in the last two years, but I also took family and friends. Furthermore, I frequently and persistently endorsed it to friends and family who had not yet visited, and spoke so regularly and with such high praises that people visited this location from Karachi and even Canada particularly at my request! Subsequent to every person’s visit, one conclusion was very common amongst all: they thoroughly enjoyed it JUST as much as I did. And for most, it became habitual to visit Babagoosh whilst in Islamabad; for those who resided there or those who visited.

My FIRST visit to Babagoosh during my trip in 2015. Doner Platter with a light drizzle of the sauces on top

My FIRST visit to Babagoosh during my trip in 2015.
Doner Platter with a light drizzle of the sauces on top