May issue 2009
The Art of Eating
One can always count on people who are creative and enterprising to keep coming up with new and innovative ways to keep themselves productive. Noorjehan Bilgrami is a case in point. Not content with turning part of her boutique, Koel, into a gallery, she has now converted the patio and a covered section of the space into a cafÃ©, offering all kinds of tantalising goodies.
Boasting a peaceful ambience amid trees, rocks and stones, a pond, bamboo roofing and huge glass windows overlooking the gallery and indoor cafÃ©, the open- air eatery is just the perfect place to spend a quiet winter evening. As for the air-conditioned indoor joint, its rustic appeal — with off-white tables and chairs, textured walls, tiled floors, beautiful vistas, block-printed screened roof and transparent vases — has a unique charm that is relaxing. Spread out length-wise — with the narrow transparent vases placed between every table serving as a partition between seatings — the indoor area gives the diners privacy that few other cafÃ©s do.
The menu is not only elaborate but also unusual, offering snack items that perhaps no other cafÃ© offers. Among them is the kulcha sandwich, with a choice of kulchas and fillings each sounding more delicious than the other. We opted for the black olive and basil kulcha, and one with the grilled chicken filling, although the crushed red pepper and oregano sounded just as tempting. It was a pleasing alternative to toasted sandwiches and surprisingly light.
With an array of interesting bite-sized appetisers and salads to choose from, and the choice being quite confusing, we asked the waiter to make a recommendation. He advised we try the sesame chicken bites. We did, and had no regrets. Breaded fried chicken lightly coated with sesame seeds, was quite delicious even without the accompanying apricot chutney. Most items come with a side order of fries or garlic spinach. Having decided prior to trying out the cafÃ©, to abandon all restraint we, of course, opted for the former, which were hot and crisp.
The third item we went for were the dahi barray. Mouth-wateringly good, they were soft, tangy and flavoured with mint and coriander, and had a different taste from the traditional dahi barray. To complete the meal we chose Koel’s baked chocolate pudding. Straight from the oven, it was a melt-in-your mouth chocolate delight that was polished off much too quickly.
To wash down our meal, the others in our party ordered lattes with skimmed milk, so how great could the taste be! I, on the other hand, decided to be adventurous and ordered the tamarind sherbet. Quite like drinking the tangy water of pani puri, it wasn’t to my taste and not something I’m likely to order again. Although later when I visited the cafÃ© with another set of friends, one of them ordered the same drink and actually liked it.
In fact, the second time round, we ordered a few different items to try them out and came back as satisfied as our party had been on my earlier visit. This time we ordered the crushed red pepper and oregano kulcha with blackened chicken, which was even better than what we had previously ordered. We opted for the garlic spinach side order, which is tasty and obviously healthier than the fries.
We also tried the dhoklas which were made perfectly, in the traditional Gujarati style, from semolina and lentil, and melted in the mouth. The red chutney, though not authentic, is appetising enough.
Another snack item we tried was the artichoke and spinach dip served with crisp wedges of Koel’s bread. While the platter is scrumptious, we thought it was erroneously named, for there was nothing dip-like in the baked artichoke, parmesan cheese and spinach dish.
Bruschetta is yet another highly recommended item, comprising crusty kulcha bread basted with garlic butter and a choice of toppings. We tried the tapinard and mozzarella topping which has a very appealing, peppery flavour.
For dessert, we ordered the chocolate brownie — which was not available the first time — and cinnamon roll. Both were sinfully delicious, doused with chocolate sauce and served hot. Most of us opted to wash down our meal with a strawberry smoothie, which unlike most smoothies offered at cafÃ©s, was more like a milk shake.
With prices varying from Rs 150 to Rs 375 (a limited lunch/dinner menu is also available) and with a quick and helpful service, the eatery has everything going for it, and is bound to become the rage.
The writer is a freelance journalist based in Karachi. She also works at Hum television.