Even though they’re out of steaks until Eid, The Warehouse’s gourmet burgers and designer cocktails have captured people’s imaginations and tastebuds — Photos by Nefer Sehgal
Even though they’re out of steaks until Eid, The Warehouse’s gourmet burgers and designer cocktails have captured people’s imaginations and tastebuds — Photos by Nefer Sehgal

ISLAMABAD: Every once in a while, a quirky little eatery opens up that captures the imaginations of the residents of the capital. In the same way that Islamabad’s restaurant-goers were once drawn to the old Tiramisu and its impeccable cooking and indulgent desserts, a newcomer has captured the imaginations of the city.

Upon first entering The Warehouse, you could be forgiven for thinking, “Is this it?” But what this restaurant lacks in square footage, it aims to make up for in service and presentation.

If you’re lucky enough to find a spot to sit, the menu is a simple one-pager, and most of the choices on it are binary. In soups, there’s Asparagus or Roasted Tomato; Panini options include Cheese and Tomato or meat.

The salads though, are a feast for the eyes as well as the palate. Here too, one can choose between a Mediterranean or a meat-based option.

The seating is designed in such a way that customers have a clear view of the kitchen area.

Here, chefs in hairnets and aprons sous-vide burger patties in the style of celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal. This is a method where the meat is vacuum packed and cooked slowly for a long period of time in water. In fact, a lot of the cooking methods – especially the way the coffee is brewed – are innovative and unique.

Regulars also praise the personalised service at the bistro. Ammar Mumtaz, the young entrepreneur behind the restaurant, can often be seen moving from table to table, checking on people’s orders, recommending items to new customers and getting feedback.

The Warehouse is the owner’s second foray into the culinary landscape of Islamabad. His first outing, the Burning Brownie bakery-cafe, has been a big success. In fact, the Rasmalai Cheesecake – one of the best items on the menu – was probably created at the bakery itself.

A lot of people Dawn spoke to also praised their burgers. Journalist Madiha Tahir called their burgers, “The best I’ve had in Pakistan.” “The meat is done medium rare, as it should be,” said development professional Sarah Ahmed.

However, the restaurant’s pièce de résistance, their steaks, have not been available for over two weeks now and a sign outside the door proclaims that they will be serving steaks after Eidul Azha, ostensibly when meat becomes more widely available in the market.

There are obviously teething problems: Asma Saigol complained that certain items on the menu, such as the burgers and steaks, are not available at all times. The restaurant has also had issues with meal timings and has had to implement a very narrow window for lunch and dinner.

The drinks, however, are delightfully presented. Fruit smoothies, iced teas and light cocktails are served in jars and there are actual tea bags in the iced teas. The Citrus Breezer and the Strawberry Iced Tea are quite popular among patrons. Educationist Fiza Waheed especially recommends the Hazelnut Frappe, saying “it’s the best in town.”

But if there’s one item on The Warehouse menu that is a must-have, it is the Roasted Tomato Soup. As Mr Mumtaz explains to new customers, the soup is infused with roasted garlic and smoked hickory, and served not with a regular breadstick, but a crispy, dried piece of Afghani Nan. The soup is perfectly well-balanced in terms of spice and is guaranteed to leave everyone wanting more.

What is surprising is the absence of a concerted advertising campaign, either via mainstream or social media. The bistro’s popularity, in fact, owes a lot to word-of-mouth communication, with friends recommending it to each other and word getting out that way. But perhaps that is for the best: one can’t imagine how the restaurant would ever fit more customers than it is already receiving.

Published in Dawn, September 21st , 2015

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