ISLAMABAD: Coffee shops and cafes are a dime a dozen in the capital and are constantly flooding people’s timelines and email inboxes with new deals. So it is surprising if a new establishment opens its doors without much ado or fanfare on social media.
But that is exactly how Sattarbuksh Cafe – originally from the old capital, Karachi – arrived in the Gol Market of Islamabad’s swanky F-7 neighbourhood. The brainchild of Karachi-based entrepreneurs Adnan Yousaf and Rizwan Ahmed, the cafe’s inimitable moustachioed mascot is an easily recognisable figure from Facebook posts.
Sattarbuksh is more of a hangout than a fine-dining restaurant. The items on the menu are diverse, ranging from pastas to continental dishes and local favourities.
The eatery initially ran into trouble when Starbucks, the global coffee chain whose name and logo some say was lampooned by Sattarbuksh, threatened them with legal action. But that is now ancient history and the brand is doing roaring business, mostly thanks to some smart copywriting and a good business ethic.
Karachi’s latest export to the capital sells street food with a local twist
“When it comes to food, everyone has their own preferences. Even two people eating together will want different things, so we try and cater to everyone’s tastes,” says Armaghan Shahid, who runs the Islamabad outlet.
The cafe has opened in the same spot that was once occupied by that great bastion of Islamabad nightlife, Civil Junction, where good food and entertainment thrived side-by-side for many years.
Since C.J. closed down, no other establishment has stepped up to fill that void. But Mr Shahid has big plans for the space.
“I want musicians and artists to come and perform here,” he says as he shows photos from successful past events held on the patio outside the restaurant.
The decor is colourful and exciting. Slogans and platitudes in Urdu, Punjabi and Pashto are painted on the walls, while a series of paintings imagining Maula Jutt as Superman and James Bond liven things up upstairs.
The menu is creatively constructed with a decidedely local flavour and features dishes such as ‘Hathora Maar’ beef strips, ‘Lahori Lakshmi’ fish, ‘Jheenga La-La’ prawns and the ‘Beysharam’ open-face burgers. The stand-out attraction, though, are the bun kebabs.
These budget burgers are packed with flavours that will suit anyone’s taste buds. From the dumdaar qeema, which is simmered with papaya leaves; to the standard anda shami, the bun kebabs are a must have.
Served on pages from a phonebook, as they would be on the streets of Karachi, the bun kebabs are complimented by a tangy mint sauce and a mild and sweet imli ki chutney.
Crisp papadums replace traditional French Fries as an accompaniment, and the results are stellar.
But according to Mr Shahid, one of the most popular dishes in the restaurant is the daal chawal. “It came as a shock to us as well; who would’ve thought people would come to this posh side of town to have a plate of daal chawal,” he says with incredulity.
Chai is another speciality at Sattarbuksh, with the elaichi chai or the ‘cheeni rok ke patti thok ki’ being the most sought after items.
The Kashmiri chai is also worth a shot, and all hot beverages are served with two khatai-style cookies on the side.
While the restaurant’s success in Karachi was owed to a smartly-done social media campaign, the Islamabad outlet is relying on word of mouth to get its clientele.
“Young people do come here, but most of our customers are families, and I would like it to stay that way,” Mr Shahid says with a wry smile.