In Pakistan, if we’re not chowing down on good ol’ desi food (because there’s really nothing like it), then the next widely favourite food has to be burgers. Just take a look at the number of burger joints that have cropped up in the past few years.
Islamabad recently saw the opening of Habanero Express, named after a pepper that’s considered among the spiciest chillies in the world.
I paid a visit to find out if Habanero Express’ burgers have the poential to become a hot favourite.
The eatery is centrally located in F-7 market, a stone throw away from F.G. Women’s College, business hubs and old residents of the area at a junction where Islamabad’s arteries intertwine.
In terms of ambience, the burger joint seems to lacks the Habanero touch. I expected red hot interiors, but instead walked into a very contemporary theme, with red seating, a dark wood roof and a wall artistically built with oak wood trunks. The hope was that the food will live up to the eatery's name.
“We are a hybrid restaurant where food is served in 15 minutes but infused with the American dinner pattern so that customers can enjoy their meal as well as a peaceful conversation,” explains Faraz, one of the two brothers who have launched this venture after 6 months of research and prep but no past food experience.
For a burger joint, the folks at Habanero Express are quite the early risers.
The eatery opens its doors at 8am when they serve breakfast and close shop at midnight.
Unsurprisingly, post-9pm dinner time is the busiest, and the place can only accommodate 20 to 25 people at a time. So patrons will have to chill in the open air for at least 5 to 10 minutes before enjoying their dinner.
The menu at Harbanero Express is simple and limited.
Eight burgers, three sandwiches, two salads, and a few pastas entrees are on offer, in addition to a wide variety of fries. For breakfast, customers can choose between the English and Tunisian platter.
If you’re not a fan of beef burgers, then you’re not exactly spoilt for choice. Six out of eight burgers happen to be beef.
The Acapulco Burger is named after a Mexican city to justify its spicy taste. Served with banana peppers and beetroot slices on the side, the platter seemed to have it all: two strips of turkey, a thick layer of guacamole, a 6oz ground beef patty (medium rare or well done) topped with homemade sauce, raw onion rings and a perfectly fried egg, sunny side up. It seemed the work of a technician rather than a chef.
The next burger we tried was Habanero Fire. The waiters warn customers about its fieriness but this burger turned out to be a must try for those who like their burgers hot.
Living up to its name, the beef patty was infused with Habanero chillies, topped liberally with cheese, a ‘green goddess sauce’ and mayonnaise, all laid on a bed of homegrown iceberg lettuce with enough crunch to prove its freshness.
The Habanero sauce, however, overpowered the taste of beef and cheese, so there weren't as many fireworks in my mouth as expected.
We also chose to try one breakfast item, and settled for the Tunisian speciality Shakkshuka.
This breakfast delight features a sauce made from diced tomatoes, spinach, chunks of beef sausage and chicken cooked on low heat. Once it’s simmering, the sauce is transferred to a waiting skillet where the chef breaks two fresh organic eggs before shoving the skillet into the oven for 3 minutes.
”The idea is to cook the yolk to a point where it can flood the skillet once broken,” explains Faraz, who sounded more excited about the recipe than me.
Fries vary from simple Honey Mustard fries to Brie Cheese fries, which are dripping in the French cheese made from cow’s milk. Although it is called the ‘queen of cheeses, the eatery has been able to sell very few orders of Brie Cheese Fries, since not many people know about this delicacy.
All novelty fries are made from A-grade imported American potato, cut served in a small container and dipped in different sauces.
“We buy homemade Kmichi sauce from a Korean lady for the Kimchi fries, whereas sauce for Beef Steak fries is made from the stock we take out from the beef we use for our burger patties,” claimed Faraz.
The burgers range from Rs500 -600, sandwiches from Rs350-525 and the pastas all cost under Rs700.