In trying to have the broadest, most universal appeal, many restaurants sacrifice character and distinctiveness for generic pleasantness. With every eatery jumping on the bandwagon of eight-page menus with remorselessly similar variations of the latest of the moment dishes, it’s almost a relief to find a restaurant that is purposefully untrendy.
Il Posto is not likely to become a hip hot spot but that’s okay because it was never intended to be. Instead of having something for everyone, owners Sara Gillani and Arslan Nayeem aim to fill a very specific niche and focus on authentic Italian cuisine.
Il Posto (italian for “the place”) recently opened where the mostly unnoticed and mostly unremarkable Gon Pacci used to be. The modest little Italian restaurant reflects an ambiance that is somewhere between cozy and refined. In these early stages, it's nice to see the chef and owner circulating on the floor to make sure everything is running smoothly.
Is Il Posto serving the hearty Italian meal Karachi craves?
Sara’s husband Zubair Gillani was particularly helpful and forthcoming on the day we visited. He explained how the menu was designed to get the most out of a meal.
You start with appetizers for the table like carpaccio (interestingly this is the first place to have chicken carpaccio) or pizza, then a first course of pasta, a second course of fish and then the main followed by dessert and finally ending with a shot of espresso.
“This creates an experience as well as providing value for money,” Zubair said “Some restaurants go up to 5000 per head and you don’t get your money’s worth, here you can have an extravagant four course meal but also order individual dishes at reasonable prices.”
Dinner starts out encouragingly. The toasty bruschetta is crunchy and the fresh tomato topping is perfectly balanced. Unfortunately, this proves to be the best part of the meal and bit by bit that early promise gave way to doubts.
The main courses are straight forward and unfussy but not notably creative or unique. Two chefs from Italy trained the current staff and everything is competent within the context of a familiar culinary tradition.
When ordering the prawn risotto, Gillani warned me that many patrons found it to be under cooked but still recommended the original recipe. He was right and the risotto had most perfect texture, firm to the bite and not gluey at all. However, as rich and comforting as it was it lacked something sharp to temper or contrast it.
The spaghetti aglio olio highlighted the ingredients used rather than skills of the chef and the ingredients are clearly top shelf. Freshly sourced cherry tomatoes and olive oil elevated the rustic four ingredient dish but there is no wow factor. Good quality commercial pasta is used here, but the lasagna and ravioli use fresh rolled pasta.
The traditional brick oven and buffalo mozzarella gives the pizzas a distinct and classic taste. According to Gillani there are plans to eventually make pizzas available for home delivery.
The chicken stuffed with ricotta and spinach showed the most pronounced disconnect between what Il Posto serves and what the majority of patrons want. The serving was relatively small and the authentic Italian flavor may seem bland to those used to more spicy dishes.
The perfectly fair explanation for the very small portion sizes disregards that this is not how people eat here. If a dish looks small, the customer will feel cheated, appetizers and dessert notwithstanding.
Especially since the desserts leave a lot to be desired. We barely start, let alone finish them. The cheesecake is grainy, the tiramisu watery and disproportionately topped with cocoa and the profiteroles are soggy and lackluster.
Happily the service seems to be much better than the desserts and the chef listened to our complaints genially and assured us that they are working on improving them.
'I would rather close than do fusion'
The owners are aware of the disconnect between restaurant and patron. But the bad reviews posted on social media give them little to no pause. “We welcome bad reviews, if someone thinks the food is too spicy that would makes us very happy, if they think its too bland, there is not much we can do.”
Gillani feels no pressure to cave into customer preferences. “I would rather close than do fusion because when you start doing that where is the line?”
He points out that there are no other Italian restaurants in the city, just continental ones which have a few Italian dishes. This commitment to stay true to the integrity of the cuisine is admirable and bold but so far the execution is not as clear as the concept. It’s not enough to be the only authentic Italian restaurant. It must also have the best dishes, which it does not.
Italian food has always been popular but mostly as comfort food and family style meals. The food at Il Posto is not generous or hearty enough to be considered comfort food but it is not inventive or inspired enough to be categorized as fine dining.
There may well be a space in the market for something in between but it’s unlikely to be occupied by very many people. The service and ingredients may be able to retain the most loyal customer base, but to reach out further they will need to fine tune a few things.