Ordinarily, if someone new to the city is craving desi food, they are either driven up the Margallas or down past Faizabad. The consensus used to be that the capital has no desi restaurants to write home about.
All that has changed over the past year, and a number of new places have opened up that are seeking to dislodge the hegemony of names such as Des Pardes, Monal or Mr Chips on the desi food scene in Islamabad.
Ruling the roost is Chattha’s, a restaurant that has taken desi food out of its ‘hole in the wall’ environs and transplanted to a crisp, almost fine dining-like setting.
A couple of new eateries are serving flavoursome local cuisine to residents of the capital
Tucked away in a corner of F-10/2’s dimunitive Tariq Market, the eatery has quickly made a name among local foodies as the best place in town to have a daal makhni or a palak paneer.
The restaurant is the brainchild of Waqar Chattha, the entrepreneur who was also one of the forces behind that earlier desi food sensation, F-11’s Cheema Chattha. With its piping hot Lahori nashtas and generous portions of desi ghee, the outlet used to be all the rage, especially among young people.
But ever since Mr Chattha parted ways with them and opened his own place, the F-11 joint seems to have lost its charm. “The place is a bit of a mess,” says architect Mohammad Bin Naveed, especially since the restaurant is located right in the middle of a busy little market.
“Although diners who are particularly concerned with recreating an authentic desi experience will chide you for being a ‘burger’... Chattha’s has proven you can be thorough and meticulous about cleanliness and still be authentic,” he said.
Amina Askari, another Islamabad resident, also appreciates the cleanliness at Chattha’s, while Maria Patel praised the consistency of their food.
The halwa puri nashta is, of course, a stand out item. But the restaurant’s strength lies in the quality of nearly all its dishes; from the nihari to the thalis and karahis, there’s nothing on the menu that one could even contemplate sending back to the kitchen.
But while consistency is keeping Chattha’s ahead of the curve, over in the Blue Area, a lack of it may be holding back an establishment that, otherwise, has a lot of potential.
Jammed into the densely-packed Blue Area, Mehboob Cuisine is a small but prominent eatery that has crept into the hearts of the corporate lunch crowd that descends from their offices atop the commercial buildings that line Jinnah Avenue.
The restaurant is proud of its unassuming Karachi roots and claims to do food with the signature spice and flourish that cuisine in the city by the sea has to offer.
But if you don’t take the restaurant on its word, you won’t end up being disappointed. The outlet does offer some unique items, such as sheermaal and taftan to go with your nihari.
The star of the menu, however, has to be the dhaga kebab. Otherwise unheard of in these parts, it features a seekh kebab made with bihari spices and held together by a piece of string, which has to be removed before you dig in.
“Although the texture and presentation was not exactly how I’d seen it done in Karachi, it was very flavourful nonetheless,” said Abid Hussain, a journalist who recently moved to Islamabad.
While the dhaga kebab stands out in terms of taste and presentation, its partner-in-crime, the fry kebab, looks like a plate of deep-fried mince. The Sindhi biryani, supposedly spicy, tastes more like a curry with some rice in it.
Originally published in Dawn, August 7th, 2017