Many of my friends don't understand my fascination with Lebanese cuisine. "It's just a lot of grilled meat and hummus, right?"
I thought that too until I ventured out and tried some. I never thought I'd return to Karachi with a hankering for the subtle flavours of the Middle East.
While many Lebanese restaurants have opened up in Karachi, I personally did not enjoy the food at most. They'd either desi-fy the flavours or it would just not be up to mark. Also, some places might be decent but the location and setting isn't comfortable for a nice meal. Yes, I'm picky.
Figaro Grill is Karachi's latest eatery that boasts Lebanese and continental cuisine and I knew I had to try it out. Lebanese? Yes please! That sounded funny in my head.
I still consider myself a novice when it comes to Lebanese cuisine, so I dragged some of my cultured colleagues, who were missing the authentic flavours of Lebanese cuisine, to the restaurant. This also made me nervous because they'd declared a vow of vengeance if the food didn't live up to my talk.
Where to go
Figaro Grill is located at the bustling food street of SMCHS. Traveling from Shahrah-e-Qaideen, it will be the first restaurant along with Bam-Bou to greet you when entering the area.
I have to commend Figaro on this move to open up at Sindhi Muslim. The bustling street, full of cafes and burger/pizza joints, doesn't really have a proper restaurant that offers wholesome food. It's very clear that people love it as well, the restaurant was already packed when we got there. And it had only been 10 days to the opening!
When to go
Figaro is open from 12pm - 5pm for lunch and then 7pm - 12:30am for dinner.
What to order
I was mostly interested in the Lebanese offerings at Figaro although the restaurant also offers a variety of continental cuisine. We got in touch with the owner Shoaib Sikander who was more than happy to help us out with our order, along with Naeem, the head chef and general manager.
We started off with hummus with meat and pine. You find this in the appetisers section, but honestly, this is a loaded dish that many could just have as their main course. While my colleague didn't enjoy the fried mince meat in the hummus (didn't hate it either) I rather liked it, but I'm very carnivorous by nature.
However, we both agreed that not only were the pine nuts a welcome addition to hummus, they were roasted perfectly. Add pine to your hummus people, you'll thank me later.
The tabbouleh tasted authentic and fresh. But considering the texture and flavour of tabbouleh, it being slightly dry and leafy, I wouldn't like to eat it as a salad though. It would make for a great side with the entrees, but that's just my preference.
Shoaib insisted we also get the oozey cheesey chicken strips. Yeap, that's the name. According to Shoaib, who loves everything cheesey, that's the best way to define this appetiser and we agree. Cheese? Yes please! Okay, I'll stop.
These aren't your average 'stuffed chicken strips'. While I love cheese, usually stuffed strips have a chuck of processed cheese. The stuffing in these strips, while very cheesey, was blended with an in-house sauce that really added a nice kick to the dish overall.
We went for the chicken and mushroom manakeesh. which looked heavier than it was. The folded flatbread was very thin and the stuffing inside was generous. The minced chicken and mushrooms were well seasoned yet had a very subtle flavour. I could see my colleague's face change from 'meh' to 'I'm intrigued'. Phew!
I was really digging the array of grilled options at Figaro so Shoaib suggested we get a BBQ platter to taste them all.
An interesting option in Figaro's menu is the build your own platter option. Shoaib wants Figaro to be as interactive as possible, so if you choose that, your server will take you down to their kitchen where you can see all the meats just ready for grilling and make your own platter. You get a nice glimpse of the kitchen as well.
However, we went for their most basic BBQ platter, which is anything but basic. The Chef's creation platter is 1kg of grilled goodness, consisting of shish tawouk, grilled kafta, shish samak, char grilled oriental meat and Figaro's specialty, the foot long kebab.
The platter is served with Figaro's special garlic sauce, a mint dip and tamarind dip.
I leaned towards the foot long kebabs less because they were Figaro's signature dish and more because they was topped with cheese! The kebab itself was very soft and simple in its flavours. I loved that while I could taste the spices like fenugreek and pepper, nothing was overpowering.
The char grilled oriental meat was a hit at the table. The spicy cubes of beef were cooked perfectly and had that melt in your mouth texture that had us going back for seconds. The look on my colleague's face was also enough to let me know this was spot on.
The shish tawouk had a very creamy coating of its yogurt marinade, and I'm not complaining. The dish was very reminiscent of malai boti, just with a more smokey hint.
Shish samak is the barbecued fish that Figaro offers, and Shoaib mentioned that despite its very Lebanesey name, the dish is cooked in desi spices. So basically fish tikka? It might be my seafood bias but I really enjoyed the shish samak. The fish was fresh and Figaro did well by not having the dish be too spicy, so as to complement the rest of their grilled options. I generally love very spicy food, but keeping Lebanese cuisine in mind, I like the low heat.
The grilled kafta had the most desi touch though. While well cooked and juicy, the flavour reminded me of seekh kebabs. Good seekh kebabs, but seekh kebabs nonetheless. I enjoyed them with the complimentary Lebanese bread we were served.
That's right. Pita at Figaro is complimentary, and very well made. Freshly made so piping hot and super soft. Order as much as you'd like.
Shoaib also recommended that we try the Kebab Khashkash and I'm so glad we listened to him.
This is a dish I will keep returning to Figaro for. The kebab was juicy, mixed with parsley and onions for an earthy taste, but it is the sauce in this dish that makes it a winner. A light tomato based sauce that balances citrus-y and spicy flavours is Figaro's secret sauce. Head chef Naeem revealed, "I spent ages perfecting this sauce. Even if a hint of spice is more or less, I feel like it's ruined."
The best thing about the sauce is that it helps lighten up the heaviness of the grilled meat. I also want a bucket of it.
While my primary focus was the Lebanese cuisine, it would be unfair to Figaro if we didn't try the continental variety. There was a lot to choose from but we just went ahead with two mains. Because despite what my family thinks, I do not have that huge an appetite.
I always appreciate a well cooked steak and Figaro's steak was definitely well cooked... and by well cooked I mean medium rare! It was soft, juicy and the creamy sauce on top was a great match.
Both the mains have the same sides; creamy mashed potatoes, creamed spinach and roasted vegetables. I loved that the sides were well seasoned and the potatoes and spinach weren't diluted.
Our festive treat chicken could not get the love it deserves unfortunately. It was a well made dish, with a rich cheesey dressing and perfect for the teen in the family; however, it was still our least favourite, simply because there were so many strong contenders. Also, we're all beef lovers, so chicken ends up being neglected. Sorry chicken.
Another great aspect of Figaro is their in-house drinks. Figaro boasts a huge menu of drinks which have more than your run-of-the-mill mint lemonade... which they have as well... But you get my point so shush.
I have a profound love for coconut so the coconut glow was a winner for me. But their kiwi-colada was a surprise hit and I can imagine it being extremely popular. Also, kudos on the presentation!
Heading on to dessert, Figaro right now serves slices of cakes as dessert. It was a bit of a letdown for me because I wanted to try something very Middle-Eastern. But Figaro has some very good, and very sinful, cakes.
The cheesecake is a little dense but spot on with flavour. I liked that it didn't have an overbearing tang but the right cheesy taste that a cheesecake should have.
The swiss chocolate cake is spongey yet loaded with chocolatey goodness. Lovers of chocolate will love this sinful slice.
The Nutella cake is a challenge. Figaro is a little too generous with their Nutella and I definitely do not have a problem with that. But that means it is very heavy and you need a partner to down this bad boy. My only issue with this was that I wish that the cake itself was warm so that it goes with the ice cream, but that's not a deal breaker.
The volcano cake with ice cream gave me the warm and cold experience. The center was gooey, yet not too gooey that it's just liquid, and the chocolate was not overly sweet.
We ended the meal with Moroccan tea, which is not just a serving, it's a show! The chef makes a big deal out of pouring your tea and we were entertained!
And also, the tea hits the right mark. After our gluttonous venture it was the perfect thing to wash it all down with. The flavour was also authentic, sweet (but not too sweet) and earthy.
Damage on the pocket
For a fine dining restaurant, Figaro Grill is pretty decent with its pricing!
Appetisers range from 250-500, manakeesh vary from 280-415. Mains range from 500-900 while the platters of course go on the hefty side. Our chef's platter was around 4200 and it can easily feed 6-8 people, that too very well. Desserts range from 200-400 and I strongly suggest sharing.
There's something at Figaro for everyone. I'll be heading back there for the Kebab Khaskash and the foot long kababs. And the coconut glow drink because I don't have to justify my love for coconut to anyone!