Lebanese cuisine has taken off in Karachi with many restaurants boasting authentic Middle Eastern flavours and offering various interesting dishes - eatery Zaatar recently joined the list.
The restaurant has garnered a positive response since it opened its doors to public, and being someone who has been on the hunt for the subtle flavours of the Middle East, I set out to find out what all the hubbub was about.
Where to go
Zaatar is located at main Khayaban-e-Nishat.
Upon entering Zaatar there isn't much to look at, the decor didn't win us over, but we did notice our tables were made of colourful wooden planks. Owner Samyra Rashid pointed out that the tables are made from recycled crates and the menus are printed on recycled paper, this is because Zaatar aims to be a zero waste restaurant and is pro recycling. Good going, Zaatar!
When to go
Zaatar is open for dinner from 7pm to 12:30am.
What to order
We were overwhelmed by Zaatar's extensive menu so we asked owner Samyra Rashid to help us out.
She gave us options and recommendations and within five minutes our order had been placed. Before our food arrived we were given complimentary Zaatar bread which, considering our hunger pangs, was a pleasant surprise.
Kibbeh is one of those Middle Eastern dishes which I've missed dearly since I had the real deal so I was excited to try out Zaatar's version of it. The restaurant serves it with a creamy sauce which I would've enjoyed had it been a dip. I personally prefer my kibbeh without any heavy sauces, maybe a pomegranate sauce but I haven't seen that here yet. The kibbeh itself was spot on with the filling. I just wish the coating wasn't so thick and had more of a crisp.
We ordered the rest of our appetisers as a part of the mezze platter so we could sample more.
The hummus Beiruti was a lot more zingy-er than I would've preferred, they could've gone easy on the lemon but I did enjoy the garlic-y flavour. The texture of the hummus was also spot on; thick and creamy.
Zaatar has some of the best falafels in the city; the crispy coating and soft center it hit all the right notes. The flavours came together and the crisp outer layer tied it all together beautifully. Falafel is a dish that many Middle Eastern restaurants here have yet to master - they usually end up making them tough with a biscuit-like texture.
We also had some fresh bread to sample our mezze platter with.
The smokey taste of the moutabal was also perfect. Many might find the charred flavour a little too strong, but it goes great with this eggplant dish.
The fattoush salad was unfortunately a disappointment. The fresh vegetables drowned in a seasonging of what felt tasted like chaat masala. Don't get me wrong, I love chaat masala, but in my fattoush, I'd prefer a very very light hand, if at all.
The jawaneh kusbara is Zaatar's chicken lollipop dish and while good, it is something I don't see many ordering, nor would I recommend it, simply because it doesn't add anything to the table. Maybe for children or that picky eater friend who doesn't want to experiment with new dishes.
For the mains we decided to order a mix grilled platter so we could try Zaatar's best. Samyra also suggested we try the shawarma plates and we couldn't say no.
The platter gives you a taste of all three meats Zaatar offers; chicken, beef and lamb. The menu mentions that the lamb served at the restaurant is real lamb, not goat. We got a chuckle reading that, but we do understand the need for the disclaimer.
The kafta meshwi (lamb) deserves a shout-out. If you are one of those people who is on the hunt for good lamb dishes but are disappointed (like me), you will be very happy with the tender kebab at Zaatar. The meat was finely minced and blended well with the spices; the texture made one enjoy every bite.
The lahem meshwi (beef) had a delicious marinade. My personal choice would be to have it taken off the grill just a few seconds before so that its juicy within but everyone at the table enjoyed the dish. Have it while it's hot though! It loses some of its texture as it cools.
Our shish taouk (chicken) skewer was made with a garlic marinade and served with garlic sauce toum. For a garlic lover like me, this was a great combination, though it wasn't a stand out dish for me because I'm not a chicken lover, plus it's a basic dish available everywhere and it didn't surprise me as such.
The mixed shawarma plate also had both chicken and lamb and while the chicken was decent, the lamb had us smitten. A decent lamb shawarma is still rare to come across, so we couldn't help but appreciate this. I'd go to Zaatar for the lamb.
We were eyeing the kunafa on the menu for dessert (because, kunafa, right?) but Samyra suggested we try out the atayef and we trusted her... so we ordered both. Kunafa has suddenly become a dessert sensation in the city so we had to find out which Lebanese place has the best one.
We were so happy that Samyra recommended the atayef because we were smitten by the dish. The Lebanese pancakes stuffed with cream and doused with rose syrup sounded really heavy but the dish was the exact opposite. The syrup had the right amount of sweet, the cream was light and the pistachios added a slight crunch and texture to the soft dish. After a heavy meal, this actually made us feel light! A definite star dessert at Zaatar!
The kunafa was not the best I've had in Karachi. For starters it was massive! Even two to three people would be exhausted by this if they've had a hearty dinner already - don't forget we had lots of meat. The dish itself was a little too sweet and felt way too heavy. It also undid everything the atayef did for us. Oh well, lesson learnt.
We ended the day with some mint tea, because that kunafa did us in. We were very impressed by the way the tea was served, in a unique mini tea set and a generous amount of tea, which helped wash down all the food we had.
Damage on the pocket
Zaatar's appetiser's range from Rs 200 - Rs 650 while the mains range from Rs 450 - Rs 1300 with a majority of the dishes made for sharing. The desserts range from Rs 350 - Rs 550.
Zaatar has some secret stars in their menu that are worth going back for. I wouldn't mind heading there just for their lamb dishes or atayef.