Mandi houses were on the rise last year and it looks like the craving is still strong as another big eatery hits Karachi's food scene with the promise of tender meat on aromatic rice.
Dubai's popular eatery Maraheb has opened up in Karachi and from what I gather from my frequently Dubai visiting friends, it's a joyous occasion.
We head out to the restaurant to find out what makes their signature dishes so popular in the UAE.
Where to go
Maraheb is located on Karachi's Sharfabad neighborhood's Alamgir Road near United King. It's easy to spot between the dessert joints Swenson's and Rigo's.
Walking in, we were impressed by the restaurant's interior. It's well lit, has chandeliers that don't look tacky but rather give a grand feel and features both regular seating on the main floor and baithak style compartments in the basement.
Wanting to get the full experience - and to lie down - we went to the basement.
When to go
Maraheb operates from 1pm to 12am.
What to order
Maraheb does not feature an extensive menu and has its focus on what they're known for: mandi. We still opted for the recommendations given by the staff, especially for appetisers.
Before anything else, Maraheb serves all its customers complimentary yakhni. What I appreciated was that the yakhni was not at all heavy and ignited our appetites for what's to come.
We started off with the rainbow hummus. Four servings of hummus served not just in different hues but different flavours as well. While the texture of each varied according to the base ingredient - beetroot, lemon and so on - the aftertaste of traditional hummus was present in each.
The spicy Lebanese batatas were an instant hit at the table. Traditionally known as batata harra, the potato chunks had a piquant taste that we all loved and couldn't get enough of.
The Fattoush salad at Maraheb was another favourite. The khubs and pomegranate based salad was topped with balsamic vinegar and the sweet and sour flavour brought out the best in the fresh vegetables.
Maraheb's appetisers were all wins and had us excited for the mains ahead.
The saltah fahsa came sizzling and was served with muluawah bread. You'd think the ratio isn't accurate at all but it works. The saltah has a very homemade curry feel to it and I do wish it had a pinch more salt but the meat was tenderly cooked and sharing the giant muluawa bread was fun.
We were excited for our next course, as that is what Maraheb is known for, their mandi. We tried out three different varieties of servings and one thing's for sure, they know how to cook their meats to perfection.
All of Maraheb's entrees are served with Yemeni rice and a few sauces and salads. Our first round of the rice was unimpressive, lacking that signature fragrance that this rice dish is known for. However, it was immediately rectified as the next time we were served a dish, the rice was significantly better. Not only did they have that enticing aroma Yemeni cuisine is known for, but the flavour was on point as well, complementing the meats it was served with.
The luhoom mandi and the Hanith in ribs were both hits at the table. The Hanith in ribs were tender, with the meat falling off the bones. The light seasoning brought out the best in the rich flavours of the meat itself and we could not resist seconds.
The luhoom mandi had a different rub, the flavour similar to green chutney mixes. The meat was, once again, cooked to perfection. If you want more 'masala' in your dish, this is the one for you.
The chicken madfoon had what you would call a chatpata marinade but compared to its two fellow mandis, it did not stand a chance. The madfoon had half a chicken on top and some parts felt very dry. Considering that mandi is best with dark meats, it's best to skip the chicken varient anyway.
We made sure to save enough room for some kunafa but Maraheb takes pride in their cakes as well so we had a helping of each.
Oddly enough, the cakes were definitely better than the kunafa, which was a disappointment. Considering Karachi has gone through a kunafa craze recently, it is surprising to see a mandi house not be able to serve the dessert right. The dish lacked the satisfying crunch and the kadayif could have been seared better.
The cakes, however, were a pleasant surprise. Both the three milk cake and its chocolate version were loved by all. The bites, evenly distributed with milk toppings, melt in your mouth and we loved the adequate amount of sweet the cake had without being too saccharine. I had no expectations from the cake and I was happy to have been wrong.
Damage to the pocket
Maraheb's appetisers range from Rs350 - Rs600 while the mains range from Rs750 - Rs2800, depending on the serving and the restaurant's servings are huge. A group of five can get a bill of anywhere from Rs650 - Rs1200 per head, depending on the extravagance of the order.