Walla! Every time I say it, I have to actively fight the urge to follow it up with an almost involuntary ‘habibi’.
The new Arabic fusion joint is a cosy, little, no-nonsense eatery which offers everything from rice bowls to shawarmas.
Walla is located in Lane 4, Shahbaz commercial, right opposite Home Box Office.
With my Damascus quota done for the month, and dreams of Halal Guys plaguing my sleep, I decided to finally try out Walla after my weekly DVD raid. I also got in touch with the owner, Bilal Farooq, whom I could not resist asking about the similarities to Halal Guys, which started from a New York City hot dog cart and is now international restaurant chain.
"Halal Guys has an influence on my brand since I originally wanted to bring the franchise to Pakistan," said Bilal. "Everything that is made in our restaurant is not a direct replica, there's a Pakistani twist to it with some original origins of Halal Guys in there."
I walked in to tones of orange, white and red creating a funky collection of caricatures wearing keffiyehs, some pyramids, a few Arabic words and food pictures along with Lady Liberty (really don't know what she was doing there though).
Bilal shared that he wanted to keep the decor casual and welcoming: "My vision was to have a restaurant with a very cozy and comfortable environment with a little bit of a NYC look and I knew I didn’t want the space to be huge in size. I felt like Karachi's eatery industry was a really great place to develop and grow a brand so I decided to move from the U.S to Pakistan to do this."
And indeed it’s a fun space with orange stools and contrasting black walls. Very Insta-worthy! It’s small though, bordering on cramped when there is a rush. Not the best place if you want to spend lounging for hours with your friends but the seating itself is fairly comfortable and the staff extremely helpful and accommodating.
Pro-tip, in my experience, the smaller the menu, the better the food. Although limited in options, Walla has incorporated something for everyone on the menu.
It’s separated into three main sections; shawarmas, rice bowls and snack packs. They have 5 options of shawarmas to choose from ranging from The New Yorker for that heavy duty Big Apple feel to a Hot Desi for those who like their flavours a little closer to home.
I decided to opt for the Walla Original. I chose pita over the saj and for my protein, a mix of chicken and beef, combined with all the usual suspects: onion, pickle, garlic sauce and a few newcomers like fries, spring onions and lettuce, bringing the fusion element in.
It had a hint of hummus too, just enough for you to know it’s there without overpowering the rest of the ingredients.
I got the Walla Rice Platter to follow it up, which Bilal revealed to be his favourite.
According to the owner, "Being originally from the tri-state region back in America, my meal lunch at least once a week was the rice platter. I miss going to my local Halal Guys restaurant and grabbing the original rice platter so every time I get that craving, I grab the Walla Original Beef Platter which tastes just that meal."
A heaping serving of beef and chicken, alongside some lettuce, tomatoes, a drizzle of the famous white and red sauce, evenly spread out on a bountiful bed of butter rice. I was pleasantly surprised to find this a very refreshing meal, not drowning in a soup of sauces; the freshness really came through with the veggies. A lot of places soak their ingredients in condiments but not Walla, even thought the condiments are delicious.
As a side nibble, I ordered The Aussie from the trio of snack packs on the menu. This is not a side nibble. I repeat, this is not a side nibble!
The fries were thick cut, crunchy on the outside while being soft and warm on the inside. White sauce, smokey BBQ sauce and a red sauce layered together with melted cheese and your choice of protein.
I chose a mix of beef and chicken and was, again, happily surprised by the serving size. I would consider it a meal on it's own. While the red sauce was one sauce too many for me, this still became one of my favourite dishes and I will definitely be coming back to try the other two snack pack flavours.
I washed it all down with a Mint Lemonade, which was your standard run of the mill thoroughfare, but for only Rs200 where most restaurants charge Rs350 for a drink like that, I’d order it again.
Afterward, I surveyed the dessert menu half-heartedly before seeing the Lush Crush sign! My belt buckle audibly groaned but I could not leave without having at least one! Anyone who comes to my house knows the freeze is always stocked with Lush Crush and it’s great to see businesses promoting other businesses.
I was pleasantly surprised with my meal at Walla and wondered why there was not more hype about this place.
The ingredients were fresh and juicy. Not reheated, or out of storage, but the crisp quality one can expect of a small place with a quick turnover. The serving size of each dish was more than enough for those of us with Homer Simpson like appetites.
The restaurant definitely has a Halal Guys vibe but makes it it’s own with a few simple twists and touches. At Rs360 for the mixed protein shawarma, Rs420 for the snack pack, Rs480 for the rice platter and another Rs200 for the lemonade, I genuinely felt it was solid value for money for just under Rs1500.