Garden Bistro is serving wholesome food in disguise.
Yes, this new eatery in Karachi does not want to be known as a healthy place to eat out, rather a restaurant which happens to serve your favourite foods with high nutritional value and zero guilt.
Sounds too good to be true. If, like me, you’ve ever had brown rice biryani you’ll know that it just doesn't compare to regular biryani; though I love both dearly, they are NOT the same.
Sure the city has a couple of places like Evergreen, Neco's and Lush Crush for the calorie conscious, but it doesn't hurt to have more options. Now that fitness is a booming industry in the country, Garden Bistro has a chance to put itself on the map of healthy finds in Karachi, but is it worth the trip?
I grabbed two of my friends and we decided to test it out.
Where to go
The restaurant is located on Khy-e-Seher right next to Dressing Table salon. It’s in the same lane as Chop Chop Wok and Evergreen.
The interior is simple and well-lit. Artificial plants hang from the ceiling, there are wine racks with empty bottles lined against two walls and a chalk board for customers to leave their comments. I appreciated their use of cork table mats and metal straws to be mindful of the environment. (They should perhaps also find alternatives to their plastic takeaway boxes.)
When to go
Garden Bistro opens at 8.00am and closes at midnight, so you've got all your meals covered. Best part: they serve breakfast all day.
What to order
We looked at the extensive menu which is neatly divided into sections (burgers/sandwiches, entrees, breakfast, etc) though the font of the dishes is quite illegible, we liked the detailed descriptions under each dish to help the customer understand exactly what they're ordering.
With so many options all three of us turned towards the owner to guide us. He recommended a bunch of dishes.
The Beet Tacos, which all three of us had the misfortune of hearing as Beef Tacos, were grilled beetroot slices folded with with olives, herbs, pistachios and Greek yogurt. The beet took us by surprise; the use of the grill cancelled out the sweetness of the vegetable and left a tinge of smokiness in the mouth which complemented the light filling. As the beet and yogurt served as the 'soft' elements in the dish, the pistachios added an interesting crunch.
For starters the Beet Tacos were refreshing and easy to eat. My two cents: the sweetness of the beet would've also been a welcome addition and the olives could’ve been more pronounced.
Then came the Sriracha Honey Buffalo Chicken Burger. The pan seared chicken immediately stood out. A few bites down and the table unanimously agreed that the burger tasted like a sandwich; a palatable one, but it was not a burger. I have to give points for the juicy chicken and light crisp coating, the protein didn’t disappoint. However, one of the qualms I had was that the Sriracha and honey flavours were lost in the dish, I wish they weren't muted.
Their sandwiches and burgers come with a side choice of Sweet Potato Fries or Zucchini chips, we picked the latter for the sake of experimentation. For those whose childhood favouite were Kolson’s Potato Sticks, you're going to love the chips as they're loaded with pepper. I tried to like them but wasn’t a fan; they were also challenging to eat as the vegetable kept slipping out and I was left with the crumb coating in one hand and zucchini in the other. I would've preferred the Sweet Potato Fries instead.
Next up, their Miso Chilli Glazed Prawns with Wasabi Lime Sauce and Sesame Spinach served on a bed of brown rice — the name is a mouthful and so is the dish. The spinach and wasabi lime sauce had subtle flavours (though it wouldn’t hurt to turn up the heat with a little extra wasabi) which paired well with the tangy prawns and nutty grains.
We thought the multiple flavours might imbalance the dish, but there was consonance between each element. It was a good wholesome start to the mains and thankfully did not fill us up. We rated it our favourite savoury dish of the night and I would definitely recommend it.
So far we had minimal complaints, then came the Quinoa and Bell Pepper Pasta. It looked great, I wish it tasted the same. The pasta was cooked to perfection, al dente and the quinoa worked magic alongside — texturally it was spot on. Unfortunately, it was loaded with salt and lacked flavour. The bell peppers had been overcooked and seasoned way too much with salt which only added to the salt in the dish. We feel this main could do wonders if worked on a bit more.
I had ordered their Cranberry Cocktail to go with the food. The drink was sweet with just the right amount of richness to help wash down the saltiness, however I would've liked the sour and bitter kick of cranberry which was absent. My friends had ordered Roots which was a plain beetroot juice and Berry Mojito which were to their liking..
We were hoping their Chicken Mushroom Stuffed Spinach Crepe would undo the damage, ironically it did, but as a palate cleanser after the salt overload — the dish was completely bland. The stuffing was flavourless and dry and the mushrooms were lost in the filling. Honestly, without the salsa on the side it would've been a flat dish.
Finally we were served the much anticipated Orange Dark Chocolate French Toast. Keeping Neco’s French Toast as the benchmark, I tried their most popular dish. It definitely made up for the last few disappointments. It surpassed all expectations and hit the spot. The toast was light and fluffy, topped generously with dark chocolate and a zesty coulis on the side. The soft toast gently scooped onto the fork and dissolved in the mouth. The bitter chocolate, the tangy citrus and the sweet honey in the toast came together in total harmony. If I go back for anything, it is definitely this.
The French Toast rounded our meal for the day but we couldn’t leave without trying one of their desserts. We got the Baked Chocolate Mousse. It was nice and dark, the mousse was soft, sticky, somewhat grainy, sadly there was no gooey center as promised. The vanilla protein ice cream tasted almost like ice cream and the berry compote — which could’ve been runny — tied all the elements together. After the French Toast I won't say I loved this dessert, but I definitely enjoyed it.
In all, we left the restaurant satisfied without feeling overwhelmed by the food and I think that is the bigger picture here; to serve you everyday foods with a wholesome twist which leave you satiated, not stuffed.
Damage on the pocket
I feel Garden Bistro is slightly towards the pricier side, but it also depends on what you order. Our total for three people came to a rough Rs6,500; approximately Rs2,200 per head, that’s because we ordered a bunch of dishes. If you want to keep it budget-friendly, skip the seafood.
Would I recommend this restaurant? It’s a new, unique place and I think people should try it out to see if their palate agrees with it. Plus the eatery has only been open to the public for a week so teething issues are bound to arise. I may go back to try their Quinoa Biryani (yeah!), they have some interesting dishes we left out.
Having said that, I believe it's unwise not to market the restaurant as one that ideally caters to the health conscious, especially in Pakistan where people take their food very seriously. Take for instance, brown rice vs white rice, both taste worlds apart and South Asians love their white rice, replacing them with another grain is a bit tricky in the desi world.
With that in mind, I feel Garden Bistro should advertise the restaurant’s primary goal, i.e. to serve healthy food. On the plus side, there’s a growing trend for nutritionally-dense foods so no harm done. Of course, people are the final judge of that. I’m curious to see what the overall response is going to be in the coming months.