Travel back in time and rediscover Lahore's Tabaq Restaurant

Published 11 Mar, 2022 10:54am

Faisal Quraishi

Staff Writer

Established in 1976 at Lakshmi Chowk, Tabaq continues a long tradition of no-nonsense hospitality.

Located on the busy Lakshmi Chowk, downtown Lahore
Photography by Syed Zubairuddin Shah
Located on the busy Lakshmi Chowk, downtown Lahore Photography by Syed Zubairuddin Shah

No sooner do you enter Tabaq Restaurant, situated in Lahore’s downtown, that you’ll feel yourself immediately transported back in time — to your much younger days, when things were much simpler. Tabaq has a tradition of hospitality that goes back over 45 years.

With no internet or social media, restaurants existed for the sole purpose of serving and relishing good, old-fashioned wholesome meals, rather than being the social hotspot hubs with Wi-Fi that they have become today. When it comes to old-school hospitality, Tabaq has it nailed down.

I still vaguely remember a time in the mid-’80s when a restaurant under the same name also existed on Karachi’s Tariq Road or thereabouts. It has since disappeared, like so many other landmarks and once-popular eateries that dotted the cityscape, such as Khan’s Cafe, Firpo Nihari and Flurry’s Bakery near Hotel Metropole.

The hearty spread
The hearty spread

A few still exist, such as Village Restaurant and Shezan Ampi’s and, whenever nostalgia hits hard, it’s the go-to place for many baby boomers like me. All we can do now is hope and pray that they stay around at least during our lifetime, so that others like me can continue to relive the days of our youth.

Established in 1976, Tabaq Restaurant at Lahore’s famous Lakshmi Chowk, continues a long tradition of no-nonsense hospitality

Tabaq is a no-frills restaurant which is all about the business of food, and a wholesome one at that. It’s food that feeds your soul. When I visited the place, I noticed a middle-aged gentleman and a somewhat restless 12-year-old dining a short distance away from our table.

The gentleman in question clearly seemed to be a regular patron and knew exactly what to order to eat. The kid, obviously oblivious to his father’s emotional connection to the eatery, seemed bored to be in a place with no Wi-Fi and play area.

Ghulam Rasool, the oldest steward at Tabaq Restaurant
Ghulam Rasool, the oldest steward at Tabaq Restaurant

 The father-son duo (I’m assuming that was the relation between them) must be a typically familiar sight for the stewards serving generation upon generation of diners at Tabaq. One such steward is Ghulam Rasool, who has been associated with Tabaq Restaurant since 1977, a year after it opened its doors for business.

 Rasool recommended we try their famous Chicken Steam Roast Chargha (steam-grilled chicken falling off the bone) and, upon his further recommendation, we also placed an order for grilled fish (whole fish grilled to perfection) as well — both of which arrived at our table in absolutely no time at all.

We chased the hearty meal with a choice dessert — steaming-hot gulab jamuns, served with sugar syrup in a clay pot!

While waiting for our meal to arrive, I swept a glance over the floors, tables and chairs that told the tale of numerous customers served, the old-fashioned, crisp, white linen-covered neat work stations and the elaborate woodwork, specially the arch and wooden pillars dividing the dining area into a family room as well.

The dining table and chairs tell a tale as old as time itself
The dining table and chairs tell a tale as old as time itself

A spiral stairway next to the cashier counter led upstairs to another family/ladies sitting area.

At the time we were there, which was a little later than 8pm on a weekend, the dining hall was full with people, immersed in conversation while enjoying the meals served by the stewards, who made it seem all so effortless and streamlined.

There were no inordinate or awkward delays in between the food orders being placed, the arrival of the food, the clearing of the tables, and the food bill payment.

 The comfort level between the stewards and patrons was exemplary. The restaurant ran like a smooth, well-greased machine, something found missing in most modern eateries, where a bond of trust between the server and the served just doesn’t appear to exist.

At Tabaq, it was as if there were an unspoken commitment between the two, and a pledge not to betray each other’s trust, but never uttered in so many words, mind you.

When you choose to dine at Tabaq Restaurant, know that you have been served — not just food but a slice of long-gone time.

Originally published in Dawn, EOS, March 6th, 2022