Standing outside the coffee house, and looking at its Lady Liberty logo, one might come to think that New York Coffee is just another US food chain outlet, but further digging reveals that it’s a Bahrain based coffee house chain that just opened its first outlet in Pakistan on Karachi's Zamzama commercial lane.
The dark wooden doors outside gave us the impression that it’s again going to be one of those small, cramped artsy cafés that have started to litter Karachi’s dining landscape. Once we walked inside, we were amazed at the ample space available — no squeezing between tables or overhearing awkward conversations.
|Ample space available at New York Coffee. — Photo by author|
The inside of the café gave a strong NYC vibe with the walls covered in realistic black and white photos of Manhattan; shades of brown resonate through the café from the wooden beams on the ceiling, marble tabletops, striped booths and predominantly dark lighting. Pops of yellow and red accents, along with a foot tapping soundtrack of popular pop music created an upbeat mood.
However, the only issue was with the seating — the long train of tables for larger groups was situated at the front, giving the initial impression that the café was empty.
|Long train of seats for larger groups with realistic black and white pictures of Manhattan. — Photo by author|
It’s easy to get lost in the menu — there’s a total of 13 pages filled with stunning photographs. Omelettes, pancakes, waffles, sandwiches, wraps, crepes, pastas, grilled meals, espresso, frappes, smoothies — you name it and they have it.
|Menu cover. — Photo by author|
We decided to order a mix of items from crepes to wraps and a sizzler, after which we planned to order coffee. The entire order minus one dish arrived in 20 minutes — the late arrival being the sizzler with the sides arriving first and the chicken arriving after about five minutes.
Two of us ordered the traditional crepe with smoked turkey and mushrooms — the crepe was a beautiful golden brown but the inside left us disappointed. It lacked flavour, and instead of oozing with cheese sauce, the filling was placed only in the middle resulting in dry edges. The hash brown sides were crunchy and the baked beans were stewed properly, but felt like an odd combination as they are traditional breakfast sides — steamed vegetables or a fresh salad with citrus would have given some much needed lightness and flavour balance.
|Turkey and mushroom crepe. — Photo by author|
The sandwich and wrap that my friends ordered suffered from the same issue — a lack of overall seasoning. The chicken Mediterranean wrap was relatively better served in a crepe wrap with coleslaw and French fries. However, all one could taste was grilled chicken, and the salty, tangy flavour of feta cheese and sun-dried tomatoes.
|Chicken Mediterranean wrap. — Photo by author|
The grilled mozzarella, pesto sandwich was a disaster — the chicken was tough and there was a charred burnt flavour in the sandwich. My friend who had ordered the dish for the caramelised onions could taste none of the sweetness in the sandwich.
After this series of lacklustre food, the sizzle of the chicken fajitas was just the breath of fresh air needed. The sizzle had built up our expectations, and the sight of the dish lived up to the expectations. The sizzler plate was a kaleidoscope of colours with char-grilled chicken and a liberal use of green, yellow and red capsicums. This was unanimously declared the best dish, with everyone finishing off their meal with a last bite of the chicken!
The sides (guacamole, cheese, sour cream, pico de galle and Spanish rice) could have been improved with more authentic Mexican flavours — the guacamole was just mashed avocado and the Spanish rice, a fancy vegetable pulao. Another thing that confounded us was that it was served with a crepe, and not the standard tortillas.
|Chicken Fajita sides (condiments and Spanish rice). — Photo by author|
While our main course was a letdown, the coffee order of caramel macchiato and cappuccino was a complete 360 degree experience. Served in a glass coffee mug so we could see all the layers, the caramel macchiato was an absolute delight with loads of smooth caramel flavour.
|Caramel Macchiato. — Photo by author|
We did order the red velvet cake as dessert, but one bite was all we had — it was dry, and not fresh.
The service was quick, but maybe too efficient as our waiter served us the cheque when we asked for the coffee menu. Plus, he kept a running commentary of unnecessary quips on anything we asked for — definite training required!
New York Coffee seems to be suffering from an identity crisis — is it a restaurant or a café? Is it an American style diner or is it a coffee place? Is it a breakfast place or is it best visited for lunch and dinner?
The per head cost of Rs1200 to Rs1500 for a normal portioned meal and coffee tilts more to an upscale café or a fine dining restaurant.
What they need is focus — a long menu with stylised food photography is just a piece of paper if the real food doesn’t deliver. They also need to adapt to the desi palate like all other international food chains. We are a country known for its spicy curries and strong flavours, and dishes with just salt and pepper baffle a majority of diners. So unless New York Coffee starts serving some chili on the side, most of us will find the food bland and boring.
Another option could be to focus on specific dishes, especially Mexican — not only is this a cuisine rarely found in Karachi, it has that fiery kick required for our taste buds.
What they do have going for them is their drinks and their skilled baristas — there are five pages devoted solely to drinks, and there’s a lot more than the traditional espressos, lattes and cappuccinos. I don’t know what a 'kona mocha frappe' is, but it’s something I look forward to trying on my next coffee specific visit.
Rating (3 out of 5):
Food: 2.5 | Ambiance: 4 | Service: 3 | Value for money: 3.5
Kiran Afzal is a researcher by profession, who enjoys food blogging and reading on the side.