It was with much trepidation that I approached Nobahar Chai Khana located at Bungalow number 76 at Old Clifton, the site of the now closed Café 76.
The name makes it sound like a desi chai hotel and their Facebook page calls it a Persian restaurant but the menu is continental. And even though it is experimental, with a photocopied piece of paper serving as the menu, the Persian dishes had been getting rave reviews on social media, so that was what we decided to try. Plus, given the option between ‘not another’ version of chicken tarragon, trying out something new was the obvious choice.
|— Nobahar Chai Khana's official Facebook page.|
There are two dining areas to the restaurant — one is the well-lit but small indoor seating where we sat and the other the much more popular scenic outdoor seating, with the added bonus of sheesha servings.
|Popular scenic outdoor seating, where sheesha is also served. — Photo by author.|
The indoor area is done all in white. It comprises of seven tables tucked in close together with yellow lighting and ethnic ornaments creating a cozy rustic atmosphere. Block-printed black & white tablecloths, glazed ceramic tea light centrepieces on each table and Mughal inspired tapestries on the walls contribute to the traditional feel and add the much needed colour as well.
|The well-lit indoor seating area at Nobahar. — Photo by author.|
|The menu at Nobahar Chai Khana. — Photo by author.|
Mention Persian food in Karachi, and Chelow kabab is the first thing that people talk about! So it might come as a surprise to find that it's not on the menu. There is, however, an explanation — Chelow Kebab (considered the national dish of Iran) is a style of dish comprising of saffron flavoured Basmati rice served with different varieties of kebabs (Koobideh, Joojeh, Soltani etc).
With the menu containing no detailed descriptions — it was either Persian or a skewer a grilled meat — the safest bet was to go with the waiters' recommendation. We ordered a mix of kebabs with Zafrani rice and Mast-o-khiar yoghurt. We also decided to stick to chicken and beef and skipped the lamb because of its distinct taste which the waiter thought we might not like.
After about 30 minutes from ordering, it was the start of the Persian feast with the waiters first coming in with the sides — Zafrani rice with butter on the side and Mast-oh-Khair (yoghurt dip).
|Zafrani rice served with butter on the side. — Photo by author.|
Then proceeded the meat fest starting with the chicken entrees, Irani seekh kebab koobideh and Irani chicken tikkah (or joojeh kebab) followed by Zafrani seekh kebab koobideh in beef, and then the Special Mix Bakhtiari consisting of skewers of boneless beef and chicken pieces served with grilled tomatoes, lemons, slices of raw onion and a bunch of coriander on the side.
The platters were huge enough for the waiter to join two tables to fit the food, but a creative demonstration of negative white space resulted in average sized servings. I wish we had been served in bigger plates — the starter plates given for eating made maneuvering the meat and sides quite difficult.
|Chicken joojeh kebab and chicken seekh kebab koobideh. — Photos by author.|
There is minimal use of spices in Persian food, thus what one tastes is the actual flavour of the meat. Liberally sprinkled with sumac, the boneless beef from the mix platter was what all of us loved the most — it was juicy and easy to cut with the sumac, providing a lovely tart contrast.
Another dish we enjoyed was the seekh kebab koobideh, with the preferred version being chicken. We had ordered the Zafrani version of the beef koobideh, but it had none of the unmistakable aroma associated with saffron.
|Beef seekh kebab koobideh. — Photo by author.|
The boneless grilled chicken in the platter and the joojeh kebab were our least favourite items. Joojeh kebab is known for moist and flavourful chicken pieces, coloured a bright saffron orange with charred grill marks. Unfortunately, the chicken was dry and with none of the characteristic exterior.
|Mix Bakhtiari. — Photo by author.|
The Zafrani rice was another disappointment — yellow coloured rice with not a smidgen of saffron flavour or aroma. The accompanying pat of butter that should have added that extra layer of richness, had to be added to counter the dryness. However, the Mast-o-Khair was delicious — a Persian version of our cucumber raita, the tangy yoghurt dip balanced with the sweet raisins was a necessary side for the meat and dry rice.
|Mint lemonade available at Nobahar. —Photo by author.|
With run of the mill continental food being done by almost every eatery in town, the Persian menu at Nobahar Chai Khana has the potential to develop a niche following. The outdoor seating in the Karachi breeze is the perfect foil for comforting dishes like Khoresh (Persian stew), Ash (thick Iranian soup) eaten with fresh bread which would be the logical addition if this is turned into a complete Persian outlet; the sheesha being an added bonus.
However, they need to work more on restaurant concept and soon because the current word of mouth is leading to divergent opinions; and a deserted Facebook page only adds to the confusion of diners looking for answers.
At almost Rs 1,700/head, the bill was on the higher side, and might not be considered value for money as the food was missing the signature Persian aroma and the chicken didn’t have the melt in the mouth experience that is the hallmark of a good BBQ. Though the dishes were the usual 700 per entrée, paying separately for standard accompaniments (rice, yoghurt and salad) added to the final bill.
Eating at this outlet, one might end up making the inevitable comparison to Café Subhani in Saddar where a complete meal costs around Rs 500/head. Hygiene, ambiance and a convenient location are positives for Nobahar Chai Khana, but one would only be willing to pay a thousand rupees extra if the taste is absolutely sublime.
Food: 3 | Ambiance: 3 | Service: 4 | Value for money: 2.5
Kiran Afzal is a researcher by profession, who enjoys food blogging and reading on the side.