A taste of historic Lahore in Islamabad

September 03, 2018

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The menu offers regular Pakistani staples and a number of platters.
The menu offers regular Pakistani staples and a number of platters.

ISLAMABAD: Like its namesake in Lahore, Bhatti Gate in Islamabad is a sight to behold. Situated on the third floor of Centaurus Mall, the restaurant is as over decorated – floor-to-ceiling and every nook in between – as a Pakistani truck, and in a similar fashion.

There is so much to see in the restaurant that you would never have to worry about a lull in dinner conversation.

It would be hard to find an inch in the restaurant that has not been covered either in graffiti, small mirrors, murals, verses of poetry, song lyrics, pictures, posters, historical information or bells.

Almost all surfaces have also been covered with small replicas of trucks, rickshaws and traditional cushions covered in festive covers with dangly ornaments.

The seating area comprises of heavy wooden chairs and glass tables with bedazzled frames.

A rickshaw stands at the entrance, with its interior emptied out to accommodate two benches and a table.

The windows of the restaurant are also bedecked and tinted so diners feel like they are looking out of the windshield of a truck.

To the left of the restaurant entrance is a small cordoned off section for paan, complete with a traditional pull cart and with various matkas for holding paan leaves and other ingredients.

Right next to the little paan room are a flight of stairs that lead up to a seating area that offers a choice of chairs and table or traditional razais.

Looking from below, the upper seating area, with its loud art, low ceiling and dim red lighting, seems like the small bunker found in most Pakistani trucks, where drivers take turns sleeping on long commutes.

The left side of the eatery also features a live kitchen, fenced in by glass, with a metal sheet running over and below that contains text on the history of Bhatti Gate, one of the historic 13 gates of the walled city of Lahore, and a mural of the gate complete with a British officer being escorted by two Indian men, holding an umbrella over him, a burqa-clad woman and a chariot.

Two glass doors open to the terrace which quite a few restaurants share. Bhatti Gate has an expansive share and has used the space well.

The terrace is flooded unreservedly with fairy lights, hanging down the glass door and the terrace fence, circling above the lattice work on top of the terrace, around the neon sign which announces the restaurant’s name and wound around the poles that hold up the lattice work.

Brightly coloured lamps help the fairy lights create a very homely, comfortable environment.

The menu is simple and unapologetically Pakistani, no gimmicks, no twists.

There is the chaska section for shoppers who are a bit peckish and include items such as samosas, naan kebab rolls, chaat and choori, which is a mix of wheat bread, cane sugar and butter.

It has the Pakistani staples of haleem, nihari, channa, payay, fish and karhais.

The restaurant has mixed a number of its dishes in thalis including for breakfast, for children, for snacks, BBQ and more interestingly, a sweet thali which includes gulab jamun, jalebi, barfi, kulfi and halwa.

The BBQ platter includes halwa, the kind you find at weddings in your village, malai boti, seekh kebab and bread, which is enough for one person.

The malai boti is piping hot, juicy and charred just right. The seekh kebab are flavourful but milder than it could be.

However, the chicken tawa qeema hits just the right notes, with spices folded into the mince as it is cooked on a pan and then garnished with fresh coriander and spicy green chillies.

The restaurant has also put a desi spin on the hi-tea platters that have become the trend in the city and replaced the normal Italian-Continental fare with chicken boti, reshmi kebab, channa chaat, samosas, cheese naan, gulab jaman, jalebi and tea. However, the presentation could be better.

The restaurant serves food rather unceremoniously, either in steel thalis or in white plates and no effort seems to have been put in the dishing out of food.

Published in Dawn, September 3rd, 2018