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Eating out: A hint of saffron

June 24, 2012

Aspacious restaurant that opened its doors to the public over a year ago, Saffron is located off 26th street in Defence, on what has rapidly developed as Karachi’s new food street, after eateries began to spill over from Zamzama Boulevard. Although boasting an interesting ambience — it looks, in fact, like a museum — ample space, and a fairly decent selection of entrées, it has taken the restaurant a while to make its presence felt. However, it now seems to be on the right track for its food quality has definitely improved.

With the décor much the same as before, the split-level eatery is a profusion of plants, huge glass windows, carved pillars, filigreed grills, Hala tiles, and brass antique-lookalikes such as horns, wall clocks and lamps. The small, square wooden tables, dressed with chequered tablecloths are adorned with tiny red lanterns housing tea-light candles (which by the way, become dangerously hot) and have wood and wicker chairs that have cushions for comfortable seating.

Complimentary starters in the shape of crisp garlic bread, veggies and very thin bread and papadoms accompanied by a small selection from the Mezze Platter, set the tone for the evening. The garlic bread was perfect, and since they were almost bite-size, the portions were instantly devoured. The menu, encased in a wood folder had enough variety to tantalise our taste buds.

Of our party of four, three decided to try the soups, so we ordered Roasted Tomato, Cream of Chicken and Mushroom, and Seafood Chowder. While the tomato soup was nothing to write home about, the cream of chicken, which looked remarkably similar to the seafood chowder in that it was also thick and creamy, was delicious, and according to the gentleman who ordered it, was “one of the best” he had had. My Seafood Chowder was also delectable, although I felt it could have done with more prawn.

While we waited for our entrees to arrive we ordered Mint Lemonade and the Saffron Special to get an idea of the quality of mocktails available. Both were refreshing and chilled to the right degree — something many restaurants fail to achieve. The difference between the two chillers is that the Special also contains ginger, apart from the usual mint, lemonade and soft drink.

The entrees took a long while in coming, so although the service is courteous, the chef needs to spruce up his act, for it wasn’t a particularly busy night when we dined. Luckily, the food was appetising enough, when it did finally arrive, to restore our spirits and appetite.

One of our party ordered Risotto, which though not the best available in town, met with her approval. The second in our group opted for Grilled Mutton Chops served with Shiitake Mushroom Sauce. The sauce was divine, and the dish would have received top marks had the chops been grilled to perfection. As it was, half of the pieces were tender, and half underdone.

The fourth had decided to partake of the Lebanese Cold Mezze Platter as a main course instead of appetiser. Lacking some of the traditional items like vine leaves and green olives, the platter contained among other offerings the usual hummus, falafel, muttabal, and baba ganoush. The pickled veggies, hummus and falafel were among the tastier offerings while the ezme lacked flavour, and the accompanying bread pieces were highly disappointing. Either too thick and chewy or too thin and crispy, they lacked the pita bread quality that one looks for as accompaniment to the meze.

I had opted for Fettuccine with Jalapeno and Chicken, which comprised grilled chicken bathed in a creamy parmesan cheese sauce. The fettuccine was a trifle underdone but otherwise delicious.

Stuffed to the brim, we nonetheless decided to give the Bread Pudding a shot from the dessert section. Smothered in caramel sauce, the bread was not as soft as I would have liked it but was given a thumbs-up by one of our party members.

With plenty of space in the eatery Saffron has the added advantage that it can accommodate large parties where other restaurants fail to provide space even to small groups. It has the potential to do well with more consistency in its cuisine quality.