Driving past the US Consulate on Mai Kolachi Road isn’t always the best of experiences. The somewhat dark and truck-heavy route towards the Native Jetty Bridge isn’t exactly a walk in the park either. But approaching the Port Grand space, the feeling of security and recreation you get is more than ample proof of what can be achieved if the government administration puts its mind to it.
Port Grand is a successful project and one that has given Karachiites and visitors a secure and secluded walk on the city’s waterfront, a speedboat ride around the marshland (which could do with some cleaning) and some retail opportunities in a picturesque surrounding. What more, it offers an interesting cornucopia of restaurants and eateries on what is fondly known as its ‘food street’
The first thing you need to know about eating at Port Grand is that the coupons you purchase upon entry can be partially reimbursed at restaurants. As much as Rs200 of the Rs300 entry ticket can be exchanged at any restaurant, kiosk ‘On the Balcony’ or elsewhere.
And for Rs200, the most popular snack has to be the 198 Rupee Bun Kabab. That is pricey for a Bun Kabab, I have to agree (it is available for as little as Rs60 on Boat Basin), but then you get the additional ambience of the sea, a hazard and beggar-free zone, which is delightful. Amongst all the kiosks placed along the length of the food street, the Bun Kabab would be my favourite, followed closely by the Freeze Gola Ganda vendor a bit further down. For Rs80 (which is the same price as at The Forum), a great and desi alternative to ice-cream or frozen yoghurt.
That said, even the Wall’s Ice Cream Parlour and the Berrylicious shop are a hot favourite.
When it comes to restaurant franchises on the Food Street, there are hits and misses. The Aylanto Bistro, for example, serves nothing more than mediocre and overpriced food. The Classic Burger is the best thing on the menu though the Pizza Margherita, which is too localised to qualify as an Italian dish, isn’t quite as appetising.
Aylanto shares its roof top with Table Top, which is amicable and presentable but unfortunately not so impressive in its food. I wouldn’t recommend the grilled platters at all. We ordered a half Sea Food platter (for Rs655), which was undercooked and insufficient. The presentation was very impressive but that’s about it. Just as disappointing was the Lebanese Grill (for Rs1,295).
The most popular restaurants, by the looks and tastes of it, are OPTP and Mr Cod, the latter offers a very decent serving of fish and chips, a dinner roll and drink for around Rs400.
When eating at the Port Grand food street — and many would agree with me — it’s best to either stick to the informal ‘road side’ snacks or go straight for the irresistible dine-in options of the two favourites: Chairman Mao for Chinese and Ghaffar’s for the best Gola Kebab and parathas. Both these places are always full to capacity and buzzing.
One of the most disappointing foreign franchises would have to be Chia’z, the baked potato/spud place. It isn’t exactly a foreign franchise as the company may be registered in UK but from the information given on the website, the only branch is in Pakistan.
It’s a decent product. The size of potatoes is ample and one would always prefer a baked jacket potato to fried chips. That said, the dressings are too localised. One has had enough spuds in Scotland to know exactly how a spud should taste. And Chia’z doesn’t rise to the standard. Plus, the potatoes seem to be pre-baked because they’re not hot enough when cut open. A shop with great potential, a little tweaking would really make a difference.
There is much more that the Port Grand food street offers, from a Mr Burger franchise, the Crepe Factory (which needs to start serving all options on the menu), Akbari Snacks, Skewers, etc. But like any food street in the world, most food is just passable and not excellent. It’s like a food court, only a scenic one with the additional value of recreation for visitors.
What one would really appreciate at Port Grand, now that winter is approaching, is a branch of Butler’s, Espresso, Cinnabon or Lals and Xander’s for that wafting aroma of coffee and caramel. A cafe would really hit the spot!