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Eating out: The sweet tooth fairy

December 16, 2012

The Laals Patisserie opened on Khayaban-e-Shahbaz in Karachi a little over a month ago and it has given the words ‘chocolate bar’ a new twist. While you may think it refers to sitting at a ‘bar’ sipping delicious hot chocolate, the bar actually refers to the slab of customised chocolate that you can make for yourself.

The café offers a selection of edible attractions but it is the Make Your Own Chocolate Bar experience, I feel, that is the most novel and unique. For 340 rupees per indulgence you can choose your favourite base — white, dark or milk chocolate — and pick any three of an abundant selection of toppings. I chose rice crispies, pine nuts and peanuts and my chocolate bar was better than anything I could have bought in a department store. The Laals’ chocolate bar certainly qualifies as a boutique experience. It’s a guilty pleasure.

The coffee is just as good. Whether you opt for a conventional latte, cappuccino, espresso or any other eye-opening shot of caffeine including the ones embellished with shots of hazelnut, caramel, vanilla, Irish crème or almond (each for an extra Rs30) the experience is soulful. Unfortunately, the rich aroma that you expect to waft through the café isn’t always in the air. It’s only when a cup of coffee is brewing (and the turnover still isn’t quick enough yet for it to be continuous) that the café smells like a café should. And decaf hasn’t been introduced yet, which is a pity.

The Laals’ experience is elegant but not entirely sufficient. Very French in its approach, this is where you’d want to be for a quaint scoop of gelato ice cream (highly recommended at Rs150 per scoop) in summer or a creamy hot beverage in winter. But it’s not where you’d be found lounging out with friends because it doesn’t have an informal comfort zone that would attract loungers or drifters. Comfortable seating, a selection of newspapers and magazines, music and free wi-fi are some of the bare minimums a café would need to draw people in regularly. The Laals Patisserie is a little too formal.

When it comes to food, the menu begs for expansion too. It is a patisserie, which means it aims to satiate your sweet tooth but catering to a Pakistani public, it needs improvisation to accumulate a larger fan base. Patisseries may work in Paris where people walking to or from work need to take a coffee break or respite from the frequent rains. In Karachi, people walking to work aren’t the café types.

Catering to a middle or upper middle class, Laals needs to offer a breakfast menu and a wider selection of light lunch or snack alternatives like sandwiches and salads. Apparently they will be serving breakfast from January. But from the savoury choices currently on the menu: the chicken & mushroom quiche was good, the turnovers passable and the quesadilla (up for sampling the day we visited) a welcome addition though not entirely lip smacking.

At the end of the day Laals is for people with a sweet tooth. The macaroons, created by Lal Majid herself, melt in the mouth and are a sinful obsession. The pastry selection is dominated by chocolate with delicate caramel eclairs, cookies, muffins and a regular array of cakes and confectionery. The frosted brownie, though more soft than chewy, slides down the throat like a molten drizzle of heavenly chocolate. And the gelato ice cream, available in several addictive flavours, is easy to get hooked onto.

Sights and sounds: The décor is elegant and chic with an upper storey ideal for larger groups. As the front window overlooks a wall of shrubbery you could be fooled — for a moment — to think you weren’t in Karachi. Laals is a quiet place with gentle hustle bustle and none of the rambunctious noise other cafes are dominated by. But this could be a matter of time.

What’s around: Espresso is next door and there are several eateries like Subway, Thai Express, Gin Soy, etc., down the same road. Surrounded by commercial areas, the Laals Café could become a frequent destination for professionals looking for a quick sugar or caffeine fix.

What to order? Any of the fabulous coffees or ice creams. From the pastry selection I would recommend the macaroons and eclairs. From the savoury menu I would go for the quiches.

What to avoid? The lemon tarts are way too tangy and the turnovers are a little dry.