Andaaz preserves more than recipes
Overlooking the magnificent façade of the Badshahi Mosque is Andaaz, a roof top restaurant that tickles one’s sense of history just as much as it does the taste buds. A fairly long (and now frequent, thanks to the burgeoning popularity of the Shahi Mohalla’s food street) drive takes you to the walled city of Lahore, the Shahi Mohalla or Heera Mandi as legend has it. The Mohalla of course, is now more of a food street than a bazaar where courtesans once danced to the beats of the tabla. You’re likelier to hear the rhythmic smatter of metal utensils chopping up meat for the widely popular kat-a-kat (an onomatopoeia for the sound made) than hear the harmonium flirting with a dancing girl’s ankle-bells. All in all, it has made this dining experience unique and essential for anyone visiting Lahore.
Andaaz appears to be modelled after Cuckoo’s Den, the original roof top restaurant in the vicinity. But Andaaz has picked up a loyal clientele of its own, a clientele intrigued by the art and artefacts that populate its interior. It certainly does have a unique spirit. An emerald green stairway leads you to the top of the building, where the restaurant’s main dining is set up. On the way up, on every landing there are private dining rooms that can be booked for larger gatherings. It’s almost habitual for guests walking up to put their ears to the closed doors in hope of a tinkle of a ghungroo. Needless to say, one has never heard one.
More than the sound of music, it’s the aroma of freshly baked tandoori parathas and mint naans (both traditional flat breads that are an in-house specialty) that entices you up.
And the food at Andaaz never fails to satisfy.
Rustic wooden tables and chairs welcome you to the roof that was well heated with the help of small bonfires as well as garden heaters when we last went smack in the middle of an uncomfortably cold winter. Overlooking the luminous outline of the mosque, especially when there’s a full moon beaming up in the sky, the mood at Andaaz is often mesmerising and that evening was no different.
The interior is just as fascinating as it sounds. It isn’t just traditional; it’s indigenous to different regions between Goa and Kabul with an ode to the British Raj on the ground floor, specimens of artistic calligraphy on the walls, memorabilia from yesteryear including archaic vintage cameras and movie posters, stamps, etc. Andaaz is an ode to South Asian heritage and the only thing it lacks, one feels, is an elevator that would make the ascent to the roof top possible for older and physically challenged guests.
The proof of Andaaz’s popularity is in the pie, meaning the food. Prepared in-house, the restaurant offers a vast variety of well spiced, desi food that adapts just as well to a foreign palate less accustomed to chillies. The customary appetisers — popadums served with several mint and tamarind chutneys — tease one’s appetite for the feast that follows. “The cuisine isn’t just desi,” Andaaz’s CEO and professionally trained chef Ahmed Chema insists. “It’s authentic and we aim to recreate recipes just as they were created in areas of their origin. Our meat, for example, is never grilled over coal but in a high temperature tandoor (clay oven) which sears it to perfection.”
The barbequed chicken boti and seekh kebabs are almost a menu staple and no order can be complete without ordering a portion of each. But for the discerning customers, it’s the Tandoori Jheengay and Chicken Hara Masala that have won peoples’ hearts. For those who prefer their food a bit spicier, the Masala Champs more than whet the appetite.
Served by a smartly dressed, hospitable staff, the dessert cart offering hot Gulab Jammuns and frozen Kulfis is just as irresistible.
Good food and a historic setting: tradition doesn’t get better when it comes to restaurants and with both in hand, Andaaz has a winning combination.
“We have gotten hold of the building next door and plan to expand soon,” disclosed Chema. “And we’ll be opening a branch in Islamabad’s Saidpur Village very soon. We cannot recreate the magic of Lahore’s Andaaz but the restaurant in Islamabad will have its own character. It’ll thrive on Pakistan’s rich music scene. We want to preserve traditional recipes in their purest form and make food part of Pakistan’s rich heritage.”