Pakistan is home to numerous communities, each one with their own unique cuisine and flavours. To attempt to represent this range of distinct flavours at the scale demanded by the Pakistan Pavilion could have been considered a Herculean task, but Kamran Sheikh, the man behind the hospitality of The Dhaaba and Dawat, has pulled this off with considerable flair. An established name in gastronomy, Sheikh has over four decades of experience in fine dining, interior design and hospitality management.
ZOYA ANWER: How were the menus for Dawat and The Dhaaba conceived?
KAMRAN SHEIKH: The Dhaaba is a contemporary take on Pakistani street food and is located on the ground floor. Dawat will be more representative of what constitutes fine dining in Pakistani cuisine. As Dawat is conceived as an open air restaurant, it will formally open in November, when the weather improves. We have a team working from Pakistan working on the menu selections. Although I am not a chef, I have the ability to communicate the taste and the presentation I am looking for. For The Dhaaba, we kept the menu simple and affordable. We opted for those items that are most loved in Pakistan. It was also important to take into consideration the fact that we would be working in kitchens that are not designed for Pakistani food preparation – basically they are short-order kitchens. We have also tried to make the food look appetising, which I not something that desi cuisine necessarily lends itself to.
ZA: Take us through a day at The Dhaaba.
KS: The Dhaaba is open from 12 noon to 10pm. The interior has been designed by Naheed Mashooqullah, based on a theme that draws from truck art. It has a distinctly contemporary feel, but using furnishings and fixtures reminiscent of a traditional dhaba. Dawat will only be open in the evenings, although we may, if the weather cools down considerably, also be open for lunch. The ambiance has been designed (also by Naheed) to be more intimate and quieter compared to The Dhaaba.
ZA: What are The Dhaaba’s most popular menu selections?
KS: People are going nuts over our sweet lassi and spicy samosa chaat. The behari kebab burger is also popular as is the bun tikki (Empress Market type burger). Our roti wraps have also been garnering praises.
ZA: How has the feedback been?
KS: The feedback has been incredible, not only from Pakistanis but foreigners as well. Someone asked me about the authenticity of the food, and all I can say is that it is as authentic as it can be, according to my palate – and I have worked with enough restaurants to be confident of mine. We have been told that the food tastes better than comparable items in Lahore and Karachi. The number of people eating at The Dhaaba has gone up to 500 – the wait for seating is one hour plus on weekends.
ZA: What are your other responsibilities at the Pavilion?
KS: My prime responsibility is to make sure that Pakistan stands out and achieves the best possible response at Expo. As an individual and a consultant on this project, my job is to elevate Pakistan’s position internationally. This is a tremendous opportunity to showcase our country as a tourist, cultural and food destination and my responsibility is to create a positive dynamic and get visitors excited enough to come to Pakistan. I am approaching both restaurants as if I were the owner and that goes for my team as well. Our attitude is that we are doing this for ourselves and not for someone else. I am a tough taskmaster and we want to maintain the same momentum and standards over the next six months. Many restaurants open with a lot of fanfare, but then the hype dies down and with it the quality. We don’t intend to let this happen with The Dhaaba and Dawat.