Summer lounging

The new menu at The Polo Lounge refreshed Saba Ahmed's palate and senses

Summer lounging
From its very inception, The Polo Lounge has held great allure. At brunch, glinting cars race up the driveway leaving behind a cloud of dust – an-all-too-fancy picture – to have the all-too-fancy brunch-going clientele step out and schmooze in the delicately buffered sunlight beaming in against a canvas of bright-green. At lunch, Polo Lounge becomes the other world, perfect for a power lunch or a much-needed break from takeout at the desk, a breath of fresh air away from the bustling concrete of the city. And at dinner, an isle of seclusion and serenity coupled with luxurious steaks and stellar service, a dining experience fit for kings and queens.

“I’m exceptionally happy with what we’ve been able to pull off,” Hina Rabbani Khar says in a well-deserved kudos to the latest menu at the eatery. Every six months the restaurant brings on board an expertly trained chef from abroad to train the in-house staff and spruce up the menu. The latest works of arts on the menu are creations of their current head-chef, Aneela RK, who is in Lahore all the way from London. “The way our Pakistani palette is, we need a leftover of taste, we need the feel of the taste to come back for it.” This is what Hina believes sets apart their internationally trained chef of Pakistani origin.

[quote]Aneela made the decision to ditch her lawyers' robes for a chef's jacket[/quote]

After having a change of heart, Aneela made the triumphant decision to ditch her lawyers’ robes for a chef’s jacket. Of course, anyone making such a bold transition is met with cynicism but after seeing her do such exceptional work in the culinary arts abroad and in Pakistan, the cynics have made their peace.  Aneela’s  parents  were the sort who let their hair down enough to approve adventurous propositions made by their children, like visiting the K-2 base camp and polo playing, and they readily embraced her decision to make the move from practicing lawyer to chef. Some five odd years ago Chef Aneela was also the force behind the renaissance of the Polo Lounge that put the eatery on the map as a go-to place for an upscale fine dining experience with all the trimmings. The Polo Lounge has continued to innovate by getting Aneela to fly back and forth between Lahore and London. She comes back to fine-tune the menu, make sure things are running smoothly and to bring to Polo Lounge’s table her ever expanding global knowledge and expertise of how to tantalize the senses through delectable culinary delights.

[quote]What I particularly enjoyed above all else was the taster's menu option[/quote]

What I particularly enjoyed above all else was the taster’s menu option which featured smaller than full-sized portions of selected offerings on the menu. Being a fussy and indecisive eater who likes to pick on, rather than dig into her food, it was very enjoyable for me. Hina, too, agrees that the smaller portions make for a more quality tasting experience, “I look at big dishes and it’s a turn-off for me,” she says.

I started off with the Aromatic Vietnamese Fish and Prawn Soup which was an uplifting initiation into the delicately balanced and flavoursome menu; especially for brunch goers. To each his own, but I believe brunch to be a sensitive time when your stomach and your taste buds need to be duly coerced into eating hearty. The aromatic soup, with a right 60-40 ratio of seafood to broth, was filling enough to get started the business of eating but not so filling as to dissuade me from indulging in the rest of the scrumptious meal. The slightly too large cilantro leaves in the soup were a treat for me, being a complete leaf lover. I chomped down on each one for a bursting freshness that helped cool the spicy hot of the soup.

Mint Pallete Cleansers
Mint Palate Cleansers

And just as I was starting to feel the heat of the soup alter my body temperature, I was served a glass of what resembled sorbet made of lemon, mint and ice. This palette cleanser was very welcome when it came, not only for its taste but also its very tasteful and meticulous presentation. There were two more palette cleansers that followed, all beautiful to look at, served with tiny-sized spoons and a contemporaneously sculpted garnish of leaves. A strawberry one arrived somewhere between the beef salad and the Buddha chicken, and then later a guava-flavored dream of an iced palette cleanser that winded down things perfectly before dessert.

Following soup came the beef salad replete with fiery red chilies and crunchy veggies. Basil leaves added eccentricity to the delectably prepared succulent beef that was thinly sliced yet perfectly cooked, with just the right amount of pink smack in the centre. This dish though, must be eaten with fair warning. Most of us desi folk think we can handle anything when it comes to spices, but South East Asian cuisine can sometimes give, even us, the brave hearts, a run for our money. This salad is one of those concoctions.

Thai Beef Salad
Thai Beef Salad

My subsequent Chili Prawns Stir Fry and Buddha Chicken were served on slabs of stone and combined the feeling of eating something very exotic with the sensation of a Zen-like calm. The Buddha Chicken had a double-action sweet and sour feel, not my personal favorite, but the chicken breast was marvelously cooked, something I rarely come across, mostly always landing up with chicken breast that is overcooked and rubbery in texture. The Chili Prawns Stir Fry was exactly to my taste, zesty and fresh and zealous flavors popping up to excite with every bite.

The new summer menu at Polo Lounge is just in time to refresh with its wide selection of Asian cuisine, not only because it’s fresher and more summery than your average casserole and creamy Alfredo selection, but because it is also a pragmatic choice. “It’s very restricting here when trying to serve different cuisines to customers at a restaurant,” says Aneela, “Thai cuisine suits our local palette very well and also our markets, so with maintaining a largely Thai menu, we can source good quality, fresh ingredients on an sustainable basis.”