The Lantern: Lighting up Karachi, the oriental way!

Published: February 20, 2013

I’m sure with such a dedicated team, the Lantern has the potential to be one of the most sought after Chinese restaurants in Karachi! PHOTO: YOUSUF BAWANY

The power of oriental cuisine is undeniable; we just can’t seem to get enough of it. When out with your wife, ask her what she’d like to eat and five out of ten times, she’d suggest Chinese food.

The Lantern, located near Do Talwar, Clifton, has been open for public for about four weeks now, and the team at Food Connection Pakistan graciously invited me for a bloggers’ meet-up a few days back. This Chinese eatery is a perfect venue for a memorable lunch with friends or a romantic dinner with the wife. It’s interesting that the restaurant has indoor as well as outdoor seating available, catering to the conditioned air lovers as well as customers who enjoy basking in the trademark Karachi breezes.

The Ambiance (9 out of 10)

As soon as you walk onto the driveway that leads up to the restaurant, you are welcomed by a rustic sitting area adorned by wooden chairs and tables. A collection of plants placed at intervals as well as along walls render the space homey and unpretentious, yet tasteful. Besides letting in plenty of natural light, a big glass window lets people on the outside a view of what’s going on inside

A step indoors and you instantly get where the inspiration for the restaurant’s name comes from. Your eye is immediately drawn to the paper lanterns covering the entire length of the ceiling and not one of them is red. In stark contrast to traditional Chinese restaurants, the room feels open, light and airy, with everything decorated in greens and subdued pastels. More often than not, I prefer well-lit spaces where I can clearly see what I’m putting into my mouth, and The Lantern sure fits the bill.

The Reception

It was interesting to meet the visionaries behind the restaurant; Gulraiz, Saud, Uzair and Ahsan (collectively known as the A-Team). These four individuals went their separate ways after completing their A-levels and converged several years later to solemnise their bond of friendship through the inception of The Lantern.

Yousuf: What was the inspiration behind the name?

A-Team: Well, we just tried out a few names including the Wok-Inn, Red Door and Paper Lantern. Since we wanted the place to feel as un-Chinese as possible, we ended up with ‘The Lantern’. We carried the same un-Chinese theme into our decor as well, the only inspirations being bamboo shoots and paper lanterns. If you look closely, you’ll see that the lanterns used in the restaurant are plain paper lanterns and not the bright-red Chinese lanterns with tassels underneath. Also, the table settings are very rustic and lack the oriental touch.

Yousuf: Don’t you think there are enough Chinese restaurants already?

A-Team: In our experience, Karachiites love Chinese food as much as they love BBQ, if not more. Plus, there are very few Chinese restaurants in the Clifton/Defense area so opening one here seemed like a wise decision.

Our service is another area where we can distinguish ourselves from our competition. Unlike other restaurants, we take customised orders and have no qualms preparing anything that can be made within the confines of our kitchen.

If we have the ingredients, we’ll make it for you; if a specific dish is served with beef but you prefer chicken, we’ll do it for you. A couple of days back, a customer requested some vegetables with oyester sauce and we served it to him; he really appreciated this gesture and we won over a loyal customer. We are not reinventing the wheel here, just trying to elevate conventional Chinese cuisine to a whole new level.

Yousuf: What are the team dynamics here? How do you get along with your staff?

A-Team: The average age of our staff is about 23-years, so we have a very young team, open to improvement and evolution. We come here to work and have fun. We are not rigid, rather ready to adopt new ideas with time, learning, trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Our team has provided a lot of feedback and ideas into what you are seeing around you at the moment.

Yousuf: So what are your plans for the future?

A-Team: Well, there are a few things that we’d love to take care of down the line. First and foremost, we’d love to add a few exotic items to our menu, including Duck. Next, we plan to open a second kitchen that will cater to home delivery orders only; the existing one is running on full capacity for dine-in orders.

Food (7.5 out of 10)

The Lantern’s menu is deceptively simple and elegant, yet it manages to cater to vegetarians as well as non-vegetarians (seafood, chicken or beef aficionados). In my experience, the larger the menu, the harder it is to decide what to order.

The menu features several dishes with a ‘gravy optional’ choice; personally, dry items are more appealing to me as that way, you cannot camouflage the taste of the dish behind a veil of sauces.

After careful evaluation of the menu, I decided to skip the cliché soup and go straight for the appetisers; talk about challenging the norms of our society. On Gulraiz’s suggestion, I ordered some deep fried chili prawns, served with sautéed Thai chilies and spring onions, a garnish of julienne vegetables and some oriental sauce on the side.

This was perhaps the most Pakistanised of all the dishes I tried that night, and I totally mean that in a good way. The prawns, infused with chili, were crisp and spicy, fine on their own but a revelation with that exquisite honey-based oriental sauce. The balance of sweet and spicy, and the aroma that emanated from the platter was extremely appealing to me; I’d go to the Lantern any given day just for that dish. The extra chilies added for presentation were overkill but otherwise, I rate the dish a solid 9 (out of 10).

Sesame prawns on toast, another appetiser that came highly recommended by the A-Team, was by far my least favourite dish of the evening. It’s a chunky prawn paste buttered onto a piece of toast, topped with a generous sprinkle of sesame seeds and deep fried to a crisp. The texture of the toast was extremely interesting; what really put me off was the oil-soaked bread and the overpowering sesame flavor, the prawns feeling like an afterthought instead of being the highlight of the dish. I suggest you make sure the bread is nice and oil-free, cut down on the sesame seeds and let the taste of the prawn shine. I’d give this a slightly disappointing 6.

Then came the entrees and I started off with beef with black bean sauce. This is one of those dishes that grow on you; the first few bites were really OK, but the more I ate it, the more I liked it, so much so that I gave it an 8 on 10. The taste of the black beans really shines through and even though the dish is a little on the sweet side, it certainly is one that you’d probably order next time you visit The Lantern.

When the server brought out what was supposed to be chicken chili dry, I was a bit confused, as it was unlike any I had ever had; it turned out to be an interesting spin on a classic. The chicken chunks – deep fried with a batter coat, covered in a sticky sweet sauce and finished with some green chilies – were extremely crunchy. Even though I was expecting a bit more heat on the dish, the combination, overall, seemed pretty balanced. I’d rate it an 8 out of 10.

The best presented dish of the night, hands down, was crispy beef in bird’s nest. I gave it 8 out of 10 mainly because besides being attractive, it delivered on the taste. The deep-fried strips of beef lightly glazed with a sweet chili sauce were crunchy on the outside, tender on the inside, and just seemed to melt in my mouth; I couldn’t stop eating them. I did experience some problems tackling the noodle nest though, as it was really really tough to break into.

After all the excellent food that I had devoured, I barely had any room left for dessert.

The team insisted I try the fried fruits candy and I’m glad I did. It featured chunks of banana, kiwi and apple, deep fried to a crisp and served with sugar syrup, some icing sugar, some sesame seeds and a pinch of cocoa powder. Even though the fruit was deep fried, the inside of the fruit had not lost its actual texture, and I salute the chef for this feat. I could have probably put the sugar syrup as a dipping sauce on the side rather than lathering the lovely fruits with it, but that’s just me. It was one of the closest things I had ever had to a Chinese dessert, so I gave it 8.5 out of 10.

The Pricing (8 out of 10)

A decent meal at The Lantern would cost you anywhere between PKR 1000 to 1500 per person (plus tax), which is very similar to what it would at any decent Chinese restaurant in Karachi. The portions sizes could have been slightly bigger as people invariably end up questioning the value for money.

The Verdict

Eating out is one of the few forms of enjoyment for us entertainment-starved Karachiites, and places like The Lantern make it even more enjoyable. What impresses me more is the young, energetic team putting it’s heart and soul into this restaurant, and is willing to learn and evolve from experience.

It was a pleasure watching Gulraiz play the gracious host out front, while Uzair was busy expediting orders in the kitchen, making sure every plate that came out was according to his standards.

I’m sure with such a dedicated team, the Lantern has the potential to be one of the most sought after Chinese restaurants in Karachi!

A word of advice: If you don’t want a new splatter paint job on your car, avoid parking it under that big ol’ tree on the right side of the entrance; your driver/cleaner is sure to curse you while he puts his blood and sweat into cleaning it the next day.

PHOTOS: YOUSUF BAWANY

This post originally appeared here.

Read more by Yousuf here or follow him on Twitter @YousufBawany 

Yousuf Bawany

Yousuf Bawany

A writer who enjoys to cook foods from across the world. He blogs at yousufbawany.wordpress.com. He tweets @YousufBawany (twitter.com/YousufBawany)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Parvez

    Great that you let us know this Chinese exists …………pictures look good.
    Where exactly around Do Talwar is this located ?Recommend

  • Honest

    a review justifies more when one pays the price of the service rather than a paid-up ‘bloggers-meet’ set-up!Recommend

  • aj

    its looks very nice but i’ll not visit karachi..that’s dangerous..target killings and bomb blasts..hope karachi will be peacefull somedayRecommend

  • Fatir

    A-Team: In our experience, Karachiites love Chinese food as much as they love BBQ, if not more. Plus, there are very few Chinese restaurants in the Clifton/*Defense (Defence) area so opening one here seemed like a wise decision.Recommend

  • Aneela Jameel

    Not only Defence/Clifton, Chinese restaurants are non existing anywhere else in Karachi. Even the Chinese food available in PC and Marriott is pathetic. China Town used to be good in old days, now it’s not. There are few small restaurants on Tariq Road (near Mcdonalds Tariq Road) and those are probably better than China town. I cannot recall names of any other good Chinese restaurants. So, lets just hope that “the Lantern” is able to provide some real good Chinese dishes to Karachiites. Recommend

  • Stranger

    Life goes on . Bombings / murders/ killings /lootings exist side by side with normal life – new restarants / new houses being built / new lives being born. Chaltee ka naam zindageeeeRecommend

  • Tariq

    Chairman Mao is the best for Chinese in DHA, u can enjoy it in safe confines of your home as no one wants to venture out in such dangerous conditions in Khi. And it costs even less than this.Recommend

  • VOC

    Who says there aren’t good chinese restaurants in Karachi?

    I can remember at-least 6 good ones located at/near Tariq Road. These include: Kowlooon, Hong Kong, Imperial Court, Tung Nan, Yuan Tung, Little China to name a few.

    Please share the list of your favorite chinese restaurants too..Recommend

  • Parvez

    @Aneela Jameel: Try ‘ Ginsoy ‘ on main Shehbaz, where all the banks are near Lal’s chocolates.Recommend

  • Aneela Jameel

    @VOC yeah, I know about these 6 restaurants at/near Tariq Road but out of these 6 , only Yuan Tung and Little China are ‘probably’ upto standard otherwise I don’t find the food quality , taste and presentation impressive at remaining 4. Even in Yuan Tung, they sometimes mess up with one dish or the other. Little China is literally ‘little’ and privacy while dining is a big issue there. I personally don’t like going there.
    @Parvez, thanks. I will definitely try ” Ginsoy”.
    Any other recommendations?Recommend

  • Hardliner

    Man!! thats costly……….. Yousaf, you’ve been to Lahore.. am sure u know its much more expensive than the Lahori Chinese cuisines………Recommend

  • Aneela Jameel

    Well, this is really upto Yousuf to tell us what is his definition of a ‘decent meal’ otheriwise per person cost of PKR 1000-1500 plus tax sounds a bit expensive. Well , other than price I am more concerned about the ‘portion sizes’ . ARecommend

  • http://yousufbawany.wordpress.com Yousuf Bawany

    Dear Readers,

    Thank you for your honest feedback.

    @Honest: I agree! A bloggers’ meet-up is not someplace one should do a serious review as the owners are trying to set their best foot forward. I am, however, in the process of grooming myself into a serious restaurant/food critic and Food Connection Pakistan is as good a launch-pad as any.

    @Parvez: If you go from Do Talwar towards the Clifton License Office, you’ll see it on your left at No. 76, Clifton.

    @Fatir: Nobody’s perfect.

    @Tariq: Thanks for the Chairman Mao tip. I’ll have to check it out.

    @VOC: My personal favorites are Yuan Tung (Tariq Road) and Ginsoy (Kh-e-Shahbaz).

    @Hardliner: Dude, Lahore is my second home. Love it there!

    @Aneela: It’s a little steep for me too and that is why I pointed it out in my original review, along with other recommendations. http://wp.me/pQ6MO-Qo

    Thanks again and have a great day, y’all.

    Cheers,
    YousufRecommend

  • Hardliner

    @Yousuf Bawany:

    I saw Lantern’s pictures in your own blog……. the place looks exquisite………. just a little expensive though……… :-(Recommend

  • Parvez

    @Yousuf Bawany: Thanks Yousuf……………just where I thought it would be.Recommend

  • http://- Abid P. Khan

    I have a few points to make:

    Do the paper lamps hanging from the ceiling instead of using incandescent bulbs are they using LED?
    .
    How is all the heat generated from the lamps, taken care off?
    What is done about the fire hazard?
    .
    Are there some defined rules about the usage of material types, which ought be followed when an eating place is furnished/decorated?
    .
    How often does the dust, collected on myriads of lamps, is removed to maintain an acceptable standard of hygiene in the dining area?

    .Recommend

  • Clarus

    So if you are looking forward to take 20 people for dinner you are likely to end up paying PKR 30,000. ? That’s too much of a DENT.
    Yosuf Bhai suggest you rather give us few Chinese recipes and will cook same at home.

    And if you are really in a mood to dine out then I don’t see any rationality going to these so called fine restaurants who claim to be authentic etc and pay them exorbitant PKR 1500 per person while remaining unsatisfied. i will rather go to PC/MARRIOTT/AVARI/SHERATON.Recommend