Islamabad - Little do the foodies at Mastana know that the eatery located in Emporium Mall Lahore or The Centaurus Mall Islamabad derives its concept from a small walled city in inner Lahore known as Garhi Shahhu. Mastana, to me, is the definition of a person who is easy going. This person is happy in any bourgeois or elite gathering.

“He enjoys nine-course meal as well as Chai Paratha,” says the manager of the eatery.

Mastana has, in a very short span of time, managed to carve a niche amongst its aficionados who frequent the place every now and then. The table mats at Mastana imprint a sketch of a man in an orange Turban and a black mustache, reminding many of Colonel Harland Sanders, of KFC fame. Although the eatery is housed in the Food court on the 4th floor at Centaurus Mall, the place is reminiscent of Garhi Shahu. Charpais, jute chairs, stools made of cane material and the hangings on the brick walls embark guests on a journey into the past.

Due to its limited seating capacity, Mastana offers quick deals instead of fine dining meals. Deal 1 to Deal 4 can fill up a single person’s appetite, and Deal 4 to 6 is good for two persons. Deal 7 and Deal 8 is more than enough to satisfy a group of 4 people. The greater the deal number, the heavier it is on the wallet. The first deal starts at Rs 420 and the ends at Rs1900. Deal number 8 is a particularly good bargain because it will cost Rs500 per head and easily feed four hungry bellies.

The menu at Mastana caters to all and sundry. Chicken or Beef Seekh Kebab, Chicken Achari Boti, Mutton Zafrani Qorma, Palak Paneer, Murg Pulao, Malai Boti Paratha Roll, Nan or Roti or Paratha, salad and Raita and to wash down the gastronomical pipes. Along with that, four glasses of delicious Nimbu Pani is an added delight. Incredible in taste, and generous in serving; what more could one ask for.

Contrary to the restaurant manager’s opinion that Mali Boti is the most popular item on the menu, Achari Boti proved to be an all-time favorite. Tender to the bone and marinated just right, the best thing about the Achari Boti was the absence of the strong Achari aroma. Malai Boti, on the other hand, was bland and required a little more of black pepper seasoning.

Palak Paneer was well cooked, nicely textured and well balanced in terms of spice. However, if the chef had used Cottage cheese cubes instead of Mozzarella, the dish would have stayed true to its tradition. Mutton Zafrani Qorma too tasted like Mutton Karahi, thus missing the Qorma element in it. However, the meat portion was more than enough and the tender mutton cubes swimming in thick gravy sauce tasted divine. To compliment the dish, piping hot Naan right out the tandoor, made for a great culinary experience. Tomato puree, cardamoms, saffron and yogurt cooked for the right amount of time oozed out the flavors of the dish.

Haleem at Mastana didn’t secure high marks. It was rather your word against mine. Chef Zeeshan prefers to blend the barley, the lentils, and the wheat into a thick paste along with the boneless chicken. I, on the other hand, would argue that when the Haleem is blended till it loses its texture, it loses its identity. It is reduced then to any one of your favorite daals. After digging into the dish, its daal-like taste is something we all agreed upon.

The height of delight at Mastana is, without a doubt, the Shakkar Paratha Roll with Karak Chai. Melted brown sugar rolled in a thinly layered wheat paratha wrapped in a butter paper with a hot cup of Karak tea, was too good to be true. Every bite of the Shakkar Paratha roll was a treat in itself. On a rainy day during chilly Islamabad winter, as clouds hover over the Margalla hills, Mastana’s Karak chai and shakkar roll paratha is nothing less than a slice of heaven.

–The writer is a freelancer


a b khan