With legends like Nirvana, Prince and The Beatles gracing the rustic wooden walls, a steel bike and sports gear hanging across it, TGI Fridays has the aura of an enticing, time warp. The cherry wood furnishing, brass handles and the old-world music playing in the background takes you on a trip back to the early ’90s when ‘Smells like Teen Spirit’ defined teenage existence. The 3D portrait of Times Square cleverly placed right next to a half-open kitchen further lends to the illusion of sitting in a bustling, rock-inspired diner in the middle of NYC. It’s charming in a good old Amercian way but what you see is just an illusion – an experience that fools you into believing in its superficial appeal.
TGI Fridays, recently reopened in Karachi (after a failed first stint a few years ago), was our first choice for a casual lunch with friends. Given its last failed attempt, we walked in, hoping that it would have resurfaced from its previous setback and emerged at par with its own international name as well as the many prime eateries that now dominate Karachi’s gastronomic scene. But sadly, it hasn’t!
We stepped into TGI Friday for a fun meal (incidentally also on a Friday) and therefore we ordered lavishly. For starters, our choices included signature Sesame Tennessee Strips and my personal favourite, Loaded Potato Skins. It was rather
disappointing to see them go wrong with a dish as simple as potato skins. We were served overcooked, rubbery-textured skins that needed a bit of struggle to tear apart, and a sour cream topping which did not lend any flavour to the under seasoned dish. That was our starter.
Moving on, the chicken strips glazed with a TGIF
special Tennessee sauce were still bearable. Slightly oily, the crispy batter offered a perfect crunch complementing the soft, tender chicken, which was cooked to perfection. However, it was the signature sauce itself that restricted the dish from being a winner. The BBQ Tennessee sauce is known to be slightly sweet in taste, but this one was far too sweet. The extra-large chunks of diced onions in the sauce were overwhelming and simply not appealing. In a nutshell, the taste of this appetizer was like a fake perfume that clings to your clothes, leaving an unpleasant aroma no matter how hard you try to get rid of it. This sauce left a similarly unpleasant aftertaste.
For the main course, we decided to go for something hearty and wholesome, which led to an order of Parmesan Crusted Chicken on a bed of thin spaghetti and Beef Bacon burger. Although the waiter very adamantly insisted upon the Tennessee Grilled Burger, the overdose of sauce in our starters was enough to
dissuade us. Unfortunately, as fate would have it, the main course was even more disappointing than the appetizers. The Parmesan Crusted Chicken barely had any sign of Parmesan cheese on top of it and if I may compare, then even KFC’s chicken has a more flavoursome crust than this one! The thin spaghetti, although assumingly cooked al dente, was almost close to chewy. As far as the
topping/dressing is concerned, normally you would expect a rich tomato sauce complementing the rather bland boiled spaghetti but clearly, TGIF prefers the unusual or better yet, bizarre. The heap of chopped tomatoes piled on top of the spaghetti made no sense whatsoever. The Beef Bacon Burger offered no solace either. The Angus beef tasted more like McDonald’s controversial ‘ammonia washed’ beef patty and the half-raw Turkey bacon, with visible meat fibers, was unappetizing but ‘apparently just how it is supposed to be served’, we were told.
The saving grace of the entire meal was the dessert – Brownie Obsession – but a brownie can hardly be the yardstick to judge a restaurant by. The dessert wasn’t something exceptional considering there is an abundance of brownie-based desserts in the market. However, keeping in mind the overall menu, the chef did complete justice to it. The slightly bitter hot fudge
brownie was served alongside an adequately sweet vanilla ice cream, garnished with a drizzle of caramel sauce.
Apart from a below- average menu and a heartwarming ambiance, TGIF offers an occasional live
performance to visitors – dancing waiters. Seeing the young men try and put their best foot forward with not-so flexible moves was engaging and amusing at the same time. The guys at the bar also jumped into the entertainment bandwagon by flaunting their almost-perfect juggling skills. While all that added to giving customers a memorable experience, one wishes they had tried to put more effort into their cooking than the choreography.
While the chef has been trained at TGI Fridays in Dubai, the corporation backing the Pakistani franchise has failed to meet international standards. Yes, it is clichéd to say that the world has become a global village but the fact remains that people these days are more exposed to the quality of food abroad, and if the expectations are not met, then the restaurant resorts to just being a local substandard eatery with a fancy international name. Having said that, tastes vary and for many TGI Fridays may just be able to offer some tantalizing food along with a delightful environment. But, we have our doubts!