Nestled in the bustling Badar Commercial Area, ironically right next to a DVD shop called Zapata, Z’apa: Zubaida Aapa’s Kitchenette isn’t as noticeable amongst a host of scrubby grocery stores as Café Blue Ginger was on Zamzama (a desi spinoff on café culture, Café Blue Ginger was owned by Apa’s son). Once inside the eatery, it’s a simple place with no novelty in terms of décor. Wiped down wooden tables, rustic lanterns with bare illumination, rough-hewn textured walls and a sizeable-framed portrait of none other than Zubaida Aapa herself, sums up the interior.
To be fair, it is best to leave personal opinions of the cooking show host and her recent tryst with a whitening soap at the door before stepping in. Also put all first impressions of the unimpressive interior aside, and allow opinions to form over the cuisine itself. After all, Al Haj Bundu Khan may not be the most exquisite place to eat at, but it serves some of the most heavenly kebabs in town. Z’apa deserved the benefit of doubt too, and that’s the attitude that one walked in with.
The question is, does Z’apa justify Zubaida Tariq’s culinary expertise and decades of experience with cooking?
The carte du jour menu is modest and offers an assortment of desi delights in affordable prices and that is one of the plus points of dining there. Despite ordering quite liberally, our bill netted to a bare total, delighting us to no end. But that pleasure only came right at the end of the meal.
Starting with the slightly bitter and overcooked but still palatable Tarka Dahi Baray, we were served one surprise after another – unfortunately not all surprises were pleasant. From the chewy and bland Dam Ke Pasande to the peculiarly grey-toned Chicken Makhni, most of the food was disappointing. Coming from a culinary extraordinaire (that is the expectation one visits with), we were surprised to see the place go wrong with something as simple as Kulchas, which were first served unusually thin and later cold, with hard lumps of butter on them.
Kacche Gosht Ki Biryani, dare we say, remained uncomfortably true to its title with the raw yoghurt-based masala cluttered underneath a pile of flavourless, coloured rice. Since the Butter Chicken had to be returned for its unappetizing demeanor, the waiter was kind enough to recommend Afghani Chicken Karahi. The Afghani Chicken Karahi at Z’apa was surely one of the better of its kind.
Nevertheless, most of the food we ordered and were served challenged our taste buds and emerged as poor reflections on the ‘masterchef’s’ skills. Upon enquiry we learnt that Zubaida Aapa herself had very little to do with the restaurant and its service. Owned by a foreign investor, Z’apa only borrowed Zubaida Aapa’s name, engaging her as a brand ambassador. Like the whitening soap, this was another case of a collaboration gone wrong.
Considering that Zubaida Tariq has an immense following on television, it is not wise of her to collaborate on projects that do not complement her image. Zubaida Aapa has become a household name with her herbal wonders and totkas, however we can’t foresee the same merits or acclaim for this restaurant. Zubaida Aapa has more than 4000 episodes of desi recipes and handy tips behind her but we wonder which one of the countless totkas can help salvage her reputation that is at serious risk with this restaurant.