While making the drive down the crowded road leading to Allama Iqbal Park, where ‘The Poet’, a restaurant inaugurated just two months ago, is located, I wondered what to expect from a place of that name. A cozy café with pictures of Iqbal and verses of his poetry adorning the walls? A Faiz Ahmed Faiz lookalike doorman?
Of course, upon arriving I found this was not the case — but I was not disappointed either.
While the large, lavish restaurant festooned with bright fairy lights was itself impossible to miss, it took some searching to identify any hints of its name. After walking through the ‘Gilgit Baltistan’ entrance of the restaurant and being seated by smiling waiters, we were entertained by a violinist and flutist playing traditional Punjabi tunes. As our menus arrived, the ‘poet’ theme became visible, with verses inscribed on their cover as well as on plaques inside the inner hall.
Though our seating did not allow for a view of much other than the parking lot, the restaurant’s rooftop offers picturesque views of the Minar-e-Pakistan and the elaborately landscaped park that surrounds it. However, in comparison to nearby restaurants such as Haveli or Andaaz that offer superior vantage points as well as décor that is more stylish than the somewhat confused eastern-western fusion of The Poet, there is nothing particularly breathtaking about it.
One thing that sets The Poet apart from other restaurants is the immersive experience it claims to offer. Visitors are entitled to a free ride in a golf cart, lit with neon pink and green, to the nearby dancing fountains illuminated in rainbow colours. This is indeed a unique addition to the usual dining experience — but the fact that the fountains are at some distance from the restaurant itself means you cannot enjoy the view while savouring your dessert or one of their salads.
Most important, of course, is the food itself. After some squinting — the atmospheric, dim lighting meant the decorative menus (and high prices!) were difficult to distinguish — we ordered, and were served quickly. The malai boti was beautifully spiced and perfectly grilled. However, it was not necessarily far superior to the items served at other popular eating places across Lahore.
I found the mutton kabab to be slightly over-spiced and not as succulent as the best in town. The reshmi kabab too was average, while the ashkoi kabab, green peppers stuffed with various spices and wrapped with meat, was delicious but a little too fiery for me to fully enjoy — particularly since the restaurant was able to serve only water of dubious quality, which I had hence forgone. The mint raita helped but perhaps not enough. The roghni naan and leavened warqi parathas were good in quality, but then again offered nothing especially unique. The menu offered a variety of items divided into sections such as ‘ibtada’, and ‘jheemi anch je’ — poetic indeed.
Overall, much could have been done with this restaurant and its setting had a stronger theme built around Allama Iqbal or other poets been more thoughtfully constructed. Perhaps old photographs, framed pages from his books, verses written out in calligraphy or other small touches which make all the difference when it comes to the ambiance of a restaurant could have been added on. The chandeliers (which swayed dangerously in the wind of the strong air conditioner) only added to the curious lack of theme which neither fitted in to an ethnic mould or a more modern, chic style. It is unlikely I would visit the restaurant again, given the location and the cost of the food, though the unique setting does make it stand out in that particular locality. For three people, it cost just under Rs. 5,000.