Puppet art, live qawwali; and food, of course

February 05, 2023

As Peeru’s café opens its second branch in Lahore, this time at a prime location, fans and food lovers are overjoyed

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Vibrant colours, stunning ceiling art, exotic lanterns, and an overall upbeat ambience are just some of the highlights of the place. — Image: Lotus PR

You don’t visit Peeru’s café only to grab a bite to eat. You go there to experience live music, be enthralled by the art that warmly greets you the moment you step in, and relive your childhood memories by revelling in the excellent puppetry for which the café is well known. At Peeru’s, nostalgia often takes centre stage, reminding us that sometimes it’s good to look back.

The café, owned by the legendary Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop, recently opened its second branch in the heart of Lahore, at the CSD Mall, Cavalry Ground. This was great news for fans of the café who would frequent their flagship outlet — also their maiden branch — on Raiwind Road, since it opened in 2007, regardless of the distance.

Peeru’s has always been known for its vibrant colours, stunning ceiling art, exotic lanterns, soothing music and overall upbeat ambience, an element of childlike happiness that engulfs you the minute you walk in. Their latest branch is no exception.

Peeru’s has been known for its vibrant colours and stunning ceiling art.

I visit the CSD branch on a particularly chilly January evening when all you might desire is to curl up on your couch at home with a good book in hand and a steamy cup of tea. But these things can wait.

It’s a rooftop setup. So, as I take the elevator to reach the café, a familiar whiff of smoke from the grill inside the café kitchen fills my senses. On the left, a wall catches my eye, covered in clippings of events and shows that have taken place at the flagship branch since its opening.

Wall covered in clippings.

A quick glance is enough for me to appreciate the work Peeru’s has done to promote art and culture in the city. As I approach the café, I see two towering puppets sitting side by side, welcoming me with a smile.

All the seats are taken as it is a qawwali night at the café. As I get seated, I watch the signature puppet show come to a close and the stage being set for the highly anticipated qawwals, who are set to perform precisely at 8:30pm, as mentioned in the programme. This is always promising.

Looking at the menu, I can already tell I’m in for a treat. After all, it’s hard to go wrong with a list that kicks off with classics like Mulligatawny soup, Chicken Patiala Handi and Chicken Rajasthani Handi.

I begin my meal with the warm and comforting cream of mushroom soup, a savoury blend of rich chicken broth and tender mushrooms, deliciously cooked in a creamy sauce.

The warm and comforting cream of mushroom soup.

Next, I delve into the classic fish and chips. The fish has been expertly battered and fried to a golden crisp, providing a satisfying crunch in every bite; the fluffy chips on the side balance the dish perfectly. The tangy sauce adds an extra flavour.

From the poultry side of the menu comes the Personal Barbecue Platter, featuring succulent kebabs, tender tikka and juicy boti. Each bite from the platter is a true sensory delight. The meat has been marinated just right and grilled perfectly to create a scrumptious mix of smoky and spicy flavours that leave me longing for more.

The Personal Barbecue Platter features succulent kebabs, tender tikka and juicy boti.

Peeru’s has stayed committed to traditional recipes all these years, showcasing its confidence in its menu. The café, which describes itself as a place “where food meets art,” truly lives up to its promise by delivering delicious food and artful surroundings.

As a lover of steaks, I understand the appeal of a juicy and flavourful beef steak. However, I suggest the Chicken Mushroom Steak at this café. The meat is incredibly tender and juicy, with a subtle hint of garlic and herbs enhancing its flavours. The rich mushroom sauce pairs perfectly with the steak, served with an assortment of fresh sautéed vegetables on the side.

The Moroccan Chicken comes with a masterful blend of exotic spices, creating a bold, aromatic flavour. Cumin, paprika, ginger, cinnamon and turmeric come together harmoniously to form a symphony of flavours that will tantalise your taste buds. The chicken is juicy and moist, cooked to perfection. The accompanying sautéed vegetables provide depth to the dish, making this meal an unforgettable dining experience.

Moroccan chicken.

As a tea enthusiast, I only leave an eatery after indulging myself with a warm cup. It’s almost a tradition for me. So, at the new Peeru’s branch, I try their famous masala chai. Voila! The beverage doesn’t disappoint at all. The delicate balance of ginger, cardamom, cinnamon and cloves create the perfect tantalising flavour, precisely what I need at the hour of the night.

I conclude the evening with the much-loved Gajar ka Halwa, the quintessential winter dessert. Made with grated carrots simmered in milk, sugar and ghee, this comforting traditional treat can satisfy even the most indulgent of cravings. Crushed cardamom and nuts provide a delightful crunch, adding a layer of flavour that elevates the whole experience. Overall the dessert has just the right amount of sweetness, which is quite refreshing.

Gajar ka halwa.

The dessert selection of the café is somewhat limited, which can be quite disappointing, but perhaps the café intends to focus on quality rather than quantity. The delicious main course will compensate for it.

The food is delicious at the café, but the main star of the night is, hands down, the live qawwali performance with Mehboob Farid Qawwal, a genuinely delightful experience. The qawwals’ musicianship is flawless, which makes the atmosphere electric and captivates the crowd with their dynamic energy and enthusiasm. According to one of the owners, Sadaan Peerzada, the café aims to “promote artists and provide a safe space for the artistic community and its patrons to enjoy music as well as hone their talents, through weekly musical nights and puppet shows. Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop has been promoting, preserving and celebrating the performing arts in Pakistan since the ’70s.”

The live qawwali performance with Mehboob Farid Qawwal.

A thriving live music scene can be phenomenal in bringing people together. So, do experience the magic of live qawwali if you have the chance, and enjoy your food with it while you’re at it.

An absolute treat for the senses, Peeru’s new branch is a fine addition to Lahore’s eateries. The portions are perfect, the atmosphere is breezy, the bill doesn’t give you a heart attack and you get to enjoy live music — not much left to complain about. When you go to Peeru’s, order a Barbeque Platter and perhaps a Mint Margherita. You’ll be well-fed and have amused yourself with a bit of art along the way. Win-win, if you ask me.

The writer is a staff member. She tweets wajihahyder

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