Naila Naqvi's revamped ambition is admirable for its homely, focused cooking.
Without a doubt, one word that describes Karachi’s public best is ‘foodie’ – ever ready and enthusiastic to try out the new and trendy. Perhaps this is why the city’s recent gastronomic venture, Café Chatterbox, was throbbing with food fanatics at 7:30pm, on a weekday, despite its odd location on the secluded end of Bukhari commercial.
The Café Chatterbox we know has been tucked away in one of Zamzama’s busy commercial lanes, fitted as a brasserie inside owner Naila Naqvi’s debut culinary business, Pie in the Sky, for years now. However, apart from the name, everything about the new and ‘remodeled’ branch is fresh, original and unchartered.
Built on two levels including a basement, Café Chatterbox is humble and modest in all its glory. There is no overt contemporariness or desperation to stand out amidst competition with the grandiose of plush chairs or the flamboyance of neon tabletops. It’s a rustic, country wooden shack, welcoming with its heart-warming attention to detail – like it was made with tender loving care.
Brick walls, antique art, varied seating and warm varnishes – the café gives you a real-life visual of your dream home away from home, if not for the city slickers than definitely for those looking to retire in calm and peace. The quirky mural downstairs, which unlike the one in Café Cosmopolitan, makes no sense at a glance but is a witty response to the growing trend and reinstates the fact that it is very much part of an urban, fashion-directed city. There is also a personal touch with a stand of cutlery on each table unlike the usual, mannered settings. Finally, the owner stays true to her roots by adding a small but significant dessert and pastry counter at one corner of the café.
Indeed, no matter how much you garnish, it always comes down to the basics and in an eatery’s case it’s the food.
Chatterbox’ essence: Small plates, small plates and small plates. The serving size in the café may throw you off. However, it makes up for the portion frustration with variety and taste. In fact, for a place like Café Chatterbox, where fine dining meets café culture, the trendy ‘small plates’ are bang on the money. You’ll enjoy it, love it and remember it despite the ‘bite size’, unlike a giant steak or a pasta dish for two, and it will cost you nothing more than a few hundred bucks. Even the most expensive dish at Chatterbox costs a little under 1000 rupees and that’s surely a surprise in our metropolis where a 1000 is worth almost a 100.
The good value comes across more in its unpretentious, homely and confident cooking. Confident why? Because not everybody would love a fried-egg sitting on top of their rice bowl but they do it and they nail it. The Rice Bowl with Spicy Beef is a dish rarely seen in the city’s evolving gastronomic scene and tastes lovely. The garlic rice is sticky, though a little oilier than required, the pickles lend a complementing flavour, the egg is enticing and the beef – dangerously spicy, such that it will tickle the fancy of all spice lovers but may leave the faint-hearted running for a glass full of water.
The Baked Manicotti with Spinach is a vegetarian’s delight. The balanced marinara sauce is a welcome change from the many bland ones available in the market and the spinach and ricotta filling simply melts away in one’s mouth. The crepes, however, are a tad thicker than they need to be, bordering on chewy.
A basket of full of crispy nachos, not-so-sourly sour cream and an almost on the mark salsa along with chili garlic prawns, cooked to perfection, made for a mixed bag of starters. The desserts, however, are a cause to marvel. The nutty flavour of the flourless Almond and Chocolate Torte is something you want to wake up to and the soft, fluffy Caramel Budino, with the Oreo base, salted caramel, whipped cream and tempered chocolate spoon, is what you will happily indulge in right before going to bed to a night full of sweet dreams.
With their high level of presentation, down-to-earth cooking and courteous service, the team at Chatterbox is onto something special.
However, having said everything in favour of this new ambition, Café Chatterbox still has a long road ahead of it. While some plates look pretty, not every savoury plate with a fried-egg as garnish will make an impact. More than the presentation, it’s the consistency that matters in the long run and this is where the challenge lies for Chatterbox for it not only has to maintain their current venture but also renew it’s initial one to meet the standards set.
What works for Chatterbox is its food, what doesn’t is the location. With street crime on a manic high, families and couples may not be so comfortable heading to the quiet of Bukhari commercial in later hours. Until the area makes it to the list of hot spot hang outs in the city, Café Chatterbox will have to consistently offer quality and great taste to keep the place rolling.