Eating out in Lahore may be giving you the heebie-jeebies these days but there are still some joints that have won a ‘clean chit’ of approval from the PFA
Getting a clean chit is no mean feat, especially if you happen to be a restaurant owner in Lahore these days. With the Punjab Food Authority (PFA) carrying out raids on eateries across the city to gauge their standard of hygiene and quality, fines are being slapped on even the fanciest places in town. And with photos of offending kitchens finding their way to the PFA’s social media pages, even a die-hard foodie would swear off dining out if the present state of affairs continues. Unofficial figures and casual conversations with those in the hospitality industry suggest that restaurant attendance has declined by as much as 50 per cent, with diners becoming increasingly aware of hygiene and health standards.
Not all hope is lost however. While it seems that even five-star hotels and international chains are lax when it comes to providing quality food, there are a handful of eateries around town that have managed to get the PFA’s stamp of approval. A couple of joints were fined nominal amounts for small transgressions but overall, these are the five cleanest kitchens that one is likely to find in Lahore.
The primarily Thai restaurant located in a quiet street off Lahore’s busy MM Alam Road has consistently won over customers with its impeccable service and tasty food. Kamran Afzal, the owner, prides himself for running one of the most professional kitchens in the country’s restaurant industry. "We at Opium are very particular about hygiene and cleanliness and have standard operating procedures in place at all levels and departments," he explained. "From the personal hygiene of the staff, who are provided lockers and showering facilities, to the correct storage of food items to the purchase of products from approved vendors, systems are in place throughout the production chain to ensure the highest levels of quality."
While the PFA’s team lauded the kitchen as being exceptionally clean, Kamran says they were imposed a fine of PKR 14,000 (one of the lowest given to any restaurant). "We were fined because one tray in the freezer was tilted, which they called ‘improper storage’ and because they saw two over-ripe capsicum in the store, which were going to be discarded in any case." While the inspection team only pointed out the negative on their website and failed to highlight the positive, Kamran says they have become extra cautious and activities are monitored even more closely.
Café Barbera is probably one of the very few eateries that has not been fined nor closed down. Sharjil Alam, owner of the café, calls hygiene and cleanliness the most important aspects in running a restaurant along with food quality. "Every customer would want to trust a restaurant that has passed the health and sanitation standards, so keeping our place clean is the key to the success in our business. We are an international chain and our reputation is very dear to us," he said. With its focus on Italian food and great coffee, it’s no wonder the café is fast emerging as a favourite in Lahore’s ever-expanding restaurant scene.
With a menu offering continental and Thai treats as well as a choice of some truly mouth-watering desserts, Arcadian Café is a popular choice with those looking for a variety of flavours in their meals. What’s given the restaurant a boost recently is it’s clean chit from the PFA. Owner Imran Ellahi says he is committed to cleanliness so much so that the restaurant has recently hired a designated food safety officer. "His sole job is to manage and take stock of all food supplies. Before operations commence, he has to make a comprehensive inspection of the kitchen area, also going through the fruits and vegetables stockpile and discarding any spoiled items. Separate cutting boards are used for different meat and vegetable products to avoid cross contamination. Only the finest quality ingredients are allowed to be used in the food that is prepared," Ellahi explained.
In the near future they will be placing dish sterilizers in the kitchen to completely eliminate any human errors in washing.
The small, unassuming burger joint in Johar Town won over burger lovers for its juicy grilled beef patties and delicious fries, and it seems it won the PFA over with its emphasis on quality also. Owner Saail Niazi says it was no small feat to get a thumbs up from the food inspection team, especially for a relatively small set up such as Howdy’s. "Personal hygiene and cleanliness are our key organizational values and we are keenly focused on them from top management to the bottom."
The newly established café set up by China Town is packed these day and their all-day breakfast, featuring specialties such as the Shakshuka (skillet-cooked eggs) the Nutella French Toast are earning rave reviews from food enthusiasts. If you have been hesitant to try out the new place, let us put your fears at ease: Jade Café has escaped the imposition of fines by the PFA. "We did ISO 22000 implementation at our Islamabad outlet almost 4 years ago, which was related to hygiene in commercial kitchens," says owner Tahir Yasin. "We have been following those practices ever since and one key to our success is a low kitchen staff turnover. Our investment in our staff pays back in terms of best practices and while we do our best to follow ISO standards, we use basic common sense more than anything and that is key to our success."