While their culture may be poles apart, Pakistanis seem to have an odd admiration for Chinese food. Or so they’d like to think especially for the ‘desi’ version of Chinese food - Chicken Manchurian, Kung Pao Fish, Beef Chili Dry et al. This is precisely where there is a surge in the number of Chinese, Thai and Asian fusion restaurants in the capital lately.
After all, Pan Asian cuisine is delicious and great comfort food while giving us a break from burger joints, American cuisine and places that serve monotonous deli items. Moreover, it seems like people are increasingly heading over to Pan Asian restaurants to develop taste and flavor for Asian delicacies, which is expanding food choices for everyone as well.
The latest Pan Asian restaurant that has taken the capital by storm (and for good reason) is Asian Wok. Hidden in the basement of Beverly Center in Islamabad, Asian Wok promises an experience from the moment you step in. The fact that the restaurant is owned and run by the Monal group raises one’s expectations but they really lives up to those expectations too.
For starters, the décor is stunning. You enter the space and it is inevitable to see the effort that went into planning the design, aesthetics, furniture, color combinations, influence of Asian culture, cherry blossoms and the perfect lighting.
Guests are served a complimentary mint margarita and crackers when they place their order to enjoy/pass the time until their food arrives. Food is served within 15 to 20 minutes depending on how busy the restaurant is at the time. We decided to skip on soup and save our appetite for the real deal. From the appetizer menu, we tried the Sesame Honey Chili Chicken and the Stuffed Chili Prawns. Both the dishes stood out in their taste and left us craving for more. The sesame honey chili chicken is a variation of sesame honey wings but lesser the mess - it has batter-fried chicken tossed in honey sauce and topped with sesame seeds. While I personally wanted to try the dynamite prawns, my friend suggested to opt for something different so we opted for the stuffed chili prawns, which were hand chopped prawns seasoned with interesting Chinese spices and stuffed in green chilies. The sesame toast and fried wontons seemed interesting and will be devoured on my next trip, as I wanted to keep space for the main dishes too.
Among the mains, we tried the safe and simple Chicken Manchurian, Chicken in Hot Garlic Sauce, Mongolian Chicken and the Szechuan Fish. I was utterly disappointed by the Chicken Manchurian; it seemed bland and a little too orange but the rest of the main courses made up for it. Chicken in Hot Garlic Sauce was a breathe of fresh air, which had stir fried chicken with onions, green chilies, capsicum, red carrots flavored in an interestingly spicy garlic sauce. The blend of all this made for a very tangy and unique flavor that all of us enjoyed. Mongolian Chicken was a similar blend of ingredients with beet sprouts in an entirely different sauce and Mongolian spices. Again, appetizing and a treat for the taste buds. We skipped on the prawns because we had them in appetizers but Asian Wok serves a wide variety of prawns for main courses as well. Among the seafood options, the Szechuan Fish was delicious - stir fried fish with dry red chilies and traditional vegetables in Chinese dishes glazed in a delectable Szechuan sauce.
My taste buds and gut couldn’t have been happier. But that’s when I found out that Asian Wok also does some delicious desserts as well. By the time we finished our meal, I had messed up with my healthy eating regime to the extent of no turning back at least for the day. So we decided to indulge some more. They serve only four desserts but it seems like they really know the market and have hit the nail on the head with the options. They serve Caramel Custard, Cookie Dough and Ice-cream, Bread and Butter Pudding and Molten Lava Cake. Basically, they serve something for the grandma, something for the parents, and something for us and something for children - catering to all demographics with four options. We tried the Molten Lava Cake and the Bread Pudding and both looked so beautiful that touching them felt like destroying pieces of art. They tasted just as good and the inner child in me is still upset I didn’t get to taste the Cookie Dough with ice-cream but it looks like another round is needed.
To ensure you have a great end to your experience, Asian Wok served a complimentary and delicious cup of green tea, which shows the effort they put into making your experience memorable. They also serve a diverse menu of Thai cuisine, which is going to be a story for another time. Till then, I’d suggest you to try Asian Wok for its Chinese. If you haven’t yet, you’re missing out.