There’s a door, like Narnia and it’s so exciting to get to where it is. It’s an experience you could never get in any other city of Pakistan because it requires, no, demands the warmth of Lahori Punjabis. The owners of the restaurant with the blue door have tapped into exactly that; the fact that Lahoris will always be ready for an open and warm conversation.
It’s not easy to get a seat at the restaurant, ‘The Blue Door Super Club’. I came across them on Instagram and after inquiring about it from a friend who had recently gone, messaged the owner, Unum. She replied to my inquiry about a reservation with a hint of energy and bubble.
I got a reservation for four, paid half in advance, and we took the long trek out to the restaurant. The boonies of Lahore always has an air of mystery and with Google Maps having a tough time finding the restaurant, the whole experience became even more intruiging.
I was apprehensive though – so much mystery could be the gimmick that made up for the lack of good food.
I saw the menu beforehand and was bemused. So Punjabi to do a menu that was Mexican but also Korean but this one had a flair and the sound of actual, honest fusion. It looked and sounded comforting, not pretentious, and I wondered how well it would do in Lahore, where one would only pay 5000 rupees for a plate of overrated sushi.
We got to the restaurant and expected to be seated at our table of four. Except it was a long, singular table of 12. Oh great, I thought. There’s a single table, people I don’t know, and they’ve already chosen our spots for us. This is going to be an experience I might not want to have.
The property was large, the restaurant small and cosy. The kitchen was small and the chefs, Unum and her husband Ali, came out to greet us. It quite literally felt like we had walked into someone’s home for Thanksgiving dinner and there were a lot of ‘relatives’ coming.
But like a cold winter night, when its time to get warm, there is a soft and tender warmth that starts to surround you. It started from the warm way Ali and Unum greeted us, and extended to the true Punjabi warmth of everyone getting together to sit at the table. A girl, who later became the life of the party, came and hugged us, exclaiming about how it was so lovely to meet new people. It was warmth, connection and conversation. Everything you expect from a dinner you will never forget.
We were seated and the five course menu began with a prawn and garlic appetizer served on a homemade corn tostada. Giant prawns, seared to perfection, perfectly seasoned, it crunched with freshness , with hints of citrus. But what made it explode with flavour was the lemon chilli salt and the green chilli sauce. My God, what a sauce.
The kitchen was her grandmother’s room, explains Unum as she comes to chat between courses. Her nani was the one who taught her to cook, and as Unum spoke, her voice was full of memories of flavour. Which is what usually happens when one loves food and remembers who taught them their passion. Unum learnt hers and it is most likely what’s driving her to follow her memories.
By the time the chicken soup came along, the conversation was in full swing. A couple married for eleven years, one about to get married, everyone started exchanging stories. It was so swinging that we forgot to take pictures of it. There’s nothing better than a homemade bone broth, crispy tortillas floating in a soup with heart. The soup was finished in what felt like seconds as the conversation with strangers warmed into being a conversation with friends.
The fancy samosa that Mexicans call Empanadas was served next with a rocket and cucumber salad. The empanada was basic, which is something I didn’t expect. It lacked flavour but it was bound to, since it required heavy seasoning for the organic chicken and potato to surrender their blandness. A good dose of the saviour chilli sauce elevated it, but here began the downfall.
The conversation never wavered, and sometimes all twelve people listened to one person talk about a life story. Bursts of laughter, waves of silent listening, the conversation was the star. From chefs, to businesspersons, bureaucrats, homemakers and journalists, it was as if Unum and Ali had a secret sauce of mixing the right people. The food didn’t have to be good anymore. No music was needed. The hum of different life stories took over and never stopped.
I ordered the Korean Chicken Taco, my partner, the Slow Cooked Beef. Having tried to perfect Korean Chicken, I was looking forward to this main course since it is not as easy as it looks. The handmade tortilla was perfection, the Korean Chicken left me wanting. The chicken pieces were crispy – a bit too crispy. They needed more meat and a lot more zing. The Pakistani palette loves spices, mixes of flavor which is why when a dish requires a tablespoon of sauce, add another two and you’ve got the Pakistani feel down. The chilli sauce. Yes. It came back on my plate and added another dimension.
The Slow Cooked Beef was having an off day as well. I had heard smashing reviews of the beef, with its chipotle aioli and roasted tomato salsa. It was meant to be slow cooked taco heaven. But again, lacked in flavor.
They started as chefs when they missed home living in England. Just like every nostalgic Pakistani, who goes abroad, braves the cold, carries their groceries and walks home to a place that doesn’t smell like ami kay haath ka khaana, they started making desi food for their friends and their friends for them. It happens to most of us.
When we make our first daal with our mothers on the phone giving directions on how to do it and then slowly progress to biryani with masala mixes, or from scratch. It’s almost a right of passage, and Unum and Ali had the courage to take it forward and do what they love.
Its apparent in the way they talk about their food. It sings in their dessert, a caramel flan with a chocolate cake base.
The flan was creamy and joyous, the chocolate cake a tad dry. The two fought each other, the chocolate and the caramel vanilla flan, refusing to marry but forced on top of the other. I enjoyed every single bite of the flan, small savoring bites that didn’t last long enough.
The Blue Door is starting brunch soon and is already booked out from what I hear. Not surprised. As we left, spending more than three hours at the restaurant, we exchanged numbers, promising to meet again and following each other on Instagram. It was the beginning of new friendships and as the tinkling and clatter of plates and cutlery being collected faded, it felt like the end of a meal we would all remember. It’s a magical place, The Blue Door, its fairy dust being the coming together of people being served food that’s grown and cooked with love.
Follow them on Instagram at @thebluedoorsc