With temperatures suddenly plummeting into single digits and the thick, heavy Lahore fog rolling in, enveloping and obscuring everything as if displacing time and space,
I decided to revisit Polo Lounge, one of Lahore’s fine dining restaurants, which also offers a one-of-a-kind experience of a city from a bygone era.
Away from the hustle and bustle of the usual M M Alam Road eateries and the chaotic albeit lovely cacophony of endless street food options, the approach to Polo Lounge is grand, green and serene as it lies in the middle of Lahore’s historic Polo Club, one of the oldest clubs in the world. As you drive towards the restaurant, surrounded by two full size polo grounds, with the finest horses on any given day in full view, – or, running wild in your imagination, at full gallop and jockeys in traditional polo attire jockeying away, swinging at a little white ball – it is easy to lose yourself in nostalgia for an old Lahore from the colonial era. If there is a polo match on and/or you’re in the mood to brave the dipping temperatures, lovely outdoor seating is available, but we headed indoors. Upon entering, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the interior had been refurbished however retaining its tasteful balance of the classical and the modern. The tables were nicely spread out, providing guests with privacy yet still exuding a cosy feel. An old wood burning fireplace adds to the warmth and you’re surrounded by historic photographs and some outstanding modern art — a look and feel that has helped elevate the restaurant to one of Lahore’s premier eateries.
Greeted at the entrance by a wonderful ornate blackboard with a classical wooden gold gilded frame laying out the Chef’s Specials, which I had heard so much about, had my mouth watering. The maître d’ greeted us warmly, led us to our table and brought us menus with a rich velvet cover embossed with the unique Polo Lounge logo. The menu itself is perfectly balanced, simple yet covering all the dishes you would find at any great fine dining restaurant. The prices are slightly on the higher side, but in accord with the gourmet offerings. Given the chilly weather I was particularly looking forward to the soup and eager to try the ‘Aromatic Vietnamese Fish’ and ‘Prawn Soup’ but was disappointed to learn that it was not available. Not easily deterred on food missions,
I ordered the ‘Exotic Mushroom Soup’ and was happy to find the mushrooms fresh and rich in flavour. However, the broth was disappointing; it lacked the depth of flavour that would have made it a great soup. For the appetiser I went for my all-time favourite ‘Salt and Pepper Squid’. I was expecting the typical calamari starter, battered squid rings that are served throughout the city, but to my pleasant surprise it was far from the typical fare; an exquisite Thai-influenced dish, fresh squid cooked to perfection, served with the typical Thai vinegar dip of shallots, green and red chillies, ginger and garlic, adding to ethnic authenticity Perfect for a winter appetiser, it reminded me of a squid dish I had at the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok that I have never found anywhere else. I would return to the Polo Lounge at the drop of a hat just for this starter alone; hats off to the chef for this superb appetiser!
Another starter we ordered from the Chef’s Menu was the ‘Winters Salad’. It was a perfect medley of fresh green organic vegetables topped with a delightful light dressing – olive oil with a hint of balsamic vinegar, lemon, garlic and chilli flakes – a perfect balance of sweet, sour and chilli. The freshness and quality of the vegetables was a real treat, all crisp and delectable, the broccoli florets particularly were the perfect size and perfectly seasoned with a bit of bite. The addition of simple grilled herb chicken helped make the salad a possibly complete meal.
Well, for someone with less of an appetite than mine. We chose two entrées from the Chefs Special Menu and one from the main menu. I personally love steak and it is what I would have usually ordered, but with the weather and the temptation of a side of herbed risotto I went with the chef’s special, ‘Peppered Red Snapper on Bed of Herb Risotto and Wild Mushrooms’. The size of the serving was a pleasant surprise; I simply love to eat, quality complemented by quantity, and fine dining places tend towards minimalism. The serving was beautifully presented with the perfect balance and harmony and I couldn’t wait to dig in.
The fish was the real star of the dish – a beautifully spiced and grilled snapper cooked to perfection – but the cast of accompaniments did challenge its top billing in the plate. I have usually been disappointed by risotto served in Pakistan, but this bed of herbed risotto was drenched full of flavour and, thankfully, the rice was still al dente; you could tell it had been slow-cooked with love as it was perfectly infused with the broth, the exotic mushrooms blending in seamlessly. It was served with stir fry vegetables and a surprise side of potato dauphinoise, a pleasant addition as it was not mentioned in the menu. A sign of a good restaurant for me is when the dish delivers more than what is described in the menu. I recommend that Lahore foodies and visitors alike add this dish to their must-try list this winter.
The ‘Mediterranean Chicken’ entrée, also part of the Chef’s Special Menu, was recommended by the waiter. He was quick to inform us that the chicken was free-range, and the quality of the meat was immediately apparent – a far cry from the unfortunate broilers that are sadly staple fare. The chicken was spiced beautifully and served with a light sauce full of authentic harmonious Mediterranean flavours, including sun dried tomatoes, capers and artichoke heart. Our third entrée was ‘Steak with Mustard Sauce’. My (illustrious) guest ordered the steak well-done; I like my steaks medium-rare, so it was hard for me to judge exactly but the quality of the meat still seemed stellar. However, I also felt that the mustard sauce could have been richer, with more kick to it, but it was a hit with my guest.
At the end of the meal my guests and I were all delighted with the quality and generous portions, the wonderful ambiance, and the warm, knowledgeable and extremely courteous service – which the waiter reinforced further by going the extra mile by bringing us a complementary ‘Chocolate Puddle Cake’ for dessert.
This is a difficult dessert to get right and too easy to botch up; many high-end restaurants also end up serving an eggy-tasting runny mess, but the Polo Lounge gets this one just right: the perfect sponge oozing delicious rich chocolate from its heart.
Overall, it was a wonderful meal and the entire experience more than warmed up the chilly winter afternoon for all of us. For me, the restaurant more than retains its status as one of the best fine-dining restaurants in the city, the addition of the Chef’s Special Menu elevating its standing even further food-wise. This, coupled with the serene surroundings, exquisite interior and doting service all truly whisk you away to another time – to a majestic, gentler Lahore. So, the restaurant earns my top billing and, as it is a bit on the pricey side, I especially recommend it for that special occasion with that special someone or with your closest family and friends. It won’t disappoint. -dawn