Found at street level in Islamabad’s luxurious Serena hotel, Rakaposhi Cafè & Patisserie is the ideal place to while away some time in an elegant setting. The red-dominated venue boasts a sensual design, with spot lighting, marble floors and a number of unique, large pillars coated with reflective copper foils, and enticing seating on the outdoor lawn. Besides coffee and other hot and cold beverages, the cafe serves delicious snacks such as typically Asian samosas, tongue-tingling fried pastries offered with a variety of flavourful fillings, or the signature Serena Club sandwich, layered with fried egg, grilled chicken, turkey bacon and cheddar cheese. For those with a sweet tooth, the patisserie has a rich gamut of tempting delicacies, made from scratch in-house.
Rakaposhi, Ramna 5, Khayaban-e-Suhrawardy, Islamabad, Pakistan, +9251111133133
Khaas Gallery Cafè
Hungry art lovers can kill two birds with one stone with lunch at Khaas Gallery Cafè. This lunch-only restaurant is set inside the premises of Islamabad’s Khaas Gallery, one of the leading contemporary art galleries in the city, committed to showcasing the works of exciting young talent, which also holds a historical collection of mesmerising 18th and 19th century prints depicting the landscape and traditions of Pakistan. The food served at the adjoining cafe is no less worthwhile than the art. The menu presents a list of fresh, crunchy salads and tantalising entrees such as the exquisite Thai red curry, offered with steamed rice and sautéed vegetables. The coffee is also incomparable.
The Lime Tree
Kuch Kaas is a centre for arts, culture and dialogue with a rich programme of debates and activities for the improvement of Pakistan and its citizenship. Located in Kuch Kaas is another of Islamabad’s little gems, The Lime Tree, a bar and bakery serving drinks and freshly-baked sweets. The best part of The Lime Tree, however, is the atmosphere: the simply decorated venue, filled with the copious light from the large windows, invites visitors into a homely and relaxing ambiance, where guests can enjoy their drinks while admiring the exquisite art on the walls or reading one of the books from the cafe’s bookshelf. There is even a beautiful lawn with gazebos, coffee tables and comfy sofas to enjoy drinks in the open air.
Mocca Coffee has successfully created a corner of Scandinavian culture in the capital city of Pakistan. The northern influence is evident in the minimalist design of the parqueted, creamy-coloured venue on one hand, and the attention to select, organic ingredients on the other, such as the acai, wheatgrass or spirulina mixed in with the fruit smoothies. The menu also offers worldly delicacies such as crespelle, nachos and Spanish omelettes; and impresses with the choice of scrumptious cakes, pies, cupcakes and desserts. But coffee is king here: more than simply a cafe, Mocca is devoted to good coffee, with every blend expertly roasted and brewed before being lovingly served in a variety of manners.
Islamabad sprawls at the feet of the verdant Margalla hills, the foothills of the Himalayas which make for the city’s captivating backdrop; the bird’s eye view of Islamabad from the hills is priceless. The Monal provides an excellent view of this breath-taking panorama. The restaurant is quite a bit off the beaten track, but the drive across the lush hillsides to reach it is a worthwhile experience in itself. Once there, dining on any of the seven, large outdoor terraces while overlooking the entire city in the distance offers an incomparable experience. The Monal serves an interesting range of different cuisines, including Italian, French, a selection of Asian specialties and the popular barbecued meats.
The Monal, Pir Sohawa Rd, Islamabad, Pakistan, +92515837220
It might be daunting to make a pick from the many, many options on restaurant Khiva‘s menu, but any of the courses on offer, drawn from the culinary traditions of Pakistan and other Asian cuisines, are sure to please the diner’s palate. Choose from Pashtun specialties such as the delicious grilled thin minced Peshawari beef or lamb egg chops; a range of succulent meats barbecued the Afghan way; lamb or chicken stewed in a karahi or a handi, two local pieces of kitchenware; and a wealth of other equally delicious dishes, including a gamut of enticing soups and salads. Enjoy the lavish meal in Khiva’s tranquil, intimate setting, in a welcoming venue characterized by a number of beautiful carpets hanging on the walls, rather than lying on the floor.
Italian food is quite popular in Islamabad, and Siena Ristorante serves some of the best Italian fare in town. Named after the picturesque city in Tuscany, the restaurant offers many of Italy’s most acclaimed specialties. Start with bruschettas or a fritto misto of calamari and prawns, and proceed with some oven-baked lasagna or pasta alla carbonara before moving on to one of the juicy steaks on the menu. There are several dining rooms, each themed around a particular Italian city, but nothing beats the Venice-inspired pool: docked on the water are a few gondolas equipped with small tables, and at the centre of the pool floats a small platform with one romantic table for two which can be reached through a bridge reminiscent of Venice’s Ponte di Rialto. Maybe a little tacky, but that’s what makes it fun.
Housed in a private residence, from the outside Majlis makes no impression; but one step inside, and the restaurant strikes visitors with its amazing layout and rich decor. Large, finely-carved wooden tables, beautiful carpets and exquisite murals depicting natural scenery give Majlis a thrilling yet intimate feel that unfailingly surprises first-time visitors and patrons alike. An Arab restaurant, Majlis’s kitchen introduces a scrumptious menu dominated by Lebanese specialties. Highlights include kabsa rice, hammous tahina, babaganoush and a varied range of tasty kebabs. For the full Majlis experience, wrap up the meal smoking a shisha on the restaurant’s outdoor terrace.
Al-Majlis, No. 4, Hill Road, F-6/3, Islamabad, Pakistan, +92512828099
Islamabad’s Saidpur Village is a charming old village on the margins of the city, rich with culture and historical architecture. Local authorities have been trying to bring the area to the attention of residents and visitors by promoting the establishment of restaurants, shops and art galleries in Saidpur. In recent years, the village has buzzed with the openings of new eateries, and Polo Lounge is one of the best. The restaurant’s forte is the enchanting view of the scenic surroundings which can be enjoyed from the balcony, but the kitchen also deserves praise for the refined offerings with which it spoils Polo Lounge’s guests. Visit this classy restaurant to try well-executed fine dining in Islamabad, including delicacies like of grilled chicken fillet with blue cheese sauce and Japanese style beef steak.
Polo Lounge, Saidpur, Islamabad, Pakistan, +92512821677
Themed cafè 1969 brings its visitors back to the glorious 1960s, a prosperous period that saw exceptional growth for Islamabad and the whole of Pakistan. The ample space is characterised by bright colours, an elaborately decorated roof from which a glass chandelier with floral motifs hangs, furnishings typical of the 1960s and old newspaper clippings featured as prints both on the walls and the table mats. 1969 also flaunts a large outdoor space where guests are welcome to have their tasty meal while enjoying the fresh air. Offering simple but authentic Pakistani and continental fare, 1969 is a food haunt like no other in Islamabad.
1969, Shakarparian, Islamabad, Pakistan, +92512607263