Farhan Saeed – “Cafe Rock is all about soul food”

April 23, 2010

“We see ourselves as an incubator for music talent.”
Farhan Saeed of Jal opens Café Rock in Lahore and says it’s all about soul food

Jazib Zahir [Instep today]

Farhan SaeedFrom the solid black exterior to the mahogany interior, Café Rock has carved out a distinct niche for itself among the sea of cafés converging on Hussain Chowk in Lahore. It’s a café with a soul and under the charismatic leadership of Farhan Saeed of Jal it’s been drawing hordes of students and families twitching to try out an alternative culinary option.

When you first set foot in the expanse of the café, you see plenty of what you would expect. There are pastries adorning trays on your right and a long bar tapering off to your left. Plush sofas dot the front and wooden chairs are strewn along the length of the café.

But that’s where similarities with other cafes end. Café Rock takes music seriously. One wall pays homage to luminaries such as Pink Floyd and U2, while another sports handprints of several prominent local artists. Loud music blares in the background and a polished and preened drum set beckons on stage.

“We see ourselves as an incubator for music talent,” says Farhan proudly. Farhan scouted out some local talent and invited them to perform live on the weekends at his café. He is hoping to give them the exposure they deserve and gradually promote more underground groups through this venue.

The focus on the music does not detract from the café’s fundamental mission of titillating taste buds. Several beverages are popular. Perhaps none more than the Pina Colada. It’s sweet and frothy with the solid pieces ground finely enough to not be a distraction. Smoothies of different flavors are also among the favourites of health-conscious visitors.

The menu boasts a full slate of entrees including steaks, sandwiches and Thai cuisine, pretty much everything except local cuisine. Appetizers are distinguished by their focus on healthy options inspired by what Farhan observed at The Cheescake Factory where appetizers are among the biggest draws. Farhan believes the food stands out because it is prepared meticulously with elaborate garnishes which ensure that everything from salads to desserts is concocted as a visual masterpiece. Popular desserts are the familiar Caked Alaska and Chocolate Molten Cake which are distinguished by their soft and warm brownie pieces.

Farhan had an epiphany when Jal performed at the Mumbai Hard Rock Café a few years ago. Jal was the first Urdu/Hindi band invited to perform and the ambience was ineffable with 1400 guests on hand to appreciate the performance. Farhan knew he wanted a setup like that in Lahore which attracted people who yearned for live music. A passion grew into an obsession as he conceived the layout from end to end in just about three months. He appreciates the support of family and his business partner who have assisted him with operation while he has been occupied with his various endeavours.

Farhan Saeed's Cafe RockFarhan studied the menus and prices of competitor restaurants and cafes and is confident that he is providing a broad range of offerings at lower prices than those available elsewhere. He is proud of the cooking staff under his roof which includes people who have honed their talents at Pearl Continental.

Café Rock cannot be pigeonholed as an evening hangout for teenagers. It draws substantial crowds for lunch and families are the core of the customer base. The feature attraction of late has been the availability of Shisha in 15 popular flavors. This move does not seem to have offended families despite its association with discreet youth hangouts. Farhan narrates tales of families enjoying indulging in Shisha in the clean and open environment and even dabbling in singing and performing for the crowd themselves. He is proud to have made Shisha socially acceptable following the negative connotations it incurred through the dubious practices of several outfits in Defence.

Café Rock is an excellent option for people looking to try something new and to be part of a lively and pulsating ambience that may just become the hotspot of choice among Lahori crowds. If you’re lucky, you’ll bump into Farhan himself, an energetic visionary bustling around and ensuring smooth operations. He’s already bestowed the café with a world class sound system. He is ready to install big screens and make his café the focal point of gatherings for the upcoming Twenty 20 World Cup. Live performances of patriotic songs will generate an atmosphere that other joints will not be able to match.

With a seating capacity that is larger than the norm, a commitment to providing full service even at awkward hours and a special student discount, it’s no surprise that Café Rock has been garnering hype since its February opening. It has indulged in little marketing: Farhan believes positive word of mouth is the best way to spread the word. And if you’re not fortunate enough to reside in Lahore, you may not have to wait too long to bask in live music over your meals. Farhan is already planning an outlet in Islamabad and Karachi can’t be too far behind.

Café Rock
56-B3, Gulberg III
(Near Hussain Chowk)
Lahore, Pakistan

Source: INSTEP today