FOOD

Rich and showing hotels romantically appealing for exotic foods

From KHALID BUTT, Lahore
Apr 17 - 23, 2006

After a long hibernation the city of Lahore is breathing once again to witness a sudden and welcome boom in many spheres of socio-economic fronts.

The most visible and appealing change is the spurt in the hotel industry. Both in terms of adding new properties as well as upgrading and expansion of old ones. The recent development of improved Indo-Pak relations and relaxation allowed on movements of citizens has no doubt greatly helped to break the stagnation prevailing in the hotel industry.

Lahore, the second largest and most vibrant and beautiful city of Pakistan had been woefully short of high class hotel accommodation which often brought the few existing properties under acute pressure on special occasions.

The sudden flow of visitors from across the Indian border, first seen during visits of Indian cricket teams and on many other occasions brought home urgency to expand the sector and pronto. The recent Lahore Marathon was one such occasion when all hotels had 'no vacancy' displayed even before the event took place.

It was therefore not surprising that one learns that quite a few new hotels have launched plans to build new hotels here. Foremost among them is a leading business house of UAE constructing a 40-plus storied Tower Hotel in the middle of city center in collaboration with Punjab Government and Sheraton finally taking the plunge in an area long fancied by them. A number of other under construction multi-storied buildings is being mentioned as intended new hotels without formal announcement.

But without much ado and typical of his traditions Sadaruddin Hashwani, the leading Hotelier, who owns the biggest chain of Pearl Continentals has already taken the lead. Both the further expansion of the Lahore Pearl Continental and addition of 42-storey Tower Hotel nearby is already on the anvil.

In order to get an update on the above project I ring up the General Manager of Lahore Pearl Continental, Peter F. Eyssens to fix an appointment. The genial Dutch Hotelier with nearly 30 years of extensive worldwide experience shows Hashwani has picked up the right person for his kingpin property and it was such a pleasure to go and chat with him.

While entering Lahore Pearl Continental, a rush of memories come to mind. It was here I had come escorting late Lee Dayton, the Vice President of Pan Am Hotels Division along with Yusuf Haroon, to survey what was a vast property attached with old Patiala House. Later, I was to be part of the inauguration arrangements of not only Lahore but all other hotels of the chain at Rawalpindi, Dacca and Peshawar, being in PIA PR, as PIA was in partnership with Pan Am in the Hotel Project of Intercontinental. But that was long ago and now Hashwani the current Chairman and owner of what has been renamed as Pearl Continental, has done much more to turn Lahore property into the largest and best hotel in Pakistan.

I find Eysens, a seasoned and most qualified person to head Lahore project in the old tradition of Intercontinental, who in mid sixties had posted same ace hoteliers in Pakistan.

Peter proudly discusses the expansion plans of his hotel, which is to add 150 new rooms by early next year, 50 in the resplendent new wing and 90 in the old wing. He also talks of the tallest and most prestigious 42-storey Tower Hotel in the backyard, which too had started off. It should be ready in 2 years time with its 470 rooms, he adds.

Pearl Lahore will by early next year have 625 rooms to retain its edge as the largest and most modern and luxurious hotel in Pakistan. Already it has over 8 food and beverage outlets and most modern banqueting and conference facilities as well as a trendy shopping complex along with all other facilities a modern hotel can possess.

He says the chain is adding two new properties by next year at Muzaffarabad (Azad Kashmir) and Gawadar with 120 rooms each. It will stretch the hotel chain from the extreme tip of Mekran Coast to Peshawar, near the famed Khyber Pass.

He says with some pride that while others just talk, his Chairman Hashwani is a doer who believes in moving fast. He also unlike other hoteliers in Pakistan has been investing heavily and regularly in periodic upgrading and improvement of the existing facilities. That, according to him, is the essence of his success. Pearl Lahore with his state-of-art facilities and constant upgrading is the prime example of this wise policy. The hotel has also set a worthy benchmark for others to follow. It is no wonder in Punjab Capital Pearl which had enviable 84 percent average room occupancy throughout the year book for word to happier times in future and be part of the expected boom in the great future potential of the city.

PEARL-CONTINENTAL HOTEL LAHORE

In the city of graceful mosques, imposing fortresses, and historic bazaars, Pearl Continental Hotel, Lahore is located at the most prestigious financial, business and Commercial Avenue, Shahrah-e-Quaid-i-Azam.

The introduction of the grandiose project, 'The Atrium Wing', is the addition of large banquet facilities measuring up to 7600 sq ft. along with 287 Deluxe Rooms, including 28 Business Suites and 2 Presidential Suites, to the existing 200 rooms property. Expertise and luxuries have been gathered from all ever the world to make it a venue of international business activities.

Each room opens with an encoded key card and has the added luxury of a dedicated butler, to attend to the guest's needs. The rooms are also fully equipped with all modern gadgets such as Data Port, Electronic in-room Safe and a personal mini bar.

Bukhara is the hotel's specialty restaurant, renowned for its fine barbecue delicacies and ethnic atmosphere. Marco polo is highly recommended for superb Pakistani and Continental dishes, whereas Nadia Tea Lounge serves Tea menu and Coffee. The Club is an exclusive dinning facility for resident guests in the Business Center, While Tai Pan is the place to sample regional Chinese dishes.

The Atrium Wing's Convention Centre can hold Conferences & Banquets for up to 2000 guests, while the hotel's full fledged Business Center features two fully equipped board rooms and three private offices. The guests can spend time at the hotel's fitness center or shop at 'Pavilion', the hotel's impressive shopping arcade.

HISTORY OF PSL

Pakistan Services Limited (PSL) was incorporated in 1958 as a Public Limited company and is quoted on Karachi Stock Exchange since 1964. The primary business of PSL is hospitality. It initially operated under the management of Inter Continental Hotel, however, when Hashoo Group acquired PSL in 1985 it changed the name of the Hotels to Pearl Continental Hotels and became the largest and oldest five star hotel chain of Pakistan. Pearl Continental Hotels is the first Pakistani chain, which has achieved excellent international standards of services, quality and product.

In recognition of its high standards, Pearl Continental Hotel, Karachi was conferred the prestigious membership of 'The Leading Hotels of the World', an exclusive global organization of deluxe hotels established in 1928. Pearl Continental Hotels have become synonymous with a tradition of personal service, efficiency, convenience and guest satisfaction. Pearl Continental Hotels, beside in-house reservation network, are also linked to have international exposure and overseas reservations network.

Since takeover by the Hashoo Group, 'four Pearls' have undergone extensive renovation and refurbishment. New management concepts and intensive training programs have also been introduced. Another prestigious 'Pearl' has been added, at a picturesque hill resorts operating as Pearl Continental Hotel, Bhurban with the total cost of over Rs. 550 million in 1990-1991.

In 1996 Pakistan Services Limited completed a US $ 50 million expansion program of Pearl Continental Lahore in which IFC, CDC and DEG had invested about Rs. 1 billion through foreign currency loan and equity. The expansion comprised of 300 additional rooms, a new atrium lobby, banquet and conventional hall, dinning facilities enhanced sport and fitness facilities, a new shopping arcade and a car parking structure.

In 2001, PSL has acquired the franchise of 'Destinations of the world' for Pakistan region, creating an augmentation to its well-defined and managed disposition in the tourism & hospitality sectors in Pakistan. The new venture is designed to captivate and focus on in-bound and out bound Consolidation and Wholesales and is designed to introduce destinations to local tour operators, travel agencies and direct corporate customers.

The Company had total assets of Rs. 6.2 billion (estimated market value Rs. 10 billion) and equity base of Rs. 3.94 billion including Revaluation Reserve as on June 30, 2003.

The Company had floated rated term finance certificate of Rs. 700 million in November 2003. The company at present is in process of adding another hotel project at Muzaffarabad (Azad Kashmir) and expanding its Peshawar Hotel.

FOOD STREET-REVIVAL OF GLORIOUS PAST AND RICH CULINARY TRADITIONS

The City of Lahore has been known and famous for many things apart from its rich heritage and culture. The historical city with its world famed historical monuments, gardens and educational institutions has traditions of serving a variety of food and dishes, which gave it unique repute. This was perhaps due to the mixed population and the variety of races which over the centuries have influenced its cuisine ranging from Moguls, Khiljis, Ghouris, Lodhis, and other foreign invaders including the Europeans which brought about these culinary influences to this ancient city. Once on famed "Silk Route", where caravans touched laden with merchandise to the advent of Europeans, who also came here as merchants, the city had traditions of serving great variety of food to its visitors at the scores of large Inns (Serais) and Eateries (Restaurants) which were to be found all over the old walled city. In the later day Lahore, it developed some of the choicest and most exclusive hotels, restaurants and clubs, to be found anywhere in the subcontinent. Then came the partition and some of the known establishments, started to fade out under the pressure of fast expansion, commercialisation and other factors which have changed the city beyond recognition. But the culinary tradition and variety of dishes developed over a long period of time have somehow survived.

Then came a great idea of creating a "Food Street" in Lahore, to assemble many traditional dishes at one place to revive the old history. Back in year 2000, a bright civil servant named Kamran Lashari, now heading CDA in Islamabad is credited with the brilliant scheme to create "Foot Street". The idea was endorsed by the then Punjab Governor, Muhammad Safdar, a retired General, and put into reality. The innovative "Food Street" was launched in the heart of city in an area called "Gowal Mandi". Lashari, then heading PHA (Punjab Horticulture Authority) with the help of some local businessmen like one Muhammad Akram, devised the scheme under a "Tajdeed-e-Lahore Committee" to revive old traditions and glory of the historic city. A whole stretch of old Chamberlain Road near Nisbat Road, was spruced up; old buildings repaired and painted, fitted with colourful lighting and a row of shops, stalls and street cafes developed to close the road stretch of "Food Street" to general traffic. All the top-notch food specialists from all over the city were induced to come and join the "Food Street" which opened with great fanfare. Needless to say it has been an instant success as all the mouth-watering indigenous dishes ranging from mutton, fish, chicken, beef to special deserts and all kind of local cuisine, including Mughlai, Kashmiri, Punjabi, Peshawari, and from other regions and especially barbecue and Tandoori variety were all available at one place to make it great success. The place, which operates at night, is packed daily and has become a must for visitors from outstations and abroad. In due course, Lahore has now several other "Food Streets" all doing brisk business, one near Lahore Fort, where "Cuckoos" has been the top draw. Others located at Abbot Road, Gulberg, Walton Road, outside Bhati Gate, near Batapur, Ichhra, Mozang Chungi, to name a few are all now in operation to do brisk business. This has naturally gone a big way in reviving the old traditions of this city and its rich traditions in this regard.