Let’s be honest. Islamabad is not known for food, as choice is slightly limited when it comes to a great dining experience. However, do a little research and you do find exceptions to the fact. One such exception which I came across on a recent trip to the scenic capital was referred to me by a friend. “If you’re craving Pan Asian cuisine, you must try out a place called Ping Pong”, he insisted. It just so happens that’s exactly what my taste buds were craving!
When any of us hear the words ‘Ping Pong’ the first thing that comes to mind is table tennis, as opposed to anything related to food. However, I find the name quite catchy and was curious to taste its food. Ping Pong is located within the F-11 Markaz and although its primarily a take-away joint, a seating area is available for those who would like to sit at the markaz and enjoy their food set against a good ambience.
Personally I loved the variety of oriental dishes available on the Ping Pong menu. There are a wide choice of starters to pick from, including Honey Glazed Wings, Dynamite Prawns, Spring Rolls, Chicken Drumsticks and more. The Combo Deals are filling, give value for money and are not too heavy on the pocket. Combo 1 for example allows one to choose between egg rice or vegetable chow mein and combine it with any chicken dish offered on the menu. The choice of seafood dishes is one of the best I have come across in Pakistan so far. There are 23 kinds to pick from, including an impressive variety of prawn dishes.
I’ve always preferred open kitchens where one can see the cooking of the food live, as it’s being prepared. You can always tell the quality of food being served by a clean, organized kitchen. That is something I really appreciated about my Ping Pong experience. Their kitchen is spotless and a sharp eye on quality control is kept by the management. I got to interact with the friendly chefs as they got busy stir frying my Japanese Panko Chicken order. This dish is a delightful deep fried, breadcrumbed chicken breast with mushrooms, capsicum and chillies mixed into their special Panko sauce. I also ordered Dragon Noodles, Beef Chilli Dry and Chicken & Mushroom Dumplings. The dumplings had an extremely good consistency to them and a delicious filling. The Beef Chilli has a great texture and flavor to it and is a delicious mix of hot chillies and succulent, tender beef. The dragon noodles were spicy but very appetizing.
Although Ping Pong’s young and very enterprising owner Shaheryar Afridi has a law degree to his name, he always felt a keen interest in and a strong draw towards the world of hoteling and hospitality. Following his passion for becoming a successful entrepreneur he decided to enter the food business and launched his restaurant in 2020. Although Covid had a negative impact on most food outlets, primarily being a take-away, Ping Pong was able to sustain itself. It could also easily be delivered to one’s doorstep, via FoodPanda. The thing I respected the most about Shaheryar is that he takes ownership of his business and pays close attention to detail. One will find him at the restaurant everyday, managing his staff and customers himself. Always armed with a dose of kindness, he really tries to go the extra mile to satisfy everyone.
My first visit to Ping Pong was an appetizing experience and I promised Shaheryar I would return to try their famous Mongolian Hot Pot, which is best eaten fresh, at the restaurant. Lo and behold I was back a week later and ready to dig in. They say Hot Pot is a winter dish, however I enjoy it in every season because the taste is just so distinct and pleasurable. Ping Pong did not fail to please! Their Hot Pot is faultlessly balanced in taste and has the perfect soup-to-vegetables-and-meat ratio. Add in their delicious peanut sauce and your taste buds are in heaven. On the insistence of the chef, I also tried their General Tso’s chicken which is a sweet and spicy deep-fried chicken dish. Ping Pong’s version is that perfect combination of sweet, savoury, spicy and tangy with crispy Chinese chicken bites, served with white rice.
What’s their hottest selling item on the menu? The honey crunchy chicken! And that’s what I tried on my third visit to the restaurant. I absolutely loved and devoured it. I like a bit of crunch in my food in any case so the dish was perfect for me. The mark of a great honey crunchy chicken is that the chicken’s crunch in one’s mouth lasts till the very last piece on the plate is eaten, and although it’s a sweet dish, the balance between sweet and savory is perfect. Ping Pong gets a gold star for this dish and I can understand why people love it so much.
All in all Ping Pong is a cozy little spot which has left the best impressions! Hospitable hosts, delicious dishes and beautiful presentations. The atmosphere of the F-11 markaz is inviting and relaxing but the Ping Pong staff is also really friendly. They know what they’re doing and what they’re talking about, and you can tell making the customers happy is their main priority. Since Ramzan is around the corner, be sure to look out for special deals on their instagram account @pak_pingpong and Facebook page www.facebook.com/pingpongpakistan
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