Monday, June 2, 2014

Silver Ibex Restaurant, Arcadian Blue Pines Inn, Murree

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِ

This is a digressive blog post. 
I admit that this blog is about eating out in Karachi, but after our recent short vacation up north, I cannot resist sharing what it was like to eat out in the natural hilly surroundings of beautiful Murree in Punjab, Pakistan.

In my online search for a private, quiet, relatively new, exclusive, and family-friendly accommodation in the hills, I happened across the website of Arcadian Hotels and Resorts.

Turns out it was the perfect choice, alhamdulillah. I mean, who can resist such breath-taking valley views?! Certainly not a Karachiite! :)

Apparently, Arcadian is already running fully operational resorts in Shogran and Kaghan valley, but since we wanted to stay at a shorter hop from Islamabad, I was more interested in their more recently acquired resort in Murree, called Blue Pines Inn.

This is the cemented winding road that leads up to, and through the resort, from lower Jhika Gali.
This road is known as Ghora Gali ("Horse Road"), and it goes right up to Pindi Point. 
 The drive is not for the faint-hearted, though, as the road is pretty narrow and steep.  

Pictured on the left in the above shot is one of the main lodges housing the guest rooms at the resort.

These cobbled paths lead up to the rooms from the main reception area.

More lodges with pathways in between.

The management has placed these deck/lounge chairs in an open area between the lodges for guests to relax on.
A bonus: free wifi across the resort!

Silver Ibex Restaurant is the in-house restaurant at all Arcadian resorts, with the menu reportedly designed by the owner himself.
Pictured above is the raised restaurant building, which also houses the resort's reception area (pictured above in the lower right corner of the photo) and kitchen in the lower floor.

The entrance to Silver Ibex restaurant.
An outdoor barbecue station is visible on the right. They also serve food on the tables in the garden (weather permitting). 
A small masjid is visible at a distance, in the middle of the photo above.

The interior is modern, using mirrors to capitalize on the phenomenal valley views. 
There is a room adjoining the main dining hall, which is used as a conference room (also offering valley views).

 The said valley views. The picture hasn't done justice.
When the weather was not overcast, we could see the roads and buildings of Murree at a far distance down across the valley, over the clouds, while sitting at our corner table!

The Silver Ibex restaurant interior at night.

The mirror effect gives an impression of added spaciousness.

After the short thunderstorms blew over, the sun would come out over the garden, facilitating alfresco dining.

As soon as the weather permitted and the skies got clear, we'd sit in the garden. 

Now, on to the menu. 
There is a variety of cuisines available. And yes, at a price.
When you go on vacation, you can't really pinch pennies or cook in your hotel room, can you?

As you can see, the prices are a notch above average (perhaps not so for those urbanized Karachiites who regularly eat out at the more highly-priced places), but the food quality was worth it.

Do remember that this food is being made available to you, freshly prepared, in a rather remote area of Murree,- a fair driving distance away from the nearest store or market, by staff who live 24/7 on the property, away from their families, in order to work for their livelihoods.

Continental, desi (Pakistani), Chinese, and Thai items are all available.

The preparation of the food took some time, so we ordered half an hour in advance.

Breakfast: pancakes, half-fried eggs, butter and jam.
Breakfast was served between 7:30 a.m and 11 a.m.

Their pancakes resembled crepes in size and thickness. Our children loved devouring them drenched in maple syrup every morning! They were prepared expertly by the resident chefs.

Pakistani omelet and whole-wheat paratha.
FYI: Breakfast is available as a buffet during peak season, reportedly.
Our breakfast for two adults though, comprising of a standardized menu, came included with the room rent. But we had to pay for our children's breakfast.

Appetizers: Shami Kebabs and (cough) Garlic Bread. :)

Potato Pakora's. We loved having these with chai whenever it rained! :)

Our children actually loved the garlic bread too, despite it being quite different from the "French loaf" variety available everywhere in Karachi, because it was delicious.

Daal with salad.

Because the water is different in Murree, any food prepared with it (including this daal) tasted lovely.

Butter Chicken with Rice (rice is pictured below)
This was awesome! When is butter chicken not? :)

Vegetable Chow Mien

Prepared very professionally, as you can see, because of the way the vegetables in it have been sliced 'julienne' style (instead of being diced desi style).

Aaloo Palak (the aaloo's kind of drowned in the spinach, but they were there in ample quantity).

This was absolutely delicious! The spinach was very creamy and soft, perhaps prepared with butter or ghee.

Mutter/Peas Pulao
Again, the taste was great, perhaps because of the water.
For lunch, we almost always had light vegetarian items (the breakfast was very filling!), especially the Mulligatawny soup (which I couldn't photograph).

The Shami Kababs with salad again.
These were prepared with high daal (pulses) content and beef.

The hotel management arranges bonfires for guests in an open area between the lodges, upon request, at a small charge. They provide comfortable deck/lounge chairs for this purpose as well.

Chicken Malai Boti and Beef Seekh Kababs.
We had these as an alfresco barbecue dinner one night, sitting next to a bonfire.

You do not get to see beautiful sunrises over the hills like these every day, do you?

Verdict: We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Arcadian Blue Pines Inn, Murree, perhaps more so because it was off season and we were the only guests.

And the great-tasting, professionally and freshly prepared food was one of the memorable highlights of our trip. The prompt service by the polite staff left little to be desired.

Anyone passing by the resort (and not staying there as a guest) can also dine at Silver Ibex Restaurant. If you live in Islamabad, give it a try.

It is located off lower Jhika Gali, a stone's throw away from Lawrence Girl's College and Pindi Point.


As an aside, for those who don't already know, operational kiosks of McDonald's and Butler's Chocolate Cafe are present in the domestic departures waiting lounge of Quaid-e-Azam International Airport, Karachi.

Sadly, this outlet of Butler's doesn't serve any of their breakfast menu items.
So off I went to search for something fresh for my kids to eat, early in the morning before our flight.

Thankfully, McDonald's hot cakes came to the rescue at 6:30 a.m in the morning! :)

I think McDonald's hot cakes (now served all day long) are the best pancakes available commercially in Pakistan.
Fire me for it, but that is what I think. They are too light and fluffy for words!

We enjoyed this view whilst downing the hot cakes and coffee, alhamdulillah.

Also, The Elbow Room now serves food (mostly beverages, wraps, sandwiches, and baked items) in the waiting lounge of Benazir Bhutto Airport, Islamabad, as well as that of Karachi airport.


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