FRED – A Bold New Step in Lahore’s Culinary Scene
“Food is one universal language which drives cultural exchange”
~ Zain Aziz, founder of Lahore’s bold, new restaurant space FRED
Tucked away inside a chic clothing boutique in Lahore is a bold new venture by Zain Aziz called FRED. FRED stands for Food, Research, Experience, and Design. The FRED team describes it as “a concept space aiming to redefine how we think about food – pushing established brands to reinvent themselves, spurring entrepreneurs to be creative in an ecosystem of innovation, paving a new way forward for the idea of dining itself”. In other words, a cool ready-to-use restaurant with a top-of-the-line kitchen for the dauntless and able to try new things.
“FRED (Food, Research, Experience, and Design) is a cool ready-to-use restaurant with a top-of-the-line kitchen for the dauntless and able to try new things”
They just concluded their first five-day Pop-Up restaurant featuring cult favorite Ramen specialist Luke Fariday from London. Remarkably, it was sold out without ever being advertised.
It’s a brave claim. Lahore has no shortage of restaurants. All with complex preludes promising to do what no eatery before them has done only to eventually become exactly the kind of restaurants they once wanted to differentiate from – safe, static and mediocre at best. As a result, eateries in Lahore are visited out of obligation rather than desire. Residents of Lahore have been chronically disappointed into complacency with food being the least important thing on the menu these days.
“Safe, static and mediocre at best, eateries in Lahore are visited out of obligation rather than desire”
That’s not how it’s supposed to be. That’s not how it used to be. Lahore was the city of food. Fortunately, FRED is an extraordinary and refreshing concept that challenges the status quo of the current food-scene.
“Fortunately, FRED is an extraordinary and refreshing concept that challenges the status quo of the current food-scene”
To reach FRED one has to take the elevator on the side of the store which takes you to the top floor of the building. It was like entering one of those Prohibition era speak-easies we read about in history books, hidden behind grocery stores. But nothing about it was hotchpotch or temporary. Anything but, actually.
The space has a dozen tables and a total of forty-five chairs. The softly lit hue of pinewood furniture blends perfectly with the wooly grey walls. The kitchen is visible in all its glory thanks to a sizeable window facing the guests. The back wall is covered entirely in neatly aligned plants. The remaining walls have on them the most sophisticated collection of original paintings in any restaurant in Pakistan.
Zain explained that “Some of the art pieces are mine, some are for sale. I am in talks with Art Galleries so let’s see where this goes. That pehlwan in front of you is by Imran Kazmi. The other hangs in The New Punjab Club restaurant in Honk Kong, which is the first Pakistani restaurant to win a Michelin star.”
The whole place reeks of cool. Every little corner is meticulously curated. From the soap dispensers in the bathroom to the cutlery on the tables, to the stationary and chic uniforms, everything is methodically designed and flawlessly executed. Even the music playlist is hand selected, printed and placed at each table. In short, eating at FRED isn’t just about grabbing a meal, it’s an experience. We talk to the man behind it all, Zain Aziz.
What made you want to do this?
The young people of Lahore have great ideas, they want growth, want to try new things, want to learn and perfect their craft, but a lot of times it can be hard to get ideas off the ground. We want to help with that – part of the FRED effort is as an incubator for aspiring chefs, as well as about putting Lahore on the culinary map of the world. Encouraging food diversity in a cosmopolitan city is also about making it a city we want to live in and not one we have to live in.
Also, I love food.
“Part of the FRED effort is as an incubator for aspiring chefs, as well as about putting Lahore on the culinary map of the world” ~ Zain Aziz
After your first pop-up what did you learn? What would you do differently?
It was a great experience and one in which we learnt the extent to which Lahoris are willing – and eager – to try new experiences and cuisines. For our next pop-ups we’d definitely try to make them longer to accommodate as many people as possible, and we’d also like to have the chefs in earlier to give them an immersive culinary tour of Lahore and sample our local fare prior to the pop up.
“The first pop up was a great experience and one in which we learnt the extent to which Lahoris are willing – and eager – to try new experiences and cuisines” ~ Zain Aziz
I saw many local restaurateurs helping whole heartedly. Were you touched by how the restaurant community supported your project? Can good food bring out the best in Lahoris?
We were helped by so many from the Lahore culinary community – Chef Shahnawaz of Amu, Alisha from Scafa, Zahra from The Deli, Raza from Bamboo Union, Akber Khan from Sumo to name a few. The way the industry has supported FRED has been truly heartwarming and refreshing. FRED is for Lahore – and I think everyone knows and understands that.
“The way the industry has supported FRED has been truly heartwarming and refreshing. FRED is for Lahore – and I think everyone knows and understands” ~ Zain Aziz
What’s next for FRED?
We have a pretty exciting line up of chefs for this year. This month the Head Chef and Founder of The Hampstead Kitchen of London is hosting a fundraising dinner and meet & greet. Saima Khan is a private chef to heads of state, tech billionaires, celebrities and royalty, as well as a philanthropist. She’s crafting a bespoke menu of her greatest hits for FRED and will also chat with guests about how she started her business after a chance encounter with Warren Buffett and Bill Gates.
“This month the Head Chef and Founder of The Hampstead Kitchen of London (Saima Khan) is hosting a fundraising dinner and meet & greet” ~ Zain Aziz
You have great art hanging on the walls and some of it is for sale. What are your plans regarding the ‘art’ side of FRED?
Food is one universal language which drives cultural exchange; just as important are art and music – the triumvirate which is the heartbeat of a cosmopolitan city. We feel it’s increasingly vital to incorporate all three into the FRED space and experience – we’re living in an age where human connection has been withdrawn from most things so bringing people together to appreciate food, and art, and providing an opportunity to forge new relationships has become more important than ever. We want to collaborate with artists and curators to ensure our artists get as much patronage as possible.
“Food is one universal language which drives cultural exchange; just as important are art and music – the triumvirate which is the heartbeat of a cosmopolitan city” ~ Zain Aziz