Zarak strikes gold in its quest to bring Afghan brunch to Vancouver.
Zarak is a new restaurant in Mount Pleasant, an area which the travel publication Time Out has ranked as one of the coolest international neighborhoods. The community is bustling with local craft breweries, renowned eateries, lovely cafes and trendy thrift shops. There is a lot of food competition in the area and Zarak in its short tenure is attempting to cement a respectable spot on the list of best new restaurants.
I have visited Zarak’s sister restaurant Afghan Kitchen in South Surrey numerous times and have always had a great experience so I was delighted to learn of their new venture. Afghan Kitchen is an award-winning Afghan restaurant whose massive platters are a sight (and feast) to behold. It has beautiful portraits depicting Afghan life which transport the patrons of the restaurant to an upscale Kabul eatery. I was excited to see if Zarak could also create such an immersive experience.
Upon being seated, I noticed that all the servers were wearing traditional velvet black vests with heavy gold embroidery. It was a nice touch to tie in to Afghan culture. There were beautiful Middle Eastern relics adorned all through the restaurant. Living up to its name, which means gold, textured lamp fixtures emitted golden light towards the ceiling and illuminated the exposed brick walls to create a beautiful glow.
Hassib is Zarak’s owner and our server Téa advised us that his mom is the one that curates the food and is the cook in the kitchen. How cool! This was a reminder that despite its trendiness and elevated dining, Zarak is first and foremost an immigrant family’s labor of love. There’s even a menu item titled Mum’s Secret Cake, which contains Tres Leches, Cocoa and seasonal fruit.
Our server enlightened us that kites are a significant motif of the restaurant and that their likeness could be found in all corners of the establishment. She stated the reason being was that kites were so prominent and important in Afghanistan. Having visited India, where the citizens share the same cultural obsession with kites, colorful kites galore hover over rooftops from villages to cities. Children’s battle cries bellow across rooftops, trying to cut the ties of other neighborhood kites. It’s understandable why kites are showcased in the restaurant- it reminds them of all the best parts of home.
I had the chickpea hash which contained potato, spinach, and char masala. Char masala is an Afghani spice that contains black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, black cardamom, green cardamom, and cumin. The masala made all the difference in the dish. With the accompaniment of the spices, the meal was just bursting with delectable flavor. The potatoes were so soft and the texture was reminiscent of paneer. The in-house made chutney on the side was phenomenal and available for purchase separately.
I’m a huge cereal lover so when I saw that there was a Fruit Loops drink on the menu, I was beyond ecstatic! My favorite cereal in drink format?! You know I had to order it solely because I was curious what a cereal-inspired drink offering would look like. The drink contained Basil Hayden bourbon, “Fruit Loop cereal milk”, Kahlua, vanilla extract and grated nutmeg. The drink appeared as a glass of milk with Fruit Loops liberally sprinkled on top. It tasted fantastic. What a fun way of boozing up a childhood staple! My friend had the “Not an Espresso Martini” which contained walnut Turkish Delight-infused botanist gin, Turkish coffee, Bottega Nero and cacao bitters. She stated that her drink was delicious and was equally pleased with her choice.
Zarak’s creativity is apparent with their menu and drink offerings- the latter includes Caesar flights with chutney and mimosa flights served in test tubes. It’s clear that brunch at the restaurant is a fun and inventive affair. Kebab and eggs skillet, waffle with qaimaq and French toast with chai poached pear are just a few of the offerings at Zarak’s delicious amalgam of West meets East brunch.
In the same way that flying kites is a showmanship sport in Afghanistan, Zarak recognizes that flourishing as a restaurant in Vancouver is about resilience, endurance, strength and power. And just like those kites, Zarak is pretty to look at but is also fiercely contending for the top spot.