I have always preferred outdoors over indoor spaces, even for restaurants. But given Dhaka's extremely dusty roads and scorching sun, the dream of sitting in an outdoor restaurant is next to impossible. But one fine spring afternoon, I walked into Bangladesh's first open-air pop-up buffet restaurant - Garden Gourmet by S&S Cuisineurs, located at the capital's Madani Avenue.
Now, the idea of a pop-up restaurant is on the down-low for the majority of the restaurant-goer and food enthusiast population in Bangladesh, although it is very popular in the western part of the world.
As I took my first step inside the restaurant, I could tell this was going to be a grandiose fine-dining experience, or at least that is what I expected.
All around me were drapes of green - curtains, floral decorations and decal mirrors - which not only made the place look as pretty as a picture, it also catered to its theme of greenery, garden freshness and lavishness.
Garden Gourmet by S&S Cuisineurs has been designed keeping in mind the chic aesthetic of a glasshouse within a four-acre land, surrounded by separate seating areas, a large stage decorated with crystal chandeliers and life-sized decoy bird cages, along with a dessert, grill and hors d'œuvre bar.
Sigma, one of the owners of Garden Gourmet, said in their first promo video with Jon Kabir that they needed a semi-permanent structure due to its pop-up nature, which will stay at one venue for three months.
At first glance, anyone will be mesmerised by the restaurant's ethereal beauty and somehow, food will be the last thing on their minds.
Before divulging in my gastronomical experience in this astoundingly beautiful pop-up restaurant, I should explain a bit more about the ambience and feel-good factor of Garden Gourmet.
First and foremost, the environment here will not let you down. Unlike other restaurants, both indoor and al fresco, you will get plenty of time and opportunity to roam around the four-acre land while you eat and explore the minute details which makes the place so unique and well put together.
Starting from the mirror decals to the seating areas, Garden Gourmet will ensure you take home good memories of the landscape.
In the video Sigma said that she had to think of a unique way for the entire outdoor structure and for event planners such as her, the weather is the biggest player.
As Garden Gourmet took off during the coldest time of the year, she had to design the venue as semi-outdoor so guests can have a half outdoor and half indoor experience.
After I had had my fair share of roaming and exploring, it was time for me to take my seat at their dining area and feast on the dishes from their High Tea menu, which is another hour of the day dedicated to a delicious spread of meat, fish and vegetable items paired with baked goods, desserts and a selection of tea.
One reason for me to opt for their High Tea hour was because most restaurants specialise in lunch and dinner but there are hardly any eateries in Dhaka where one can go for High Tea.
One of the first items I tried was the Dahi Bhalla Papdi Chaat from their live chaat station. It tasted sweet and tangy with mild heat from fresh green chilis.
The base of this chaat was made with roasted pieces of cauliflower and baby potatoes, slathered on with a trio of chutneys: tamarind, both thick and thin, coriander and yoghurt; sprinkled with finely chopped tomatoes, onions and cucumbers, followed by a generous handful of coriander leaves and bhujia and finished off with a sprinkling of spices.
Mixed, this dish was a bombshell of flavours that burst open as soon as I put a spoonful in my mouth.
What tied this whole dish together was the roasted, almost smokey flavour wafting from the potatoes and cauliflower. Anyone with the taste buds for chotpoti, fuchka or bhelpuri will surely love this dish.
As the first dish of the evening, it hardly disappointed me.
Next served to me was a plateful of fried items that included Italian Veg Wonton, which lost its crispiness and became chewy due to a lack of heat and an influx of humidity from sitting inside the lidded brassware for an extended period.
However, the wonton had an ample amount of filling which had the ever-so-present taste of rosemary and thyme, maybe even a bit of oregano.
I would not shy away from calling the 'Italian wontons' substandard because, first, wontons have retained its fame for being an Asian and Pan-Asian delicacy but at Garden Gourmet, it was Italian; second, it tasted more like a pasta dish, minus the noodles, than a wonton.
Gondhoraj Fried Fish is what I tasted next and this was one of the dishes I can honestly say I enjoyed, irrespective of the fact that it smelled of settled in cold oil and the fried pieces of fish were served at room temperature.
Nevertheless, the slight hints of chilli pepper and lemongrass saved this dish from being a letdown.
Following this was some roasted barbecue chicken and this dish instantly disappointed me as it was not cooked thoroughly. Hints of red were peeking from the inside and the meat was partially chewy. The barbecue sauce, however, had all the notes of a good barbecue sauce - sweet, tangy and slightly sour.
It should be mentioned that the chicken barbecue managed to crush my appetite to a large extent and I had a hard time tasting the other dishes later, one of which was an amalgamation of nugget-like items, which, regardless of being a variety of fried foods, tasted the same.
In front of me on a plate were two slices of pizza with plenty of sausages and cheese as their topping. But as the pizza had also cooled down to room temperature, the taste of the tomato sauce overpowered the rest of the pizza. If I have to rate it, I would give this a four out of 10.
With more guests pouring into the pop-up restaurant, I was served some more plates of food that carried fried rolls - chicken and veg - sliders and sandwiches, and canapés, all of which tasted somewhat bland.
To wash down this ensemble of subpar food, I was served three types of mocktails: Blue Lagoon, Kiwi Fresher and Jal-jeera. Neither of these drinks, other than the Kiwi Fresher, tasted anything out of the ordinary.
However, if you would like to sip on something while you walk around Garden Gourmet, these mocktails can be a good companion.
It was about time I finished off my Garden Gourmet feast with some of their best-selling dessert items, according to the waiter who served us.
The plate set in front of me had a doughnut, a chocolate cake pop, a fruit tart and a chocolate custard filled cookie, with the best-tasting one being the chocolate-covered doughnut, mainly because it was not overly sweet or slathered in glaze.
And to finally close off the evening's gastronomical adventure, I had one last bite from Garden Gourmet's signature Hot Gulab Jamun, Jilapi, which was served warm and perfectly crunchy, and a halwa with nuts in it - all of which could have tasted better if the sweetness was toned down. Regardless, the deshi desserts tasted better than their Western counterpart.
An evening of High Tea at Garden Gourmet will cost you Tk2,999 and you will get to taste from a spread of at least 50 items touching on the delicacies of different continents of the world, although the menu on the website boasts over 100 items.
Now the question arises, is this upscale and ritzy pop-up buffet with mediocre food worth almost three grand? Maybe, if the restaurant's environment and décor are more important to you than the food.
Garden Gourmet has set new bars for the restaurant industry in Bangladesh from the decorative aesthetics standpoint, but to set the same standards for food, it has a long way to go.
One of the other owners of Garden Gourmet, Sezan Shams, said in the same video that for each food region they cover, they try to keep the authentic flavour of that region intact.
While engaging in a conversation with the correspondent, the Head of Operations at Garden Gourmet by S&S Cuisineurs Md Shafiqul Islam said that the idea of a pop-up restaurant in Bangladesh was born when partners in business and life, Shezan and Sigma, were touring around Europe and saw small continental restaurants being set up for a couple of weeks before moving elsewhere.
Hence, the term 'pop-up restaurants'. He admitted that as this is the first-ever restaurant of its kind in Bangladesh, they have plenty of learning and improving to do, but the response so far has been spectacular.
If you have the mind to visit Garden Gourmet by S&S Cuisineurs to experience its sublime, unhinged and undisrupted beauty and take some photos under the brilliant lighting to glorify your social media profile, keep a headcount of Tk3,999, Tk2,999 and Tk5,999 for lunch, high tea and dinner - whichever fits your wallet.