Aida Khan: hot dinners

The founder of Shola Karachi Kitchen discusses staying true to her heritage, the importance of family and embracing criticism positively

Food and Drink 28 Aug 2019

Aida Khan of Shola Karachi Kitchen
A selection of dishes at Shola Karachi Kitchen
Shola Karachi Kitchen serves fresh, home-cooked Pakistani cuisine
The recipes used at Shola Karachi Kitchen have been passed down from generation to generation

Food has always been a huge part of my DNA. My father was an avid foodie and I have always been fascinated by different cuisines. When I was growing up mealtimes were always elaborate. We never had just one thing on the table – meals always comprised different elements with starters, a few mains and sides followed by fruit that my father always cut for my sister and me.

As I got older, the science behind ingredients and how they react together really interested me. Then, after I moved to London, about 10 years ago, I realised there was a huge gap for the kind of Pakistani food we grew up on. I started with supper clubs and private catering and then eventually opened Shola Karachi Kitchen in London.

Shola has fresh, home-cooked flavours served in a casual environment. All our recipes have been passed down over generations. Our space is really bright and airy and I guarantee you do not leave smelling of the food (which is a pet peeve I have with most South Asian restaurants in London).

Of all the dishes on the menu, the lamb shoulder is definitely a firm favourite of mine. We marinate the lamb for two nights in our blend of ingredients, braise it in the oven for four hours and then finish it on the charcoal. It has incredibly deep flavours and literally melts in the mouth.

Working in a restaurant kitchen is undoubtedly super high-stress. It requires quite a balancing act and a kitchen that runs well is definitely a thing of beauty, very similar to an orchestra in sync. I do believe that when we cook, our energy gets transferred to the food and so it’s very important to maintain a pleasant environment in the kitchen. We operate like a family in both the kitchens in Islamabad and in London. Like all families there will always be disagreements and banter, but there is a deep love for the brand and what we do at the core. I believe in promoting within and everyone has a clear career path ahead of them. As the brand grows, every team member grows and that is key to us.

A happy team helps build a strong organisation and delivers a consistently good product, so the wellbeing of our team is integral.

To be a chef, you have to have grit, thick skin and the ability to filter extreme opinions, both positive and negative, and you have to do it because you believe in what you are creating. One of the best pieces of advice I have received that could apply to many different professions is to learn to embrace criticism and channel it positively. It’s easier said than done, but once you learn to do it, it’s quite liberating.

When I had my two sons, they became a real inspiration for me to start the restaurant. So what started as a strong desire to teach them all about food from my heritage ended up being something much bigger and I am so pleased we have created something for them to be a part of that is such a big part of me.

Shola Karachi Kitchen has two outposts in Islamabad and White City, London. Unit 6, Media Works, 191 Wood Lane W12 7FP;