With coarse-grained sausages, blood pudding and beverages on his menu, Philippe Lafforgue thought he had cooked up the perfect recipe for expats in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad.
But the Frenchman’s refusal to serve Pakistanis unless they were accompanied by a foreigner has landed him in the soup in this deeply conservative country home to some of the most dangerous militants on the planet.
It all started with a Twitter comment one evening in December. Cyril Almeida, a prominent Pakistani journalist, complained about a restaurant which refused reservations from anyone except “foreign-passport holders”.
Established in October, “La Maison” is a small French bistro tucked away on the ground floor of Lafforgue’s house in a posh, tree-lined area in the heart of the capital.
After being refused a table, Almeida turned to social media, launching a campaign with the hashtag “NoToApartheid.”
“It is so obviously offensive and obnoxious... why should a private individual establish a club or an establishment which blocks out the very people of the country it is operating in?” Almeida said.
He published the address of “La Maison” online, contacted the police, the ministry of the interior and the local member of parliament.
The results were almost immediate: two senior police officials tried to book a table at the tastefully decorated restaurant replete with ornate carpets and works of art. But like Almeida, their efforts proved in vain.
Officers then raided La Maison, shut it down, arrested two local staff and confiscated some 300 bottles of wine, beer and even Perrier — possibly thinking the sparkling mineral water was champagne.
Pakistan’s twittersphere, made up in large part by the country’s small but influential elite, reacted sharply.
In good faith
Lafforgue, who moved to Pakistan in 2005, says he has been taken aback by the reaction and insists he acted in good faith.
After deciding to serve French delicacies like andouilletes (a coarse-grained pork sausage) and boudins (blood pudding), he says he believed he had no choice but to refuse locals in order to abide by the law.
Former socialist prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto banned alcohol in 1977, bowing to pressure from Islamic parties. But authorities allow its sale to non-Muslims, primarily for festive purposes, and “non-Muslim foreigners”.
“All that I have done was to abide by Pakistani law. If I did something illegal, I would have been condemned by mullahs and visited by the police [earlier],” says Lafforgue, who was previously a chef in France and moved to Pakistan to work as a firework technician.
In the diplomatic enclave, a high-security area of the capital which houses most foreign embassies, private restaurants and clubs sell alcohol to foreigners and their Pakistani guests.
The same goes for major hotels around the country, where foreigners pay handsomely for beer that might come served in a teapot or coffee cup to allay suspicions.
Some posh restaurants operate a “bring your own booze” rule as long as customers are discreet.
Even those who obtain licences are sometimes forced to close for days at a time by the police, who are believed to run extortion rackets.
After the raid, which happened on Saturday, Lafforgue was able to retake possession of his establishment.
Confident he is in the right, he awaits the release of his two employees and the return of his stock, and hopes to re-open his restaurant — this time by registering it as a “private club”.
Almeida says he doesn’t have a problem with a private club, but says nationality should not be a reason to refuse someone membership.
“Having a membership criteria does not mean you can exclude people on the basis of nationality,” he says.SHOW MORE