Those betting on Karachi being Pakistan’s food capital would agree that these three cafes are flag bearers of the city’s stellar reputation.
While Karachi enjoys a fine reputation as hub of unforgettable street food – the haleems and biriyanis on Burns Road, the variety of sea food on Hassan Square and rolls, parathas and Kharadar’s infamous malpuras amidst a smorgasbord of multiethnic cuisine that keeps its reputation alive – it also has a cafe culture that draws out lovers of a slightly more continental dining experience. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that between Cafe Flo, Xander’s and Colette, the city has your fusion food sorted.
Cafe Flo, owned and run by Florence Rizvi since the early nineties, comes with a guarantee of quality food. There’s hardly an evening when you can walk in and expect to land a table; heavily booked through evenings especially on weekends, there’s good reason for its popularity. You want to dress up for Flo and look good under the hundreds of fairy lights that light up the outdoors. Other than the lovely ambiance, the food you get is certified for perfection. Popular for its steaks, you could go for the fillet of beef with wild morels or the more premium, tomahawk that is flown in and sufficient for a family of four. You won’t be frowned upon if you ask for anything cooked over a medium but don’t. Have steak the way it’s supposed to be had.
A meal at Cafe Flo will take you through a signature bread basket that comes with a parsley butter and it’ll lead you to a choice of salads, appetizers, entrees and desserts, of course. Don’t come away without having a slice (or even spoonful) of the sinful Cafe Flo Mousse. Delicacies on the menu, which you’re unlikely to find anywhere else, would be the escargot in a delicious lemon butter sauce and the foie gras, served with melba toast. The sea-food, whether grilled, roasted, pan fried or baked, is another Cafe Flo favourite; I usually ask for a risotto with jumbo prawns or the baked snapper. The menu goes much beyond the basics but I would never go to Flo and order a chicken main; it just seems like a waste of opportunity to indulge the taste buds in something so regular.
Moving to the next street on E Street is Xander’s, and I’m linking these three eateries (Flo, Xander’s and Colette) because they’re owned and operated by the same family. Brainchild of Florence Rizvi’s son, Sikander, Xander’s is – what you’d call – top of the line cafe dining. Again, the menu and the food is designed by someone who knows food, evidently. My personal litmus test for any eatery is the use of canned versus fresh mushrooms (you’d be surprised to know how many ‘top end’ places cut corners here) and I have to say, Xander’s never disappoints.
Xander’s lime green table tops attract a slightly younger crowd that likes loud music and a smoky surrounding, so you may bump into the ‘cools’ of Karachi and will want to look as casually (and incidentally) chic when you bump into half your social circle there. The bigger your sunnies, the better your cool factor.
Topping the Xander’s menu, for me, would most definitely be the crispy calamari, dusted with rice flour and undoubtedly one of the best you’ll get anywhere in the world. The hand crafted and wood fire oven baked thin crust pizzas are of course a Xander’s tradition you can’t miss; my personal favourite is a half and half of buffalina and fig/goat’s cheese. A slightly more affordable-than-Flo version of the steak, the Xander’s version with porcini mushrooms (you see, mushrooms figure big in life) is a welcome item on the menu and this is where chicken dishes are allowed. Small eater? Go for the Almond Crusted Chicken Strips that come with a spicy jalapeno infused cheddar cheese sauce. Big eater? Opt for the Parmesan Chicken perhaps with an extra fillet of chicken, if you’re a really big eater! Xander’s signature Lemonta, that unmistakable blend of green mint and lime, and you’re done until you want coffee and the raspberry brownie. Oh, and you can choose from one of the three Xander’s in the city to visit.
What about burgers?
Well, up until Colette, I’d have recommended Xander’s for your healthy 100% beef burger fix. But ever since Colette brought the Smashed Burger to our lives, no other burger seems sufficient.
So, right next door to Xander’s on E Street is Colette, also owned by Sikander and while it’s colloquially known as Xanders’ little sister, it’s also Xander’s healthy little sister. Introduced as a creperie, Collete specializes in buckwheat crepes, the only kind in town that are gluten free and recommended for people with dietary restrictions. The choices are ample. And healthy. Have I said that before? There is also a selection of regular crepes with all sorts of sweet and savoury options.
The Smashed Beef Burger, served with truffle oil and rosemary chips, however is the catch of Colette. If you’re a burger person (and who living in this part of town isn’t?) then this is the must-have and to-die-for option. What’s so special? Well, like any smashed burger, the patty is thinner, tastier and has a smashed crust with a tender centre, as opposed to a regular burger patty that is thick and somewhat unexciting in comparison.
Colette has small plate options for dainty eaters or those on portion control; that said, while the place does advocate healthy eating, there’s no such thing as calorie control when there’s a strawberry and Nutella brioche bread French Toast around. Just go on your cheat day.
P.S. There’s actually a fourth cafe – Evergreen – that Sikander also co-owns but Evergreen hasn’t made it to this list yet. While I love the ‘healthy’ chocolate chip cookies and flourless cake, there’s nothing on the menu that has me hooked yet. Maybe one day.