Not long ago, inside the premises of the French Cultural Centre (Alliance Francaise) in Karachi was Café Flo, a restaurant offering authentic French cuisine amidst greenery and white painted furniture.
While it is still supervised by Florence, a French lady who married the son of famous singer Noor Jehan, it has now shifted off 26th street, less than half a kilometre from Neelam Colony — an area populated by the underprivileged which borders one of the commercial areas of Defence. Ranked high for its quality of food by most, the bistro is now fairly unpredictable as recent experiences suggest. It may have its ups and downs but remains to be the premium bistro frequented by French cuisine lovers. A few things on the menu which continue to lure the senses of food lovers include:
Escargots: they are just the best, fried in herbs and butter, making a perfect appetizer.
French onion soup: it is the most authentic French onion soup in Karachi. You will not be disappointed.
Wild morel steak: for meat lovers, this has to be the most exotic entrée. The wild morel (mushroom) has a unique taste.
While there are a number of restaurants in the same vicinity as Flo, (Koel café, The Patio, Saffron and the revamped Aylanto), Zamzama — once touted as the high street for shoppers — cannot be discounted for the options it has to offer to the discerning foodie. Okra is one restaurant without which the history of modern day Karachi cuisine cannot be written. Long serving the best of the best, Okra is also termed an elitist affair where a reservation must always be made before a visit. The regulars know what to order — whether it is one of the essential appetisers, steak or pasta. However, a few things which caught my fancy over time include the following:
Goat cheese with fresh figs: this has to be one of the most interesting and unique combinations where figs open up into the softness of fresh cheese.
Steak with shitake mushroom: the best combination of a succulent piece of meat and some fresh shitake mushrooms.
Spaghetti with prawn and cherry tomato: this dish is a lovely combination of flavours and recommended to those who enjoy pasta.
While Zamzama certainly has its own charm, there is something old-worldly about Pompei, the Italian joint that offers quite a few choices on the menu. Once located on Zamzama, Pompei moved into the old railway club structure that is reminiscent of the colonial era and now houses one of the biggest fitness centre, Shapes. A little off the track as compared to Zamzama and 26th street, where a cluster of restaurants has made a home for itself, Pompei is a nice escape for food lovers who want to be away in the peaceful confines of this historic location.
Given that it offers Italian cuisine, one dish to try is obviously the pasta, which they have plenty to offer. Those looking for an authentic taste in pizzas flock in, but the three dishes which set them apart include:
Spinach and artichoke dip: this starter is one of a kind and leaves one licking their fingers.
Margarita pizza: the simplest pizza is also the best and there is oven-baked and appropriately sauced with fresh tomatoes and cheese.
Risotto: Italian cuisine is incomplete without a good plate of risotto and Pompei knows how to serve one well.
There are many more restaurants which fit the bill for good cuisine and a great environment for diners, the above lead in most areas and are part of a very personal and non-exhaustive list.
The writer is a former print and broadcast journalist who has worked at The News and Geo TV
Published in The Express Tribune, July 29th, 2012.