What are the best desserts in town? We recently sampled sugary treats and delights at cafés across Karachi to find out.
Food consultant Humaira Iqbal and I ventured to countless cafés and eateries in the city. After several weeks and a big dent in one’s bank balance, we’ve come up with a master list. While many cafés are experimental and creative with their desserts, most menus include go-to dessert fares such as chocolate molten lava cake or cheesecake.
We give you a round up of desserts in the city but be warned: this piece seriously threatens to harm your diet! Here’s a list of what we think is worth splurging on if you’re craving something sweet.
If chocolate is your thing, there is a dizzying array of options to choose from. Everyone in Karachi is familiar with Nando’s Chocolate Cake — it has after all inspired copycats across the city. While we do recommend it, we think there are a number of delicious desserts that are any chocoholic’s dream come true.
Craving chocolate tart? The three best ones in the city are Xander’s Café's Chocolate Tart, Rowtisserie’s Double Chocolate Tart and Côte-Rôtie’s Chocolate Tart.
Xander’s Chocolate Tart: It has a wonderful balance of toffee and chocolate – and you won’t be able to stop at a few bites.
Côte-Rôtie’s Chocolate Tart: This dessert hits all the right notes: lots of dense chocolate with a hint of raspberry and a crunchy biscuit base. Perfection in a tart!
But there’s something for those chocolate puritans out there too. Rowtisserie’s other desserts aren’t much to write home about but the one thing that stands out in their dessert menu is their Double Chocolate Tart — dense, balanced and chocolate heaven in a slice.
Every café seems to have spun out a version of the now renowned Chocolate Molten Lava Cake. We think high-end cafés can afford to venture beyond this well-treaded dessert to something more creative but if you’re looking for this familiar, go-to dessert, most cafes (Pompeii, The Deli, Okra) serve a delicious version. The winners in our books, however, are:
Butlers' Cookie Lava Cake: A delicious twist on a classic favourite and after taking a bite you’ll want to keep on coming back for more.
Del Frio's Lava Cake: This is the molten lava cake to have in the city — the sponge, the gooeyness and the chocolate is balanced as it should be. An added benefit: it’s light on the wallet.
Worthy mention: Bella Vita’s Melting Chocolate Dome. Remember those videos of melting chocolate domes that went viral last year and had foodies all over town drooling? Well the chefs at Bella Vita have attempted to create this dessert with some success.
It’s slightly on the sweet side and the sponge is a tad dry but in one spoonful you get chocolate cake, a rich caramel sauce, crushed biscuits and chocolate. What more can you want?
Chocolate Cakes, Cookies and Brownies
There are many fancy desserts one can choose from but sometimes nothing beats the good old chocolate cake. The ones we liked the best are:
Gelato Affair’s Dare Devil: Soaked with warm chocolate ganache and served with ice cream, it is a perfect mix of hot and cold and one of the best chocolate cakes in town. The best part? It won’t burn a hole in your pocket.
Del Frio’s Ferrero Rocher Cake: Nutty with a soft sponge and rich, generous layers of chocolate. A chocoholic’s dream come true.
Pantry’s Brownie Cake w/ Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting: A delicious homage to the classic brownie with none of the bells, whistles and sprinkles that count as brownies these days.
Bella Vita’s Gooey Gateau: This concoction of chocolate with crushed shortbread cookie is a bit on the sweet side and dense but in a good way.
Mews Café's Triple Chocolate Skillet Cookie: Isn’t the reason to eat this in the name itself? A chocoholic’s paradise on a plate: delicious, chocolaty and heavenly in every bite.
Mocca’s Chocolate Macaron: A fan of macarons? Mocca Coffee serves one of the best in town — there are a lot of flavours to choose from but the one to have is the chocolate.
If you like a bit of fruit in your dessert, this is the perfect time to have some. If there’s only time for one dessert, you should try Café Flo’s Apple Tart. A bit expensive (it’s Café Flo, after all) it’s delicious, simple and you’ll want to finish every crumb on the plate. Here are some other options for fruity dessert:
Espresso’s Apple Crumble: Served warm with vanilla ice cream, it's crunchy and baked to perfection.
Café Flo’s or Mews Café's Lemon Meringue Pie: Like your desserts with a burst of citrus? Then head over to Flo or Mews for Lemon Meringue Pie. Both are good and citrusy with a crunchy tart base. If tangy is your thing, however, nothing beats Flo’s Lemon Meringue.
Pantry’s Orange Tart: While this is a seasonal dessert, it’s worth making a trip just to try. Different from the usual fare offered at cafés, the chefs have paid genuine homage to the orange: lots of fresh orange zest went into making this tart and you can taste it in every bite.
Butlers’ or Espresso’s Carrot Cake: Espresso’s Carrot Cake is simple, balanced, carrot-y, with a soft sponge and the right amount of cream cheese. A perfect winter comfort food.
Many foodies would argue that an authentic carrot cake must have that kick of orange zest. If you tend to agree with said foodies, then Butlers' Carrot Cake is the way to go. Served with orange sauce and candied oranges, this carrot cake has dry fruit, a hint of ginger and, of course, lots of orange zest.
Mews’ Nutella Banofee with Candied Pecans: Simple, delicious and very satiating. In one spoonful you get layers of chocolate, toffee, banana and crunchy biscuit — a sugarholic’s paradise.
Desserts can never be too rich or too cheesy
Cheesecakes, mousse and crème brulee may be too rich for some people but there’s something about these finely-crafted desserts that makes them so satisfying when done right.
The best non-bake cheesecake in town is Fuschia’s White Chocolate Cheesecake and mixed berries compote. It’s not too sweet or creamy with a kick of white chocolate and you won’t find this anywhere else in the city. Made in Café Aylanto’s kitchen and served in both Fuschia and Aylanto (both cafés have the same owners) this one is a must try.
Côte-Rôtie’s Strawberry Cheesecake Tart: It’s listed as a cheesecake on the menu but it’s more of a tart. It’s perfection in a tart and if you’re a fan of cheesecake, it’s worth making a trip to the café just to have this dessert.
Espresso’s Mars Cheesecake: A well-made no-bake cheesecake with a generous filling of caramel; comfort food at its best.
NY Coffee’s New York Cheesecake: One of the best baked cheesecakes in the city — a classic with good texture and a hint of lemon.
Butlers' Cheesecake: Good, creamy with the added touch of raisins and nuts.
Fuschia’s Bitter Chocolate Mousse layered w/ Wild Berries: Very good, light, with a bitter kick. The way a mousse should be.
Xander’s Strawberry Cheesecake: Good, creamy and dense with a hint of strawberries.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating
You know there’s a good dessert chef in the kitchen if the crème brulee is done just right. And there are plenty of cafes that do this dessert just right but the best in our books was the one at Café Flo. The ones at Okra, Pompei and The Deli come in at a close second.
Want your crème brulee with a twist? Fuschia serves a divine Green Tea Crème Brulee – you won’t find anything close to this anywhere else in town.
Crème Brulee not your thing? There’s plenty other things to choose from such as Café Flo’s Tiramisu. It’s a tad too creamy but hits all the right notes and has that kick of coffee.
Another tiramisu that’s worth going for is Gelato Affair’s Tiramisu Cake. Can we just say it’s the best iteration of a tiramisu in the form of a cake and leave it at that?
The only pudding to write home about is the Caramel Pudding at NY Coffee. It’s caramelly -- like you’d want it -- balanced, not too sweet and well-baked.
Out of the box
Tired of the tried-and-tested treats and want something that you wouldn’t find in every café? Head over to Fuschia and try any of their Thai-themed desserts.
Among the ones that are a must-try are the following: Crispy Chocolate Wanton with Japanese Green Tea Ice Cream — the wantons have just the right amount of chocolate, and is crispy and crunchy. The Green Tea ice cream adds the perfect balance of hot and cold.
The Toffee-glazed Crispy Banana Fritters with Vanilla Sauce and Thai Tea Ice Cream. This dessert is satisfying, simple and delicious. The Thai tea ice cream is heavenly and even has the added touch of chai patti.
You should also give Okra’s Roasted Figs with Vanilla Ice Cream a try. The beauty of this dessert, made with fresh figs, is in its simplicity. It’s true, less is more.
The Deli has made an effort to avoid run-of-the mill desserts. The ones to try are Hazelnut Roulade (a roulade with Nutella fillings, generous servings of hazelnut and a delicious cream) or its Feta and Cheese on a Kadaif pastry. Served with scoops of feta cheese and Philadelphia cream, which are made in-house, and strawberries, every bite is a delight.
And last but not least the Deconstructed Crème Catalane with Almond Croquant is worth having. An ideal summer dessert, it’s delicious, light and the almond croquants are exquisitely made.
Originally published in Dawn, EOS, February 26th, 2017