Prior to its formal opening, two years ago, there was much deliberation on what this eclectic café’ with parrot green glass tables and purple seated chairs should be called. His friends suggested Café’ Sikander or Sikki Café’, however, Sikander (Alexander) Rizvi wanted something more original and modern so decided to use an extension of his French name, settling on “Xander’s”.
Many thought it would be a junior mimicry of Café’ Flo, a French fine dine restaurant, in Karachi, run by Sikander’s mother, Florence Villiers, since 1998. And many also thought it was “one of those restaurants” which come around and die about without much noise. Yet many digested it with gastric caution as it opened its tall wooden door to the public in 2011.
Born in a family of expert foodies, cradled in a gastronomical fusion of French and Punjabi influence and grown up eating gourmet dishes from Café’ Flo, Sikander was destined to manage people’s palate.
“We used to have four-hour long lunches on our holidays and only talked about what was to follow at dinner time.” recalls Sikander
Based on experience from his holidays, home cooked food by his mother and work experience in Cape Town and Amsterdam, Sikander felt that Karachi needed casual, affordable and good quality “Europeanized” food. And that’s when Xander’s was born, a casual, family restaurant offering a mix of delectables to suit all ages.
“I wanted to have lightly dressed salads, open faced sandwiches, pizza and definitely an all day breakfast on my menu” Says Sikander.
Taste is insanely subjective and involves ridiculously complex physiological and psychological toings and froings. And Sikander went through the whole drill continuously for three months tasting, slurping and ingesting his food items before they finally sat under the customers’ knife.
“There was so much tasting of food that I eventually became unwell,” admits Sikander.
Sometimes, flawed questions are worth asking just for fun, such as this one: When you are not eating at Flo or Xander’s which restaurants do you go to?
And Sikander was quiet for a bit as he carefully chose his words and finally said, “I love to eat daal chawal and nihari, nothing beats home cooked nihari”
A complete contrast to a meal of “daal chawal”, Sikander shared the recipe of one of his most popular dish at the restaurant – “Grilled Fish”. As I sipped my Mocha Frappucino, coming to the end of the interview, a seductively colorful plate was set before me with a lightly brown crusted fish, encircled with a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, sautéed French beans and glistening cherry tomatoes.
“This recipe was originally by Gordon Ramsey, but we had to tweak it a lot due to the unavailability of certain ingredients, here in Pakistan” explained Sikander as he dug his fork (before I could) into white moist, extremely appetizing fish.