Tamarai – Nile City Towers

I’ve been hearing about Cairo’s latest gastronomical offering, Tamarai, since it opened its doors a few short weeks ago. There are rave reviews abound, published in magazines and dailies like the Daily News Egypt. All of them praised the perfectly cooked and flavorful menu offerings and salivated at its copper and gun-metal gray tinged décor. I had the opportunity to go to Tamarai this past weekend. A friend had made reservations for a small dinner party, and we were all excited to finally sample the fare on offer.


I think we got off on the wrong foot, Tamarai and I. First the bouncer (A Bouncer? Really?!) tried to deny me entry to the restaurant, insisting that I did not, in fact, have a reservation. Moments later, the strangeness of that encounter would only become fully apparent by the empty dining room. There were more wait staff milling about than there were diners. So why deny me entry? Does Tamarai not accept walk-ins?

To offend me further, once I sat down, the waiter came and whispered in my ear, his voice aquiver with panic “Sir, there is a minimum charge.” Excuse me? I suppose the Raymond Wiel Watches, iPhones, Burburry sweaters and Fendi scarves littered about the table did not sell the idea that we were, in fact, not poor. Also, why would they insist on telling me this, when they had to know that I have made reservations, which means that I know what the prices are like, which means I can afford it?!

At the behest of my kinder nature, I decided to be objective, and focus only on the food and service we were about to receive.

Using the review in The Daily News as a guide, I started out with the Beef Carpaccio, which they claimed was sublime. I assure you, it was not. The taste of the wonderfully rare slices of beef was bullied and overpowered by the overly generous helping of tiles of Parmesan cheese; Rocket and cracked black pepper. I tasted nothing else. I noticed the chef had drizzled some olive oil and balsamic vinegar as an afterthought, but the quantity was too small to make a difference.

After the dry and peppery ordeal that was the Beef Carpaccio, I waited a further 25 minutes for my main course; Lamb Chops served with Red Wine sauce and confit baby onions and eggplant. As a side, I asked for potato dauphinois. As usual, I ordered the lamb served medium.

When the plate arrived, I thought a rabbit had been freshly slaughtered and its broken ribs left to bathe in the mish mash of its entrails. This accompanying red wine sauce was a crime on many levels – The shallots should have been sieved out, it was too acidic, and the sauce had split giving it an overall greasy unappetizing look. To top it all off, it was everywhere; the sauce covered the plate like white on rice, the plate dominated by bloody diaper diarrhea. Even the confit of onion and eggplant was not spared the chef’s heavy hand. The idea was to present a delicate cylinder, covered on each end by a thin slice of courgette – in theory, divine; in practice, disaster – the courgettes were burnt, and the confit was so acidic, it left blisters on my tongue.

You would think that all this would distract me from any imperfections in the lamb itself. Unfortunately, I was not so lucky. The lamb chops were tiny, and although they were nicely French trimmed, they were barely cooked to medium (some chops were actually rare), and had zero flavor. The quality of the meat was clearly inferior. As an act of mercy, I will stop describing how bad this dish was and simply ask you not to order it, unless you’re the type of person who derives pleasure from being physically harmed.

I did not have any complaints with the potato dauphinois, other than the fact that it was not seasoned enough and served no purpose other than to occupy valuable gastric real estate.

I was the unlucky one, it would seem. The rest of the table ordered the Shrimp and Saffron risotto, Mushroom Ravioli and Roast Chicken Breast. The Roast Chicken breast looked fantastic; beautiful white chicken breast fanned out over sautéed vegetables and in a light caramel coloured sauce. I immediately envied my fortunate (and financially prudent) friends. At EGP 75, the chicken breast is the least expensive entrée on the menu. And I was told that it was not dry and in fact, perfectly flavored and seasoned. I tasted the mushroom ravioli, and while it did not offer any complexity of flavor, it was a passable dish tasting of button mushrooms and not much else. Underseasoned for my taste, the Champollion mushrooms would have benefited from a bit of pepper, to be honest. Maybe even fill the ravioli with a different type of mushroom (Porcini, for example), to help the dish escape that one-dimensional taste.

The Shrimp and Saffron Risotto promised to be a star. Arriving in a white bowl with wide edges, the bright orange shrimp sat on….dark brown rice. The risotto was dry, not finished with Parmesan and as a result, lacked the creaminess that is what separates a Risotto from undercooked rice or even “Roz Mo3ammar“. I tasted a rice cooked in a chicken stock made from cubes (read: very salty) with a little added Turmeric powder. The expected peppery flavor of the divine Saffron was missing; I at least expected to see little threads of Saffron running through the dish, but not a sliver was to be seen. So why use Turmeric instead? Probably because to the untrained palate (Cairo certainly has a lot of those), Turmeric can taste a lot like Saffron. Probably because the Mr. Lazy Chef assumes that no one can tell the difference. Probably because both can be yellow. Whatever the reason may be, I couldn’t help but feel a little deceived.

I do not understand how such a promising dish could be executed so horribly. For a restaurant of this supposed caliber, the risotto should have been made with a fish stock; preferably made from the shells of the shrimp and a nice light miropoix. It’s a seafood risotto and should taste like one. Maybe the “Genius French Chef” should do some web browsing and use this recipe instead of his own.

The dessert round approached, and I was eager to finish on a high note. I wanted so badly to like this place, I really did. I ordered the sweet chocolate shortbread, served with chocolate mousse and confit pineapple. The rest of my party ordered the Apple Tart and the Chocolate Souffle. The desserts were presented nicely enough, on square clear blue plates. The chocolate shortbread and mousse combo I ordered and tasted…nice. Just… Nice. Nothing to write home about, and certainly not meritorious enough to warrant entry to my long term memory, except for the horrible pineapple confit which definitely came straight out of a can, garnished deceptively by a peeled vanilla pod.

The apple tart also did not deliver and the verdict, passed down in a single word, was “Dry”. This was immediately followed by a 5 minute declaration of love for the Tart Tatin at Charwood’s in Mohandessin; currently sitting unchallenged at the top of everyone’s list of favorite desserts. The chocolate soufflé, however, seems to have delivered on a profound level, because my friend who ordered it is still singing its praises. I, however, will take his crooning with a grain of salt; this is a Man who thought that vanilla was supposed to be white, meat is to be eaten well done, and that pineapples were mangoes.

Tamarai is not cheap. The service leaves much to be desired. The food, even more so. However, there was one bright spot – the cocktails. The Bartender is the real genius, serving up expertly mixed cocktails with complex and refreshing flavors. I do not remember the exact names of the virgin cocktails I ordered, but a trip to Tamarai would be worth it, if only for the opportunity to sample those wonderful libations again. Not 3 weeks into its life as Cairo’s newest addition to high-end cuisine, I noticed a few couples walk in, sit at the lounge and wave away the food menu in favor of the cocktail menu. Tamarai’s future lies in its bar lounge, it would seem, and not on its dinner table. Even the cardboard flyers announcing Tamarai’s appearance onto the scene make no mention of the food, only who the architect is and what number to call should you want to decorate your living room the same way:

See what I mean?

Tamarai is like most restaurants in Cairo, promising a lot more than it can deliver. It will be known for its style and pseudo-exclusivity. It will be remembered for its prices. It will be celebrated for its imaginative and exciting cocktail bar. But will it stand out for it’s expertly cooked and well balanced food?

Not a chance.

Cooking time 115 minutes.


About Wesam E Masoud
Chef Patron of @chefsmarketmasr, Host of @CBCSofra's #matbakh101. I have one degree in Medicine & 3rd degree burns from cooking.

3 Responses to Tamarai – Nile City Towers

  1. Nadia says:

    Hey Doc. Read your review along with other articles about the place. I so far have had no desire to go and experience the ‘new’ Cario ‘Hot Spot’. I prefer going after the ‘wow factor’ and hype has toned down. Only then, can you really judge the place for it’s ambience and cuisine.
    I am mortified at how little though went into your dishes though. What time were you there out of curiosity? Perhaps the ‘head chef’ wasn’t on the floor at the time?
    I do suggest you give the place a second chance. When you go, take the review that you have written and if you are still unsastisied with it, give it to the management to give to the chef. He may take action and to step up his game.
    I agree Charwoods is still riding high.

  2. WEM says:

    Thanks for reading, but allow me to retort.
    The presence or lack thereof of the chef should have no effect on the quality of the food coming out of the kitchen. The executive chef designs the menu and how the dish is presented on the plate. My bad experience was not due to an careless sous chef, but due to a feckless belgian baker posing as a real chef.
    i’m sure you will agree, first impressions last. I will not go again unless it is to burn some hard earned cash on some fantastic cocktails.

  3. Pingback: Tamarai Egypt: Now serving BS! « Not Hungry Cuz I Ate

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