JW Steakhouse at the Zamalek Marriott

My older brother was on a one day visit from Boston last month, and being an avid reader of this site, wanted to treat me to something I hadn’t tried yet. Immediately we agreed that our meal would have to be one of cooked flesh. This of course meant we were headed to a steakhouse. The JW Steakhouse was a venue I was reserving for a big occasion; but since I hadn’t seen my brother in over a year, we decided that it was worthy.

The JW steakhouse makes a great first impression. The interior, with its plush leather chairs, wood and fabric paneled walls and dark wood tables, made me feel like we had stumbled upon a den of masculinity and gathering place of the barons of industry. I was disappointed the lighting was a bit too bright and that there wasn’t a heavy cloud of pipe and cigar smoke hanging in the air, because that would have completed the picture. Both me and my brother had the feeling that we was about to partake of a meal that would haunt our dreams.

The menu selections kept up the promise of greatness, dropping names like “Maryland Crab Cakes”, “New York Strip” and “Australian Beef”, and read like a greatest hits listing of prestige ingredients. It took us a while, but we settled on a Seafood Sampler for Two as our appetizer, followed by a new York strip steak for me, and a Roasted chicken breast for my Professorial sibling.

The dining room was empty save for a couple seated a few tables away from us; so you can imagine my astonishment that it took a full hour from the time we walked in to the time we were served our first course. While we waited we were given a basket of microwaved bread that the waiter claimed was freshly baked and piled into a clay flower pot. Thyme and Garlic butter was served alongside, placed in yet smaller clay pots. Just as we were polishing off the last few bits of bread, our appetizer arrived: a sampler of seafood with lobster, jumbo shrimp black caviar and smoked salmon. The menu claimed it was enough for two, but two lobster tails, 4 prawns and 2 slivers of smoked salmon does not an appetizer for two make. This was inhaled in 5 minutes, and once again, we were relegated to waiting patiently for the next course.

To add to the anticipation, the waiter cleared our table, then placed a wooden tray in front of me, complete with silver handles fashioned in the shape of a head of longhorn cattle. Beef was imminent, and my brother began having buyer’s remorse at not ordering a steak like I did. The feeling did not last long, as it turned from remorse about a menu choice, to full blown regret about the choice of restaurant.

My steak was cooked to order; but since this is a US certified New York Strip Steak, the meat was frozen, then thawed, and tasted as much. It sat on my white plate, unadorned by anything meaningful except a few sliced red onions hiding underneath the unapologetic steak. A frozen bit of steak loses so much of its flavor, and I found myself telling my brother a list of places that had better steak that came from local Egyptian cattle. The red onions were softened in the pan, but were so undercooked, they still tasted raw. This was an addition I could not understand – the memory of that flavor is one I will never forget unfortunately.

The pan roasted chicken breast was almost burnt, overcooked, and seemed slathered in burnt butter. One bite and my brother summoned the waiter to return the dish. Apologies ensued and a few minutes later, a virtually identical replacement was brought out to the same reaction. Annoyed, my brother refused the offer of an alternative selection from the menu, put off both by our long wait and the wholly unappetizing meal that was served to him.

By the end of the meal, the once impressive interior turned into a room of mockery, and we were impatient to leave. The service staff tried their best to assuage my brother’s disappointment, but employed a strategy that was one part hospitality and 4 parts stubborn insistence.

The strategy failed, and we left feeling cheated, sad and hungry.

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

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