Shogun at the Intercontinental City Stars

Last week, half a dozen friends and I decided to make an event out of a night at the movies. So, before our scheduled viewing of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland at the Golden Stars Cinema, we settled on Japanese food at Shogun in the nearby Intercontinental Hotel. Since my favorite Japanese restaurant, Okamoto in Mohandessin, closed down, I’ve been on the lookout for a restaurant that serves Shabu-Shabu. So after sitting down at one of the 3 teppanyaki bars – am I the only one who thinks that teppanyaki bars are a tad overused and cliched? – I searched the half dozen page menu for Shabu Shabu.

No Dice. Sigh. The standard fare on offer and the teppanyaki bars gave me a sinking feeling I was in for a run of the mill Egyptian interpretation of Japanese Food at premium prices. Reinforcing this dread was the menu; the first page was meant to be a story about the history of shoguns in Japan, but was cut off mid sentence when the space on the page ran out. I asked the maitre D where the rest of the story was and he jokingly remarked that the history of Shoguns was short-lived.

Some ordered the sushi, some ordered the teppanyaki. My girlfriend, who is an avid foodie in her own right, ordered the less obvious choice of chicken and fried rice. I wanted to have as much as I could, so I set myself up for four courses: Miso Soup, followed by Fried Tofu in a benito broth, a sushi and Sashimi platter and a dessert of banana spring rolls with Mango Sorbet. I also ordered an “assortment of Japanese pickles”; my friend’s Japanese mother used to make her own homemade Japanese pickles, and I found myself quite nostalgic for them.

The beverage list was pretty standard, serving mainly Egyptian wines and brews. But Shogun also serves Japanese Asahi Beer, imported all the way from Tokyo, Japan. It is also priced accordingly; all told, a bottle of this brew will set you back about EGP120. I mean, it’s good – but not *that* good. If you really want good imported brew, I’d recommend heading over to Harry’s Pub at the Zamalek Marriott for some German Weissbeer priced at EGP55 (excluding tax and service charges) for half a liter. But man cannot live on beverages alone and we made conversation as we waited for our food to arrive.

I was not surprised that after a long interminable wait, the food was served with no sense of timing. Some of my friends received their main dishes before I even got my Miso Soup, and my pickles sat there in front of me looking embarrassed and apologetic like a secretary who’s boss was busy playing golf instead of being on time for an important meeting. It’s not like the restaurant was full or anything – there were barely 10 other people in the restaurant besides us (also waiting for their food, no doubt). The wait staff, however, were never more than a quick “Excuse me” away; and they apologized profusely when I pointed out that my “assortment” of Japanese pickles was, in fact, the same Japanese pickle repeated over and over again. Three minutes later, I was given a second plate with daikon radish and what I can only assume was pickled cauliflower. Our soft drink cans were emptied into little glass jugs, that we then used to top up our drinking glasses. While this is a cute little touch, I despise it, since having to double pour my soft drink results in a flat, fizzless glass of cola.

The Miso soup was as expected – one of my favorite things to eat. I enjoyed the light tempura battered tofu slices, but my girlfriend disagreed, astutely remarking that the slices were too large to be eaten with a chopstick, and that they lacked any flavor whatsoever, other than fried batter. The benito broth was a study in Umami, and kept me coming back for more, whetting my appetite for the next course of Sushi and Sashimi.

This is where things started descending into disappointment. The sushi and sashimi platter was served on a chipped wooden boat, and even though it looked pretty, it tasted like old fish. I will admit that it was the first time I enjoyed eating octopus, but other than that, I was reminded of why I normally stay away from seafood in Cairo. I couldn’t wait for this course to be over, and abandoned ship with more than half of its contents left uneaten.  My friends’ beef teppanyaki was not much better. The menu pretentiously and proudly claimed the beef was Australian Grain-fed Fillet, but I could see immediately that it was still barely thawed from the freezer, and wouldn’t deliver on flavor. The teppanyaki chef did his best to entertain us with the noisy clanging of his paint scrapers, but he could not detract from the fact that his ingredients had let him down. I had a bite of the medium-rare beef fillet, and it left a burnt butter, almost fishy taste in my mouth, no doubt from the overuse of oyster sauce, which I normally love.

I was most impressed by the presentation of the chicken and fried rice dish. Served in a gray-brown clay pot, it looked like something you would eat at a Japanese home on a school night. But as usual the chicken was woefully overcooked, devoid entirely of any flavor other than that of dry aviary protein. I still don’t understand why most chefs think that cooking with chicken only means the breast – if you’re going to subject the bird to a high heat, then go with the thighs. The higher fat content and darker muscle structure lend themselves better to such cooking methods. Just ask an Indian Chicken Tandoori chef.

Time was dragging on, and we were concerned we’d miss the start of our movie if the desserts didn’t arrive soon. After poking and prodding the waiters, we were served the dessert. On paper, a “Banana Spring Roll” sounds like it could be wonderfully divine. I imagined a light dessert, filled with fluffy banana and bursting with flavor. What we got was its evil, aborted twin brother. Dense, oily spring roll pastry surrounded a banana filling that was unbelievably dry and tasted only of raw cinnamon. Banana is a very strong flavor, so I’m *very* surprised that the kitchen staff managed to finally find a way to remove it. I mean, that man has got to be a fucking genius, turning what I thought would be a moist banana dessert into a dry cinnamon dessert! This offense I cannot abide, as I rely on dessert to put a smile on my face before I see the bill.

Instead I frowned, and that frown turned to a scowl as the bill for all seven of us totaled almost three and a half thousand pounds. The experience and quality of the food was worth barely half that. We paid our bill and walked briskly towards the movie theater in the adjacent mall. Out loud, we talked about walking faster towards the promise of a great movie experience – silently, I know we were walking as fast as we could away from the broken promise of a great dining experience.

There is nothing about shogun that would cause me to recommend it to anyone in search of a good Japanese meal. Yes, the wait staff were attentive and tried their best to be cheerful, but a warm smile at the door can only get you so far – ultimately it comes down to the food to make or break the experience. At shogun, the experience is much like that first page on the menu; very interesting, but woefully incomplete.


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

4 Responses to Shogun at the Intercontinental City Stars

  1. Za mitr es fery funi fery funi

  2. Rehaam says:

    Three and a half THOUSAND pounds? You could buy a month’s worth of groceries for that much. What a ridiculous waste of money.

  3. Kauka Basah says:

    You reviewed okashi and said it was dog shit, so how can it be your favorite? Shit b, keep it real b.

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