Essence, Mohandessin

<Original article over at Cairo360>

I’ve been on a bit of an Subcontinental food buzz recently; and an invitation to take AmounsBouche back to Essence Barbecue in Mohandessin was one i could not resist. We both love Massala at the Karvin Hotel, but being bound to the island of Zamalek and its immediate vicinity, we were pleased to finally have an alternative to the horrendous Nawab when the curry bug bites.

Nothing has changed from my previous review – the Pakoras are still among the best things I have ever eaten; pungently spiced with an impossibly light and airy texture and the potato samosas are little potato curry flavor grenades. We did not like the meat samosas, which had a strong lamb flavor, but were bland otherwise.

The kitchen clearly enjoys the process of creation, even going so far as to add a little black salt to the lemonade we ordered. It was a nice flourish, i thought, but it should have been announced to prepare us for the added twist. It was sent back in favor of the more boring ‘regular’ lemonade (but they did add a tinsel umbrella…) Probably more successful is their new Lunch menu, offering both vegetarian and carnivorous options for a flat price of EGP50. Included are four courses, and it can be ordered, and indeed is designed for, takeaway.

The service is still as fresh faced as ever, and the head waiter is more comfortable and familiar with all the items on the menu. We didn’t get a chance to meet the Chef this time, but if you take my word for it, she won’t be leaving cairo anytime soon.

Cooking time: 5 minutes

 

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Richoux, City Stars and Mohandessin

One of my favorite eateries here in Cairo; the standards have been consistently excellent for the past 2 years. Check out the review over at Cairo 360.com

Peace out.

Asia Boutique at the Safir Hotel, Dokki

Be Warned: This is a Cellphone picture

You know the feeling. Great elation, a sense of accomplishment, of a great weight lifted up from off your shoulders. It’s the kind of feeling that demands to be celebrated and commemorated. The occasion, my friends, was my recent divorce from a particularly horrible employer; and I decided to celebrate and commemorate the event the only way I know how: by going out for a meal. Having never been to the Safir Hotel in Dokki before, I strolled around the hotel lobby and chatted with the concierge. I learned that they have an open buffet restaurant, a Lebanese restaurant and an outdoor café. But none of these were as advertised as “Asia Boutique” was; and it there that I decided to spend my patronage.

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VIP Restaurant, Cairo Tower

<First Published in G-Mag, Issue #53>

The people behind “VIP” want you to feel part of an exclusive and rarefied club; the Elite, the Chosen Few. But instead of employing bouncers at the door, and conjuring up fictitious minimum charges, they do it the old fashioned way: just hide the door. It’s reminiscent of a prohibition era Chicago. It took me two trips to the Cairo tower to get in; making a reservation wasn’t easy – VIP doesn’t have a direct line. Your best bet is to pray the Cairo Tower operator will answer and then redirect you to the Restaurant Manager.

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Casper and Gambini’s, Phase I City Stars

No doubt most of Cairo has been to City Stars, and probably a lot of Cairo’s youth has hung out, at one time or another, at Casper and Gambini’s on the second floor of Phase I.

This Lebanese born establishment sits spatially and gustatorily above another Lebanese export, Crepaway, for whom I have little love and less than no desire to ever try again.

But lets stick with what’s good, and C+G certainly has that in spades. The menu is (thankfully) easy to read and offers more than a few intriguing and highly satisfying dishes to choose from.
Although the tag line is “Taste of tradition”, I find very little tradition in their food, and that’s not a bad thing at all.
There are fluffy fruit pancakes with maple syrup, caramelized onion frittatas and a BLT sandwich for breakfasts (until 12pm noon), complimented fantastically by an selection of fresh juices or a cup of the best French press coffee in Cairo. Yes I know. To Starbuck’s zombies, this is blasphemy, but King Buck’s got nothing on the C+G.

The rest of the menu features a wide selection of appetizers, salads, soups and sandwiches, main courses (Pastas and meat/seafood) and a page dedicated to the weekly specials (1 new dish from each section). The specials are definitely worth a try, if, like me, you want to be excited and experience an adventure. To borrow Marco Pierre White’s words, let C+G “take you by the hand and guide you through” a wonderful meal.

The desserts, however do not shine as brightly as their savory brethren. The chocolate cake is barely passable, and the cheesecake leaves much to be desired. Not that they’re bad, but they’re just not *as* good as the rest of the fare on offer. Except one thing: The chocolate Fondant. This is a revelation in desserts, and I recommend ordering one for your partner, or else you’ll be fighting over the crumbs. The seemingly innocuous mound of dark chocolate cake holds inside it a river of molten chocolate itching to attack the pure white dome of vanilla ice cream sitting centimeters away. I caught myself ready to lick the plate many a time, only to be stopped by breeding, manners and a disapproving look from my fiance.

All ingredients are fresh, and it shows: starting with the complimentary bread basket, through to the crisp, crunchy and oh-so-succulent salads. Even the sauteed vegetables supporting the various grilled meats and pastas, often overlooked or added as an afterthought at other eateries, are brightly colored and cooked to perfection. The cuts of Fish, chicken or beef are expertly trimmed and shaped, and cooked to order. Only once dd they get my fillet of beef wrong, but they were forgiven – even at well done, it was still tender and flavorful.
More importantly, eating a 3 course meal doesn’t mean you’ve broken the bank nor your waist line. The quantity of food seems to be carefully calculated: not too little so it doesn’t seem like they’re cheating you on the bill, but just enough so they don’t have to cart you out in a wheel barrow. The credo of this establishment is “Some people eat to live, some people eat to live longer”. God bless them, they *want* me to live!

I feel like Messrs Casper and Gambini really *do* care about me, and it shows even in the attentiveness of their staff. I’ve found the service to be quite exceptional, and after eating there regularly for the better part of the past year, I can confidently declare that they have never been tardy. The food is timed perfectly depending on the number of courses ordered and are at hand when you need them, and invisible when you don’t.
There is, however, a black hole at the City Stars location: underneath the obligatory flat screen TV, there are two comfortable brown leather couches facing each other. If you enjoy being left alone, then sit there. Keep in mind, you could be there till the end of time before a waiter voluntarily notices you.

In truth, all one really needs to enjoy this place to the fullest is good company and a good appetite. Break bread with some close friends and family, or reconnect with old ones. In that, I suppose, is where the taste of tradition is.

RECOMMENDED:

  • Salad: Cobb Salad
  • Soup: Wild Mushroom Soup
  • Sandwiches: Turkey Frontega Press, Grilled Halloumi, Club Sandwich (bread NOT toasted), Philly Cheese steak (focacia bread, untoasted)
  • Pasta: Pesto Fusilli, Creamy Tandoori Linguini
  • From the Grill/Oven: To Die for Salmon, Grilled Tenderloin, Chicken under a brick
  • Appetizers: selection of 3 tapas: Jumbo Prawns, Spring Rolls, Fried Mozzarella
  • Desserts: Chocolate Fondant
  • Breakfast: Pancakes, Fritatta