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Highlights

Restaurants

Café Blanc: Popular Lebanese Restaurant Impresses at Cairo Festival City

Café Blanc: Popular Lebanese Restaurant Impresses at Cairo Festival City

After its smashing success on the North coast, Café Blanc wasted no time in opening in Cairo and, not unlike its Sahel branch, the restaurant-cafe takes up an outdoor seating area at Cairo Festival City mall that provides a pleasant an inviting dining experience. The decor of the venue uses bright vivid colours and comfy, chic seating options make it perfect for a laid back afternoon lunch. The indoor area is even louder, with it's trademark sky blue colour dominating a space that includes some attractive arched ceilings. We took some time to go through the extensive menu, which included a range of traditional Lebanese dishes with modern twists, from which we chose the Raheb Salad (20LE) and some Tabbouleh (25LE) to start. From the Hot Mezza section, we opted for the Makanek in Pomegranate Molasses Sauce (40LE), Chicken Liver (35LE), Ras Asfour (38LE) and Cheese Rolls (30LE). Since the manakeesh are made right before our eyes in a live cooking station, we had to give them a try so we ordered the Akkawi Chili Man'oushe (35LE).  For the mains we had the Kofta Platter (70LE) and Fattet Shawarma (55LE). Shortly our salad arrived accompanied by a basket of steaming warm bread. The Tabouleh was light and zesty while the Raheb Salad was even more impressive with mashed grilled eggplants, diced tomatoes, peppers and onions, marinated with lemon and olive oil. The hit appetisers quickly followed; the Makanek and Chicken Liver were both smothered in flavoursome, sweet molasses sauce that truly rang in our tastebuds. The Ras Asfour, small thin slices of beef in gravy sauce, came in a rather small portion, but was nonetheless cooked and seasoned well. However, it was the cheese rolls that stole the show, coming piping hot and filled generously.  The friendly waiter then brought in the rest of our dishes promptly. The Kofta platter featured three skewers of Lamb kofta grilled to perfection with a side of delicious wedges and tehina dip. The Man'oushe was authentically Lebanes and stuffed generously with salty Akkawi cheese; needless to say it vanished in a couple of minutes. The Fattah, unfortunately, didn't fare as well; it was lukewarm, the yoghurt seemed diluted and runny, while there was a strange lack of rice. From the diverse desserts menu, we opted for Jabal Lebnen (38LE) and the trio pudding (30LE) – the latter of which was recommended by the waiter. Jabal Lebnen is a traditional Lebanese dessert featuring a simple but vibrant combination of flavours; Halawa, pistachios and delicious Mastic Ice cream.  The trio pudding was light and sweet, consisting of three servings of rice pudding, muhallabieh and meghleh; a cinnamon and spice-infused pudding. While many restaurants in the capital claim to serve truly authentic Lebanese dishes, only few actually do and Café Blanc has proved to be among them. The service was impeccable and the friendly waiters made sure to attend to our every need. All in all, we had a rather enjoyable experience despite the fact that some dishes were considered to be over-priced compared to the portions served.

Shopping

Incoco Egypt: Online Cairo Shop for U.S. Nail Appliques Brand

Incoco Egypt: Online Cairo Shop for U.S. Nail Appliques Brand

While many still curse the frivolity and unimportance of social media, in Egypt, the likes of Facebook and instagram have become important platforms for Cairenes with an entrepreneurial spirits to showcase their products. Many have turned to importing merchandise that is not readily available in Egypt, the likes of cosmetics and apparel. "Incoco Egypt" has done just that by offering Cairene nail art fans the infamous "Incoco" nail strips. Stumbling over their Instagram account, we saw in their products an alternative to the hectic and messy process of applying nail polish. We contacted them right away over WhatsApp, chose our favourite colours from those showcased on the account and set up a time and place to meet them and receive our chosen strips. Our purchase consisted of purple 'Royalty' shade (40LE), the red 'Passion' colour (40 LE) and a classic French manicure set (50LE). With a 3-for-2 offer, however, we wound up paying for just 2 of them (90LE in total). Incoco Egypt offers a variety of monotonic shades, as well as an array of different designs, including floral, glittery and duo-toned strips. We received our products on time and were given a brief explanation on how to apply them, as well as a complimentary nail file. The application of the products was, in all honesty, the trickiest part. Each set comes with fourteen nail strips, seven for each hand, so that you have extras to experiment with during the whole trial-and-error process of applying them. Once we got the hang of it, however, the process seemed a lot simpler and, in fact, easier than applying nail polish. The strips fit perfectly on the nails and looked professionally done – well, as professionally as possible considering the intricacy of it all. They also instantly dried up and stayed put on the nails. Due to the fact that they are actually made from nail polish that has been compressed and dried, they looked just as shiny. All in all, the Incoco strips were much more practical than one might think, especially in times when one needs to run out of the door and has no extra minutes to spare lounging around while their nail polish dries up. The price, however, may be a bit a bit steep, especially since they are made for one-time use. Nevertheless, the standard and efficiency of the product and service, in terms of delivering the right products at the right time, makes it worth the extra penny or two.

Cafés

Bel Gelato: Authentic Italian Gelato in Heliopolis

Bel Gelato: Authentic Italian Gelato in Heliopolis

Operating for just under a year, Bel Gelato has very quickly made itself a favourite in Heliopolis. The light-as-air Italian delicacy, offered in an abundance of flavours at Bel Gelato, has a light, fluffy consistency to differentiate it from conventional ice cream. Whereas ice cream tends to be more on the dense, creamy side, good quality gelato needs to retain an equally rich flavour within a wispier consistency. Located just off of one of Heliopolis' most distinctive main streets, Bel Gelato's huge deep blue sign is hard to miss. The venue itself is not tremendously spacious, with a single table to boast, yet is brightly lit and immaculately polished. Greeting us with a welcoming smile and a quick chat about the place, our server quickly explained the flavours available during the time of our visit. With both fruity and creamy flavours, Bel Gelato offers upwards of twenty different  options to choose from, that come in small (15LE), medium (25LE) and large (30LE) sizes, either in a cup or a cone. Of the fruit flavours, we found the Tropical Cocktail, Passion Fruit Mango, Wild Strawberries and Cinnamon Green Apple to be the most intriguing, with some of the other peculiur flavours including, Oreo, Pistachio, Hazelnut, Coffee and Jelly Cola - true story. One of the types that immediately caught our attention, however, was the Carpicof flavour; a blend of pistachio, coffee and caramel that we found a tad too strong in taste, with all the distinctive flavours clashing somewhat. Finally deciding on a couple of flavours, we went for a small scoop of Tiramisu and another of Stracciatella. The former tasted like a frothier, more frozen version of the traditional Italian dessert, whereas the latter was a blend of cream with crunchy bits of Belgian chocolate. Both were equally as rich in flavour, with minimal sugar and quality ingredients. Bel Gelato also offers more Italian delicacies than just plain gelato including Bombolone (10LE) - basically the Italian version of a sugar-dusted stuffed donut - as well as Panino Gelato (25LE) - gelato-topped brioche bread - and Italian pie, Crostata (15LE-35LE). All in all, Bel Gelato was everything we hoped it would be, thanks to its use of quality ingredients, as well as its cheery staff who managed to both be casually friendly and professional at the same time. We'll definitely be heading back over there to get over whatever is left of our late blooming winter blues.

Nightlife

Red Onion: Maadi Bar Hasn't Changed One Bit, For Better & For Worse

Red Onion: Maadi Bar Hasn't Changed One Bit, For Better & For Worse

When it comes to Cairo nightlife, there's an increasing variety of bars, clubs and pubs to choose from. There are, however, staples that have become second homes to nocturnal Cairenes; venues that have been there for what feels like forever; ones that you can turn to when experimenting with the newer venues is just too much of a hassle. For Maadi residents, the Red Onion has been one such place. Looking quite small and demure from the outside, the bar and restaurant is located on one of Maadi's quieter side streets and is almost easy to miss. Stepping inside, you find yourself in a stuffy, dimly-lit space with off-white walls and several small tables occupied by loud crowds. A rather confusing and loud playlist does nothing to compliment what looks to be a traditional Mediterranean theme that the interior design is trying almost too hard to portray. Ragheb Alama sings his heart out on one of his 2007 tracks followed by Usher's infamous 'Yeah' – you get the picture. A waiter scurries amongst the clouds of smoke filling the air and is immediately by our side ready to take our order. When asked for menus, he simply said "we offer everything, just shoot" – a rather odd and quite perplexing response. Not actually wanting to order food, we dismissed the waiter's peculiar answer. Whereas a can of regular soda will set you back 13LE, a Stella beer will cost you 20LE – it doesn't make sense, but little in Cairo ever does. While cocktail prices vary, they do so within reason. We opted for a Tequila Sunrise (30LE) and a whiskey and Coke (69LE). Our drinks came within a few minutes accompanied by a small bowl of salted popcorn and another of Lupini beans, which were devoured within minutes and were, sadly, not refilled throughout the night. The Tequila Sunrise was very peachy and refreshing, while the whiskey and Coke had a surprisingly large serving of whiskey – we aren't complaining. Service wise, the waiters are quite efficient and you can always spot one standing somewhere nearby. The drinks arrived swiftly and were of sufficient quality, as well as comparatively very low prices. All in all, Red Onion has retained its satisfactory level of service and its interior hasn't changed at all. The loud crowds and even louder, outdated background music can, however, be a tad unsettling especially if you're simply looking to unwind after a long day. To compare the Red Onion with Cairo's more modern bars would be unfair, however; this is one nightlife spot that very much relies on a steady stream of regulars. You can by all means enjoy a night there, just don't expect five-star anything. Or four-star anything for that matter.

Arts & Culture

Ubuntu Art Gallery: 'The Spirit of Civilization' by Refki Al Razzaz

Ubuntu Art Gallery: 'The Spirit of Civilization' by Refki Al Razzaz

While many lament Zamalek as an island of sidewalk-encroaching loiterers, many forget that it is also home to some of Cairo's most active and prolific galleries. One such example is often overshadowed by its more established peers: Ubuntu Art Gallery. Filling the walls of the gallery right now is Refki Al Razzaz exhibition, The Spirit if Civilization – the name alone inspires ones imagination. We imagined a number of paintings taking inspiration from Egyptian folklore, but what we found was a much larger amalgamation of historical civilizations throughout time, all embodied in oil paintings of different sizes. In one painting, Al Razzaz draws on the Assyrian civilization, showing with a mythical creature with a raised tail drawn in the foreground, while the background consisted of shapes resembling an ancient language. Deeper into the background are palm trees painted with striking hot colours, contrasting the earthy colours used in the rest of the painting. While the description of the painting may sound erratic and unusual – it's true that words can never really do art justice – the piece flows consistently as the artist creates a natural amalgamation of imagery, drawing on the symbolism, and at times ambiguity of, ancient iconography and folklore. Some of Al Razzaz's smaller pieces are just as striking. In other paintings, however, Al Razzaz deviates from this approach in slightly using more modern elements, like one piece which shows woman drawn in stripped down geometric form. It's just one of the pieces that resembles Picasso's cubist style, specifically in the way in Al Razzaz depicts the female form. In one painting, three women are shown standing with arms linked as if in some kind of dance or skip and a turquoise figure that resembles a primitive drawing of an Ancient Egyptian boat. Al Razzaz's approach is an interesting and unique one that demands that you pay attention to its detailing. Said approach – from the moment of interpretation of inspiration or source, to its subsequent interpretation onto canvas – is like a metaphorical collage, but one that begins its fusion in the mind of the artist first and foremost. In theory, it could well have made for messy, disorientating pieces, but the end result is, in fact, is a graceful and effortless collection of work.

Health & Fitness

Mohamed Al Sagheer: Men's Department at Zamalek Branch Botches Haircut

Mohamed Al Sagheer: Men's Department at Zamalek Branch Botches Haircut

For a man in Cairo, getting a haircut is something of a terrifying prospect. You risk all manner of calamities such as fauxhawks, excessive gel and god only knows what else. Luckily, more and more high-end options for males are cropping up, and what better place is there to test out than Cairo mainstay, Mohammed Al Sagheer. On walking into the popular Zamalek branch, you will be immediately greeted by well turned out doormen. The men's section is on the first floor, but that won't prevent the elevator attendant from shepherding you into their glamorous little box. When approaching the desk, the receptionists are more than polite, offering refreshments and asking if you wanted to see a specific stylist. The stylist leads you round the corner to where the seats and wash basins are. You are given the choice of whether you want hot or cold water, and the fragrant shampoo makes for a pleasant experience. However, the chairs for the basin are not adjustable, which may leave the more vertically gifted amongst you uncomfortably contorted. The stylist will then lead you the seat in front of the mirror and ask what you want.  The request was simple; a faded short back and sides, and a simple trim on the curly top; not an unusual or difficult request. However, instead of fading the lower sections, the stylist simply shaved it all one level on the sides, and applied a very rudimental fade to the back section. Instead of a trim, he took about a millimetre off of the front section of the hair. At this point, you will be directed back for a second wash, and then return to the seat for styling. Usually when you get a haircut, the stylist asks you how you brush your hair, and what, if any product you use. Instead, this stylist added a very heavy wax without as much as a word. The application was heavy-handed, uneven and left the final hairstyle looking rather greasy. When met with requests to trim the top further, he refused, instead trying to reassure this reviewer that it looked fine and then simply walked away. For 70 L.E., it's reasonably priced, but the customer service on this occasion left plenty to be desired. It wasn't until later in the day when the awful product was washed out that the full disaster became clear. It looked like a mess without being professionally styled and coiffed, with lower sections of the top still being far too long and the shaved back being noticeably uneven. The moral of the story? Be very clear, very firm and don't take no for an answer.

TV & DVD

Starred Up: Gritty, Award-Winning British Prison Drama

Starred Up: Gritty, Award-Winning British Prison Drama

Titled from a popular term which describes the early transfer of a young offender from a juvenile detention facility to an adult penitentiary, Starred Up is by no means an easy watch. However, as much as it is difficult to digest at times, there is a certain poetic beauty behind its seemingly violent and destructive quality that makes it difficult to look away from. Shot within the walls of an abandoned Belfast prison, the film opens with troubled nineteen-year-old Eric Love (O'Connell) undergoing an embarrassing admittance process, involving a complete body strip down, as he's transferred into an adult reformatory.   Immediately marked as a "single cell, high risk" type detainee, it doesn't take long for Eric – whose frequent and violent outbursts got him relocated there in the first place – to stir up trouble and make enemies both with fellow inmates and security guards.  After a mistaken attack on another inmate lands the young delinquent into the disciplinary hands of the law, Eric is soon approached – and rescued – by the in-house therapist, Oliver Braumer (Friend), who believes that he can help the young man rehabilitate. Unfortunately, getting to the root of Eric's problems - and getting him to open up - is no easy task and Oliver - together with the other rehabilitating convicts - often find themselves the targets of both verbal and physical abuse. To top it off, Eric has to find a way to learn to share the walls of his new confinements with his estranged father, Nev (Mendelsohn), who is currently serving a life-sentence in the same prison. Penned by first-time screenwriter Jonathan Asser – a former prison psychotherapist whose own experience with the British penal-system adds a hefty dose of authenticity and realism to the film – Starred Up, told through a series of wordless and violent expositions, is fuelled with gripping intensity which is hard to shake off. Relying on action, rather than words, the uniqueness – and the heart - of the story lies with the father-son narrative, whose bonding difficulties are depicted through the oppressiveness of life in prison. Contributing to the movie's relentless and uncompromising approach to despair and violence, O'Connell – mostly known for his role in the British TV-series Skins and recently seen as the lead in Angelina Jolie's war-drama Unbroken – is an absolute standout; feral and unpredictable, his performance carries the film, while Mendelsohn is equally superb as a man whose persona and motives are seemingly hard to read.  Powerful, emotional but never too sentimental, Starred Up is a true British-prison drama classic whose quietly yielding power and passion for storytelling will leave you feeling captivated and  moved. 

City Life

Mother's Day in Cairo: Offers, Packages & Specials at the City's Top Hotels

Mother's Day in Cairo: Offers, Packages & Specials at the City's Top Hotels

Mother's Day in Egypt has crept up seemingly out of nowhere this week, leaving many Cairenes - mostly men, of course - in a state of confusion and indecision as they formulate a fitting treat for the most important woman in their lives. And while Cairo has quite often celebrated more superfluous occasions with more enthusiasm, the city's hotels have plenty of options covering dining and spa treatments. Fairmont Nile City Fairmont Nile City's Saigon Restaurant & Lounge welcomes back Ahmed Harfoush for a special night of live music, while the hotel's Willow Stream Spa offers the perfect services for a day of unadulterated pampering. For reservations and more information, call 02-2461-9494. Conrad Cairo Hotel Solana hosts a special Mother's Day brunch (250LE) where mums dine for free. The Conrad is also offering special rates for the weekend; 15% discount for a double room, with 50% discount on parking. For reservations and more information, call 02-2580-8000 Four Seasons Nile Plaza The Garden City hotel is offering several dining options at its restaurants; Lebanese restaurant, Zitouni, hosts an open buffet (365LE++ per person) between 1PM and midnight, while Cantonese restaurant, 8, also offers a buffet (370LE++) where mums eat for free for every four people. Elsewhere, Lobby Lounge hosts late afternoon tea with a special selection of food (150LE++), while a special offer at the spa gives a 50% discount for a friend, when services are booked for two. For reservations, call 02-2791-7000. Kempinski Nile Hotel Cairo Kempinski has put many of its egg in the basket of its spa called 'The Spa', with a special Mother's Day package offering a thirty-minute massage and seventy-five-minute facial coming with a surprise gift for 850LE. For more information and reservations, call 02-2798-0000. Sofitel Cairo El Gezirah Le Sud is hosting a special Mother's Day brunch buffet (295LE) while the hotel's So Spa has put together some special Mother's Day gift packages that offer three types of facial and body treatments packages, with some Cinq Mondes beauty products thrown in to boot. Prices start at 864LE. For more information, call 02-2737-3737. Fairmont Heliopolis With up to seventeen different restaurants, bars and eateries, Fairmont Heliopolis has kept things simple, with a special promotion where mums dine for free when with one other diner. Meanwhile, past stations, barbeque 'specials', kids activities and live entertainment await at My Kind of Place's special brunch (250LE++ per person). For reservations and more information, call 16989. Renaissance Cairo Mirage City Hotel One of the newer international hotels in Cairo, the Renaissance Cairo Mirage City, is letting Mums eat for free at elegant restaurant, Citron, between 1PM and 4PM. For reservations and more information, call 02-2406-3333 JW Marriott Cairo JW Marriott's Mirage Café is hosting a special Mother's Day brunch between 1PM and 4.30PM, while the hotel's Mandara Spa is offering a special package that includes body scrubs, massages and other 'rejuvenating' treatments. For more information and reservations, call 02-2411-5588. Cairo Marriott Hotel The Zamalek hotel 's picturesque Garden Promenade is set to be offer a Mother's Day brunch, where mums dine for free for every three guests (250LE++ per person). For more information and reservations, call 02-2728-3000. Dusit Thani LakeView Cairo There's plenty going on at New Cairo's Dusit Thani LakeView; restaurant, Ruen Thai, is giving mums in groups of four a complimentary dinner, while Dusit Gourmet is churning out some special baked Mother's Day treats. Meanwhile, the hotel's spa is offering several variations of packages, covering foot, head or shoulder massages, as well as facial scrubs. For more information and reservations, call 02-2614-0000. Four Seasons First Residence Another hotel keeping it simple this year is the Four Seasons in Giza, which is offering 25% off at all of its restaurants when mums dine, while afternoon tea can be had at Tea Lounge. For more information, call 02-3567-1600.
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Win! A Lenovo YOGA Tablet 2!
Win! A Lenovo YOGA Tablet 2!