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Downtown, Cairo, Egypt.
Naguib Mahfouz Café: Quiet Oasis in Khan El Khalili
Khan El Khalili certainly isn’t the quietest area in Cairo. Between hoards of inappropriately attired tourists, packs of vendors endlessly skilled in the art of creative heckling, and the horrendous parking situation, a visit to Khan El Khalili is a lively, crowded experience in the heart of the Capital.
Those who love Khan El Khalili and return to it time and time again are those that understand the need for frequent breaks from exploring the endless market stalls. These unshakeable souls also have another thing in common: their knowledge of one of the Khan’s most tasteful spots: the Naguib Mahfouz Café.
Fishawy’s is all well and good, but located just down the alley from Al Hussein Mosque; Naguib Mahfouz is an oasis in the midst of Khan chaos. The venue features a café section, where drinks and shisha are served, while a restaurant section serves oriental classics. The interiors are in keeping with the oriental flavour of Khan El Khalili and reflect the best of the area as immortalised in Mahfouz’s classic novels. Service is excellent, menu and drink selections are above average, and the overall atmosphere is one of impeccable hospitality.
If you’re just stopping in for a drink, choose from local favourites such as karkadeh or sahlab (15LE) and sample the very popular house shisha. Other refreshing choices include milkshakes (20LE) and a wide selection of teas: try a classic black tea with mint or a spicy cinnamon brew (10LE). The café also serves sandwiches and other snacks for a quick pick-me-up between shopping.
If you come for lunch or dinner, leave enough time to experience the full menu and enjoy the atmosphere. Menu options cover oriental favourites: try a mezza selection of green salad, taameya, grape leaves, tehina, hummus, sambousak, Alexandrian liver or a classic lentil soup to start with, followed by a mixed grill platter, pigeon stuffed with cracked wheat or shrimp with rice.
Leave plenty of room for dessert – with favourites like om ali, rice pudding and mahalabeya made to perfection; you will not want to miss out. A snack or a meal here for two will set you back between 50LE and 400LE depending on how decadent your choices are– bargain hard while shopping at the market and you will have plenty left to spend on sustenance.
For a classy, hassle-free experience in Khan El Khalili; be sure to escape frequently to Naguib Mahfouz Café, where you can experience the charm and appeal of Old Cairo, Mahfouz-style.
Cafés in Cairo are a dime a dozen, and competition is pretty brutal. That usually translates into some rather strange themes and gimmicks across the capital. In Mohandiseen, Bon Bini follows suit with a kitschy jazz vibe.
With two floors and an outdoor seating area, the café is spacious with a peculiar variety of seating areas,making the whole place interestingly asymmetrical. Although the furniture seems dated and worn, the running jazz theme creates a charming, nostalgic feel. Jazz band statues and antique books give a purposefully vintage edge to the venue.
The polite and courteous staff are well versed in the menu. Akin to the typical Cairene café scene, the menu is awash with a wide variety of sandwiches, pizzas and entrees, along with a shisha section.
For appetisers, we ordered tomato soup (17.95LE) and a fried Texas platter (18.95LE) – fries with chilli cheese sauce. For our mains we ordered one Verona pizza (49.95LE) topped with chicken, roast beef slices, olives, tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese, alongside a chef filet (74.95LE) which transpired to be a beef strip stuffed with mushrooms and roast beef, topped with a butter sauce.
First on our table came the extraordinarily hot soup and fries; so hot in fact, that we had to let both dishes cool off for a few minutes. Served with crispy croutons and a thick dollop of cream, the generously-sized soup was full of flavour. Despite being topped with a thick layer of cheese, the fries were well-cooked and surprisingly light.
Later, both the pizza and filet proved to be even better. The pizza was large enough to satisfy two, and boasted a thick, fluffy base. The fillet was cooked to perfection, without sacrificing the meat’s tenderness, and laced with a rich, flavourful butter sauce. The sides of fresh vegetables and smooth mashed potatoes were a welcome addition to the meal.
For dessert, we enjoyed a cold fruit crepe (19.95LE), made with apples and bananas and topped with Nutella. Unlike the conventional serving of crepes, our crepe was laid flat – as opposed to folded - topped with the fresh, ripe ingredients.
Although the quirky decor and unusual ambience may not suit everyone’s taste, Bon Bini is a great venue for casual outings – and the kitchen certainly delivers.