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Maadi, Cairo, Egypt.
Crystal Cafe: Nile-side Sandwiches in Maadi
One of the many charms of Cairo is the Nile and the countless restaurants, cafés and docked boats dotted along its banks. Located at the beginning of the Maadi Corniche across from the Co-op Petrol Station, Nile Crystal is a tourist boat operated by Misr Travel that embarks on daily lunch and dinner cruises along our beloved river. The cruises include performances of Tannoura, belly dancing and live music to accompany your meal. However, if setting sail is not your style and you prefer to stay on dry land; you can check out Crystal Café on the water’s edge.
The café offers several seating areas, one of which is shaded by a pergola close to the boat docks. This seating area is more comfortable and has a better view than the patio furniture behind it, but service may suffer; as it is far from where the waiters hang out.
Don’t expect anything great from drinks at Crystal café. Both the coffee and the juice that this reviewer ordered were thin and watery as though the kitchen were trying to reduce costs.
After being let down by the beverages, we didn’t hold much hope for the food; but to our delight, Crystal Café serves some great sandwiches. Okay, so the burger (25LE) is a frozen patty, but it is dressed with a special sauce, fresh lettuce and thick slices of tomato on a fluffy sesame seed bun.
The Bora Bora (25LE) is a mix of marinated chicken, onions and peppers on a long sandwich roll. The chicken isn’t as spicy as advertised, but hot sauce is provided if you’d like more of a kick. Both sandwiches come with salted, golden brown fries and crispy picked carrots, onions and olives.
Crystal Café’s portions are definitely generous for their prices, and while the menu is short and only has your typical café food, they do it well. Salads aren’t on the menu, but if you ask the waiter, cold mezza such as tehina, baba ghanough and hummus are available for 8LE each.The downside of eating lunch while overlooking the Nile is that you’re almost guaranteed to be fighting off flies from the moment your food is delivered, but if you bring your own bug spray, Crystal Café is a fine spot for a quick bite to eat on the Nile.
A decent meal in a good location with good weather is an unbeatable, if often unattainable, combination. Ramadan, however, moves the goalposts; the food of a traditional sohour is neither complicated nor difficult, making the whole experience dependant on many other factors.
At Kahwet Leila in Maadi’s the Platform, you get just that. The Lebanese restaurant serves a set sohour menu at 100LE per person; that package includes Ramadan drinks, manakeesh, eggs, foul and falafel, plus a selection of desserts.
The great thing about the Platform is its breezy Nile-side location, paired with its chic aesthetics. Kahwet Leila also serve very decent shisha.
Shami flat bread is served with thyme and olive oil for you to snack on until the food arrives. From the sohour menu selection we opted for a Mouajanat Cocktail, Eggs Mfarakeh, Foul with Homos, Foul with Vegetables, Labneh, Falafel and Osmanliyet Leila from the desserts.
Frustrations flared almost immediately; the flat bread was cold. Seriously, small things like make a world of a difference.
The Foul with Homos didn’t particularly stand out –neither did the Foul with Vegetables – and after a few bites we realised why; they both had the artificial taste of a canned product.
The Labneh, an excellent dish to cool your stomach after heavy and oily foods like foul, had more salty cheese than labneh, which unfortunately took away from the cooling effect.
The Eggs Mfarakeh – scrambled eggs with cut up potato cubes – was equally as lacklustre ,but the Mouajanat Cocktail was the saving grace; around a dozen pieces of different dough and pastries, filled with either cheese, spinach or meat, all fresh, warm and delicious.
The Falafel was also much better than the other dishes, made the Levantine way with homos instead of foul, and served hot and crispy.
After a brief coffee break we proceeded to the dessert, which we believe may be the best thing on their menu. The Osmanliya – konafa topped with pistachio ice cream and syrup – was the definite hit of the night, and a definite must try for any sweett0othed Cairene.
Despite the inconsistency of the quality of the food itself, Kahwet Leila’s strengths in sohour lays primarily in its location – perfect for sohour with family or friends.