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Cairo-Alex Desert Rd, Cairo, Egypt.
Grand Café: Downtown Café Atmosphere at Dandy Mall
Dandy Mall may not be as big and aesthetically set as its show-off cousin Citystars, but it does boast a number of first-rate retailers that cover both the necessary and the decadent, including H&M, Tommy Hilfiger and the first Marks & Spencer in Egypt. Along the strip of the main entrance is a glut of cafés and eateries. Grand Café doesn’t particularly stand out against its neighbours, but the dim lighting, low seating and giant projected screen are noticeable.
Cold drinks cost between 11LE and 20LE, and the fresh fruit basket (19LE) takes you on a rollercoaster of emotions. A cocktail of fruits blended with ice cream sounds good on paper, but in the flesh, it looks boggy, heavy and anything but fresh with a worrying grey tint to it. Never judge a drink by its colour, though; because it’s smooth, refreshing and every bit as fruit-filled as promised.
The sunshine cocktail is constructed of three separate layers; a syrup at the base, lemonade (that’s 7-Up to us) in the middle, and then another type of yellow syrup on top. While it was pretty to look at, after the three layers inevitably got to know each other and fused, it just tasted like very sweet lemonade.
Other notable cold drinks on offer include vanilla, chocolate or strawberry milkshakes at 19LE, and ice cream soda at 20LE. All your favourite coffee-based drinks are available at a range of between 8LE and 15LE, including both regular and iced mochas and lattés.
Grand Café’s food menu that is as ample in quantity as any restaurant if you get peckish. Starters are plentiful, with regular and chicken Caesar salads selling at 20LE and 27LE respectively and a four-piece meat or cheese sambousak dish at 14LE. The mini-hawawshi was surprisingly pleasant for 21LE, and although it wasn’t an exact replica of the real thing, the bite-sized meat pie was tender and flavoursome. A main course of kabab and kofta might be good to share at 50LE, with the same applying to the mixed grill at 53.50LE.
Desserts are in abundance, and at 25LE, the chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream stands out, as does ‘the black and white’; vanilla and chocolate ice cream with chocolate sauce, whipped cream and wafer biscuit, all for 18.50LE.
Shisha is available for between 12LE and 20LE, with the fakher blends being the most expensive. Apart from the usual grape fakher blend, Grand Café offers a watermelon fakher blend that is smooth and full of flavour, and well worth the extra money.
Whether deliberate or not, Grand Café feels like a Downtown pavement café; the wicker seating and tables are uncomfortably close, and the waiters have to weave like snake-hipped dancers to attend to the very loud and demanding customers. This is not an element that one would factor into having a pleasant and relaxing evening. But if you can’t beat them, join them; we advise that you be just as loud and demanding.
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.