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Nasr City, Cairo, Egypt.
Limozen: Where Everyone Knows Your Name
Limozen (pronounced Li-Moo-Zeen) has been open to the public for over fifteen years now, and although it has undergone some significant cosmetic changes, it retains the same charm and warmth that made it Nasr City’s most popular ahwa. Limozen occupies a paved alley between the neighbourhood agora market and a large green square in the 8th district. It started out as a coffee shop for the builders working on the neighbourhood of Nasr City, and long after the builders have gone, it still stands today as ‘The resting place of lions, and the factory of men’.
The chairs and tables are arranged in two rows; one row is placed up against the fence separating the garden from the ahwa, with electrical outlets spaced about three metres apart. This row is typically occupied by the tech-savvy generation, laptops in tow and taking advantage of the ahwa’s free Wi-Fi.
The other row is arranged parallel to the opposite wall, next to the barber, the restaurant and the me’alem’s desk. That’s where the old school crowd sits; playing backgammon loudly and generating most of the atmosphere. In the background, Om Kalthoum or Abdel Halim Hafez blares out of the flat-screen TV, unless there is an important football match on, of course.
The drinks on offer include the standard ahwa fare (teas average around 1.50LE a cup), but they also experiment every now and then. The lemonade granita with mint (6LE) is highly recommended; it’s a study in refreshment. They also have no problem making a granita out of any fruit juice they sell, so don’t be afraid to ask. If it’s good, they will put it on their menu.
The restaurant section is on par with other Egyptian fast food options, but cheaper: try out the shish tawook sandwich (6.50LE) with misho French fries (6LE) for a hit-the-spot taste.
What is an ahwa without shisha? There are two flavours available; the harsh me’assel and the milder, more popular Bahraini apple (2LE each). While the staff won’t judge you for choosing the sissy apple flavour, they are known to be terribly friendly to posers, pretty boys or newcomers. If you can go with a regular, you’ll see the difference in service. Limozen is our version of Cheers (a fictional watering hole made popular by the 80s US sitcom of the same name)– a place “where everyone knows your name”.
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.