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Zamalek, Cairo, Egypt.
Carlo's: Bustling Nile-Side Hangout in Zamalek
On the Cairo restaurant scene, there's little to distinguish between those that play in the genre of international cuisine. Many will serve the same unauthentic, localised dishes in an attempt to attract the rather than presenting accurate interpretations.
Located on the Le Pacha 1901 boat on the Zamalek Corniche, Carlo's is both a restaurant and a cafe, offering appetizers, salads, pastas, pizzas and main courses alongside cold and warm beverages, shisha and beers, spirits and liquors.
The scent of m3asel is overpowering at first, so unless you're okay with the smell or are here to smoke a shisha, head straight to the far-end where the terrace is open. After sitting down, one of the waiters hastily gave us our menus, and disappeared into the bustle of the half-crowded venue.
We opted for vine leaves with yoghurt (28.90LE) as a starter, and from the main course selection, a Ravioli Panna (67.90LE) and beef fillet with mushrooms (108.90LE).
In regards to portion size, the vine leaves were satisfying and appropriate. Prepared with meat in the stuffing the only letdown was the yoghurt. It wasn't a yoghurt salad - there were no cucumbers or mashed up garlic; just yoghurt.
The Ravioli Panna, prepared with ricotta cheese and spinach, isn't so generous in portion, unfortunately, especially considering its 68LE price. While initially pleasing on the palate, the taste of chicken broth came to overpower the sauce as we dug in more and more.
As for the Beef Fillet, we had our usual scepticism about whether or not they would get the fillet's cooking right. In such cases, we order medium to avoid over or under cooking. More often than not, we receive well done steaks after ordering medium or medium rare. This didn't happen at Carlo's. We got the medium we asked for.
Tender, juicy and pink on the inside, the fillet was perfect. Topped with cooked mushrooms and delicious gravy, it was by far the highlight of an up-and-down meal. Even the side serving of French fries were excellent; crisp and golden on the outside, soft and mushy on the inside.
As for service, well, we've seen restaurants with more attentive staff, and where the food is served faster. But with that said, there were no glaring errors or offences cause. As a space, Carlo's is clean, but not exactly relaxing, thanks primarily to the racket of shisha service.
When it comes to gimmicks, Cairo's cafés are pretty shameless and Bungalow is no different. True, it’s all on one floor – if we overlook the three steps leading up to the reception area– but in reality, ‘Beach Hut’ is more the vibe given off by this Maadi café-restaurant. Boasting a chilled outdoor area and a funky straw-roofed bar tucked away around the back, Bungalow offers a casual hangout spot which, with a little imagination, could be Maadi's own tropical island. Sadly, the venuelacks that bit of imagination to make the most of its look, and although there are a few Asian delicacies on the menu to spice things up, the overall experience is a bit bland.
There was no grand welcome for us at the gate; rather, we had to poke around before we could find anyone to seat us, and service stayed pretty aloof throughout our whole experience. Diners have the option of sitting inside, open-air or in a sort of shed/conservatory construction (known as the pergoda), which for the most part was a bit dingy. In keeping with its bungalow theme, the décor was understated, with soft lighting and no art; just a few willowy twigs for that natural look.
We arrived in time for lunch, and flicking through the menu, we found a few ‘Asian style dishes’ which did make a pleasing change from other cafés around the city. Cooperativa (the Asian way) was available as an appetiser for 30LE and consisted of cold chicken cuts, served with vegetables, teriyaki, and sesame. Instead, we ordered Bungalow snacks (34LE) which came as a selection of chicken strips, mushrooms, spring rolls and onion rings, all coated in a thick and crispy batter which was delicious. The spring rolls, however, were all roll and contained hardly any vegetbles, and the few we uncovered were soft and bland anyway. It came with a trio of dips, but other than the garnish of grated carrot it was difficult to see what the chefs could have done more than heat up some generic finds from a supermarket’s frozen aisle.
The main dishes weren’t particularly inspiring either. We went for a BBQ Bungalow sandwich (35LE) which was a scruffy white roll, which tasted dry and stale with a modest filling of chicken, mushroom, peppers and olives, all in a creamy tangy BBQ sauce. The sauce tasted rich and spicy and bought to life the softer flavours of the mushrooms and chicken. The sandwich was served alongside spicy seasoned fries, and yet more fresh olives. The quality of the produce was disappointing; we could have done with a bit more effort with the bread and a lot more chicken. We also got a Bungalow smoothie (28LE), which turned out to be a cool, juicy blend of fresh fruit. There were double page spreads for both hot and cold drinks, so perhaps this is where the Bungalow chefs focus their attentions.
While Bungalow looked to be a hit with lunch hour office workers who came to sit with one of the fruity shishas and a cool drink, for food it’s nothing special - although throw a hula party and spice up the menu and we'll be there.