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Downtown, Cairo, Egypt.
Borsa Café: Quality Shisha in Bustling Downtown
Fear not; there is an answer in Borsa Café. This pleasant ahwa is tucked in with dozens of other shisha places lining the sidewalks of Borsa, a cheerfully busy area of Downtown that is historically known as the Stock Exchange area. Don’t let waiters from the other ahwas fool you into taking a seat at one of their tables. Not only is Borsa Café the only place with internet and air-conditioning; but more importantly, it has the best shisha.
At Borsa, both indoor and outdoor seating is available. The outside seating provides more ambiance, allowing the patron a front-row seat to the hustle and bustle of the area, while the air-conditioned interior is a pleasant escape from those particularly sticky summer days. Outside, wire tables find shade in sheltering palm trees, as intense battles of backgammon are waged under evanescent swirls of shisha smoke. At night, the place is often pleasantly crowded with tables of Egyptians, students and expats chattering over cappuccinos and milkshakes.
Khalid, Borsa Café's resident shisha specialist, is an artist with molasses-covered tobacco and coal. The ahwa always has a wide variety of shisha flavours, including a couple from the specialty Al Fakher brand. The best way to choose what flavour to smoke is to ask Khalid to mix up something delicious and leave it in his hands. The watermelon-mint, rose, Al Fakher lemon-mint, and anything mixed with fig shisha are among their tastiest tobacco treats.
Borsa Café serves a wide variety of hot drinks, including standard green tea and Turkish coffees for 5.50LE or rich cappuccinos and hot chocolates for 6LE. For cold drinks, there is a selection of freshly squeezed fruit juices and milkshakes, but your best bet is to try their lemon juice with mint, which has just the right amount of sugar.
Although Borsa Café offers a quality experience that is quite hard to find in Downtown Cairo, the ahwa has its flaws. You must buy a Mobinil pay-card in order to use the internet. The interior desperately needs a fresh coat of paint, and on the rare occasion when Khalid is on holiday, the shisha quality suffers. The other waiters are often slow and lack Khalid’s expertise at putting the right balance of small, lit coals on the shisha.
However, if you live Downtown and can’t live without quality shisha in your life, check out Borsa Café.
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.