Relaxation and pampering in Cairo often come at a price, particularly as well-known spas are often situated in top-notch hotels around the city. In search of something a bit different, we headed to the China Pearl Aroma Therapy Club in Zamalek. Right next door to Fuego sushi restaurant on Abou El Feda Street, hanging overhead, a tiny, run-down sign promotes the beauty center; we tried to put our reservations aside and headed up the stairs to the first floor.

Strangely, the beauty centre appears to be an apartment, with the entire family gathered on sofas in the lobby. We rang ahead for appointments, but when no one asked us for our names or phone number, we got the distinct feeling that walk-ins were welcome. The décor is old-fashioned and uncoordinated, whilst the rooms are divided by partition walls and flimsy doors, both of which contributed to the shabby feel.

The beauty centre offers an array of treatments for both men and women, and although the two menus are largely overlapping with massages (100LE-300LE) and foot treatments (120LE), women have the added options of 45-minute facials (180LE) and nail art (150LE-280LE). China Pearl also offers specialised treatments such as cupping therapy (100LE), body scraping (100LE) and ear candling (380LE); the latter being an anti-inflammatory and detoxifying treatment for the ear canal. We booked for some nail art (150LE), but were informed the specialist wouldn't be there until the next week.

We opted for a much needed full-body massage (300LE), hoping for a full hour of tranquil bliss. As we requested for it to be a couple's session, we were taken through to the couple's room, complete with two red leather massage tables side by side, laden with a few rough towels. The room was dimly lit for relaxation – and probably aesthetic purposes – however, the carpet beneath the beds was still visibly worn and stained in parts. The two masseuses spoke very little English and didn't care much for privacy; we were instructed just to strip off and lie down, without the usual holding up of sheets or towels for modesty's sake.

An odourless oil was used and the massage proceeded to be both firm and thorough, with most of the attention paid to our backs. The masseuse employed numerous methods and techniques, pressing on pressure points and knots as she found them. Unfortunately, as well as the level of professionalism being knocked by their chit-chatting in Chinese, some knots were loosened but not completely ironed out. Little attention was given to our neck, arms, legs and ankles, whilst next to no time was spent on our hands and feet; however, as mentioned earlier, extra foot massages and pedicures are available.

After a little over an hour, we were given a pair of used sandals to wear and led to the only bathroom for a shower; no luxuries were offered, not even clean towels. The masseuses appeared a little confused when we stated that although we'd wanted to keep one another company during the massage, we did not in fact wish to share a shower.

At first glance, the prices appeared reasonable, however, after our visit we couldn't fight the feeling that for just a little bit more money we could have been pampered in a near-by, five-star establishment.

Despite the language barrier, the staff at China Pearl Aroma Therapy Club are both friendly and hospitable, giving low-key, frill-free, relaxing treatments in the heart of Zamalek.