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Nasr City, Cairo, Egypt.
Speke's Bar: Not So British Pub in Nasr City
When most of us hear the phrase ‘British pub,’ we think of casks of beer (not necessarily cold), jacket potatoes and football on the telly. If these are the requirements for a British watering hole, Sonesta Hotel’s pub Speke’s Bar fails on all counts. That being said, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot to like about this quaint hotel bar.
Beyond the Sonesta’s lobby sits the tiny bar that is decidedly not British, despite the hotel’s attempt to market it as such. A handful of tables are set in corners of the pub with high-backed green armchairs. Puckered leather insets on the wall match the furniture and complement the rich tones of the bar and give Speke’s a cosy atmosphere.
The intimate pub is manned by only one bartender, so expect that your drinks may take a few minutes as he prepares another order or brings dinner to a table. Long wait aside, the service is friendly and accommodating. At the time of this review, Speke’s did not have its own dining menu; but food can be ordered from any of the nearby Sonesta restaurants. This makes Speke’s Bar a great choice for groups that can’t decide between sushi and Lebanese fare.
The beverage list at Speke’s Bar is long and mostly well-priced. Although only local beer is available and approaches 30LE a bottle, a surprisingly large selection of imported liquors includes sake (27.50LE a shot), but unfortunately the bar does not stock Pimm’s, a British staple. Local wines are available by the glass or bottle and a selection of imported wines are sold by the bottle for those willing to pay up. Priced at 45LE, the list of cocktails includes bloody Mary, whiskey sour, mojitos and more.
Though slightly over-shaken, a dry martini is prepared with Finlandia Vodka and extra dry vermouth. If you like a dirty martini, this isn’t your bar; the olives have been drained of their brine, but our requests for extra olives was happily accommodated. Although it’s not on the drinks list, the bar staff will happily make you an Irish coffee, which is served with a dollop of fresh whipped cream atop the mixture of strong filter brew and imported whiskey.
To our surprise, drinks at Speke’s Bar are served alongside a bowl of roasted peanuts as well as a tray of mixed finger food, which includes marinated black and green olives, pungent white cheese, a creamy though slightly fibrous spinach dip, and spicy crostini to hold the dips.
Although none of the snacks were anything special, they are included with the order of a couple cocktails at the bar, which makes Speke’s Bar a great choice for cocktails and snacks in Nasr City.
Jewel of the Zamalek crown, the Cairo Marriott Hotel & Omar Khayyam Casino never ceases to dazzle, offering rich oriental vibes with a refined twist, especially this year with the hotel’s fancy Ramadan kheima, Som3a Basha.
A play on Khedive Ismail Pasha, who built the castle for a French Empress, the theme of the kheima is that of a castle setting with all its luxury coupled with the authentic feel of Egyptian street food served from carts and vendors.
As we walked past the Marriott Promenade Garden leading to the tent, we were struck by a surprisingly beautiful cool weather in dry July – a promising start to the night.
As we stepped inside, we were immediately taken by the elegant ambiance, stylish lanterns, beautiful castle inspired décor and smiling waiters.
We picked a table with a good view of the stage, and waited patiently for the Sohour buffet to begin (10.30PM). As we waited, we were offered the drinks Karkade (Hibiscus) and Tamr Hindy (Dates). The Karkade was bold in flavour, and tartness, and despite being slightly warm, it was refreshing. The Tamr Hindy was easy on the sugar and had a pleasing hint of bitterness that complimented it.
The live Takht show began soon after and we were transported – there was just something about the atmosphere, the spirit, the music and the night that made us forget how hungry we were.
When we did remember how hungry we were, and the buffet opened, we headed on over to check it out. All the food, except for the salads and desserts, was served in authentic street-carts with a kitschy, yet classic Egyptian feel to them.
We took a stroll down the aisle where the carts were, and had a good look at everything before we decided what to dive into. The buffet ranged from falafel and eggs, to grilled kofta and chicken. The salad selection consisted of assorted vegetables, dressings and yoghurt and though the selection provided no surprises, the food was quite flavoursome and we went back for seconds – of course.
No Ramadan sohour would be complete without shisha and we opted for Grape and Peach (30LE each). In terms of quality, both were bold and distinct, though the grape was a bit too harsh for our taste. In terms of coal maintenance, however, you’ll need to be patient – on the busier nights, the shisha attendants, are somewhat overwhelmed.
Then, as we started to feel a bit peckish, we went back for dessert and were met with a large selection of fruits and sweet Ramadan delights, our favourite of which was the Zalabya cart. You might have to time your dessert excursions, though, with the desserts quickly getting cold in the breezy weather.
Overall, the aura and the entertainment at Som3a Basha were delightful and, although not faultless, the Marriott has made good use of its space.