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Garden City, Cairo, Egypt.
Shishawy: Belt-Busting Sohour at the Kempinski Nile Hotel
Once you get over the claustrophobic feel of the open-air Shishawy Café, which is at the centre of the second floor of the Kempinski Nile Hotel Cairo in Garden City and surrounded by twenty floors of high walls, you’ll begin to enjoy the dim candlelit atmosphere and the Ramadan TV shows projected onto one of the café’s large whitewashed walls.
The sohour menu is quite robust and at 120LE per person, it is worth just about every piaster. Start off with your choice of a Ramadan drink; the amar el din is excellent and the karkadeh is the perfect balance of bitter and sweet. While you’re waiting for the first dishes to be brought out, try a medusa shisha (one bowl with two hoses). Shishawy is famous for its exotic shisha flavours and mixes. The liquorice flavour isn’t as strong as this reviewer expected, but it is still smooth and pleasant; just beware the price tag of the medusa – a Ramadan special of 100LE!
First up on the menu is a small bowl of yogurt that you can have either plain or with fruit on top. Ours came with some puréed strawberries that, while quite pretty, made the mixture very watery and a bit awkward to eat. The accompanying mezza platters consist of a delightful array of meats and cheeses, from mouth-watering basterma to creamy brie and a strong Swiss. You can improvise some delicious sandwiches using the fresh bread provided or use it to lap up the hummus and spicy baba ganough. You’ll also receive small dishes with cheese and spinach sambousak, a kebbeh ball, and stuffed vine leaves.
Leave room for the main dish, which is your choice of shawerma, kofta or a number of egg-based options. The shakshouka is delicious and shaped into a small dome, making it look almost too pretty to eat. For having nothing but meat and a few peppers in it, the beef shawerma is also surprisingly amazing; every bite is juicy without being greasy and it is spiced to perfection.
Just when you’re sure you can’t eat anymore, take a big breath and prepare for dessert. Again, there are a number of choices ranging from om ali to fresh fruits or an assortment of Oriental pastries. The om ali is about as good as it gets and while the assortment of baa’lawa, kahk and konafa as well as other oriental sweets are really very good; we’ve tasted better around Cairo.
Though the shisha was unnecessarily expensive, Shishawy was an overall excellent sohour experience, complete with a live oud performance throughout the evening and an incredibly attentive and polite staff.
We opted to sit in the outdoors area; not only was it warmer but it was slightly less crowded. Curiously, there was a shiny, Amici Vespa parked in the middle of the dining area which kick-started some lively chit chat amongst our group.
If not, along with a large list of alcoholic drinks, they also serve a range of non-alcoholic cocktails so you don't have to miss out on anything exotic.
Most of these were repeated a couple of times throughout the evening, excluding the Amaretto sour which, although it had a smooth, almond foundation, was slightly too sharp for our taste because of the lemon and orange juice – doubtlessly the wrong choice for someone who prefers sweet to sour. The pink panther was better due to the sweet, fresh strawberry and banana mix but still had a strong, bitter kick from the vodka and lemon.
The piña colada, however, was a work of art with the perfect pineapple bite, creamy coconut milk and real coconut shavings. The non-alcoholic cocktails were also delicious, fresh and fruity, despite having excessive amounts of crushed ice.
Leaving the sushi for another night, we ordered a selection of appetisers; crispy shrimp and basil spring rolls (42LE), which were crunchy and fresh, with the added basil making a nice change from standard spring rolls. The shrimp konafa (62LE) was everybody's favourite, complete with a sweet chilli sauce.
We were let down by the beef teriyaki (80LE) which was particularly expensive for two, chewy, peppered beef steaks. One thing that should be noted, however, is that the kitchen shuts at 12.30AM – we'll keep that in mind for next time.