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Zamalek, Cairo, Egypt.
Carmen Pub Bar: Cosy Drinking in Zamalek
Like the Flamenco Hotel that it resides in, Carmen Pub Bar was once considered a Spanish pub, if there ever were such a thing. Nowadays, its faint lighting, calm murmuring atmosphere and innocuous appearance lend it the qualities of an English pub. Perfect for a beer and a quiet chat, non-Flamenco Hotel guests rarely venture to other parts of their drinks repertoire.
The first round of drinks we ordered consisted of a rodeo rider and a Caribbean punch (both 41LE). They looked almost identical, and the barman had to assure us that these were indeed the drinks we had ordered, and that their appearance is merely coincidental. It was hard to believe, considering that the rodeo rider was made of Jack Daniel’s, apple juice, lemon juice and honey, while the Caribbean punch contained gold rum, amaretto, grenadine, lemon juice, pineapple juice and club soda. We’re not exactly sure how the both sets of ingredients came to the same bright pink colour, but they were indeed completely different in taste.
They did have something in common, though; they had little alcohol in them. The rodeo rider in particular tasted like apple juice and honey with a slight bitterness, which would usually have been satisfying on a hot summer’s day, but we were thirsty for sharp, hard alcohol.
A whiskey sour (40LE) is probably the closest thing that fit on the cocktail menu. It fared better, but we already knew that it was also light on the alcohol by its bright yellow colour. On impulse, we also gave the hot chocolate (15LE) a go. Served piping hot with a small cookie, it was far from what you’d get at a decent coffee shop and had an amateurish homemade taste to it; for better and for worse.
Although there are a few burger options on the drinks menu, there’s actually a full selection of food available on a separate menu that you need to ask for. Looking for something more to nibble on than the complimentary cheese, carrots, bread sticks and mysterious cheese dip that you are always given, we ordered the oriental mezza (45LE) and the bookmaker sandwich (46LE).
The former is a feeble collection of two sambousak and kobeba resting on a bed of lettuce in the middle of a platter that holds four dips; yoghurt and cucumber, hummus, tehina and baba ghanough. Although the sambousak and kobeba were hot, crunchy and packed full of meat, it was a ridiculously stark serving. Luckily, a basket of bread meant we were able to keep dipping at the tehina, baba ghanough and hummus, which were fresh, but felt a little watered down in taste. The yoghurt turned out to be a completely useless dip.
As an old American favourite, the bookmaker is essentially a steak sandwich. Served in a large, slightly elongated bun, the pieces of steak were generous but a little closer to being lukewarm than you’d want. As with a lot of burgers and sandwiches you’ll stumble upon in Cairo, the quality and freshness of the bread let down what was otherwise a pleasant sandwich.
This is not the flashiest, classiest, nicest or even cheapest bar you’ll find in Cairo. But there’s a reason Carmen Pub Bar has built up such a loyal clientele: it’s comfortable and the staff are very courteous; two characteristics that many bars in Cairo lack.
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.