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Heliopolis, Cairo, Egypt.
Rooftop Garden at Karvin Hotel: Chill Heliopolis Bar and Shisha Hangout
There are limited places in Heliopolis where friends can enjoy themselves in the open air with good food, cold drinks and shisha. The Rooftop Garden is a cosy bar and restaurant at the Karvin Hotel that’s a great place to unwind after a long week with some good company. With an impressive drinks menu, many shisha flavours and delicious entrées, the Rooftop Garden is a well-kept Heliopolis nightlife secret.
Drinks come in many varieties. Beer options include Stella (16LE), Meister Max, Sakkara and Heineken. Available wines include red and white wines of the Omar Khayyam, Sheherazad and Cape Bay brands, which can be purchased by the glass (25LE) or by the bottle (100LE). The Rooftop Garden also imports spirits including imported gin, vodka and cognac (70LE). Spirits and beer come with freshly popped popcorn.
The shisha (12LE) at the Rooftop Garden isn’t the best in Heliopolis, but it’s still satisfactory. With no special bells and whistles, the shisha is served in a regular old shisha pipe with a relatively small tobacco head. The coal man is attentive, but that didn’t make the tobacco taste any better. Again, not the most incredible shisha in a neighbourhood of fantastic shishas, but it should satisfy your shisha craving.
The menu mostly consists of sandwiches and main courses. The beef stroganoff (40LE) isn’t traditional stroganoff, but it’s delicious nonetheless. Strips of steak are sautéed with mushrooms and onions in a creamy tomato sauce, with the option of rice or fries on the side. The fries were crunchy and a delicious treat when dipped in the Stroganoff sauce.
The seafood risotto (44LE) consists of spicy calamari, scallops and shrimps on a bed of aromatic red rice. Although it didn’t resemble traditional risotto at all, the seafood was well-cooked and very tasty. It came with raw onions and greens on the side, which added the right amount of freshness to the meal.
All in all, the Rooftop Garden is a great place for Heliopolitans to go as to break out of the routine of the same old bars and shisha places. The atmosphere is cosy and inviting, and the service is great. The only slight put-off is the two large flat-screen TVs that only play Melody Hits; but if you like Arabic and Western pop music, you’ll love it.
There is a 30LE-minimum charge at the Rooftop Garden. A meal for two with a couple of beers, a glass of wine and a shisha can go for 200LE.
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.