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Heliopolis, Cairo, Egypt.
Horreya Hotel Café & Bar: Casual Heliopolis Nightspot
Local hotel restaurants and bars in Cairo are often overlooked by Cairenes. Instead, much of the city's nightlife contingent find themselves frequenting more reputable establishments, when in fact they can have the same thrills at half the price.
Pleasantly secluded in a Heliopolis side street, Horreya Hotel is home to a café and bar high up on the 8th floor. Taking a seat inside, you might feel like you're in a disco scene in a 70s Egyptian film; the walls are coated with polished engraved wood and the bar is lined with eclectic-red barstools – a colour also used for the curtains. Unfortunately, the old school vibe is killed by an LCD screen hanging on the wall. In the summer, regulars tend to favour the breezy outdoor terrace for its tranquil rooftop view.
Since this is a hotel, expect hospitable treatment from the staff, all of whom don white shirts and black trousers. Since most of the patrons head to the bar for a casual beer (17LE) and smoke, don't be surprised if you're not brought a menu without asking first.
Interestingly, the menu has a vegan section – a rarity in Cairo. Our waiter informed us that the section was added due to popular request by foreign guests staying at the hotel. Being Cairenes, we lean more to the carnivorous side, so we skipped the curry rice for something meatier.
For starters, we ordered Dauod Pasha meatballs (18LE) and a taboula salad (9LE), followed by chicken alfredo pasta (23LE) and an Om Ali (15LE) for dessert. Since our visit was on a week day and Horreya was a little empty, our meal was served in less than half an hour.
First up on our table were the meatballs and taboula. Peculiarly, the meatballs were served without any sauce, presented on a bed of shredded carrots. Nibbling the small portions off of toothpicks, the dish was disappointingly cold and bland. In contrast, the taboula salad was perfect; served in a clay oval dish, the veggies were well-cut and crunchy, and the dressing was nicely seasoned.
Shortly afterwards, we were handed a gratifying dish of alfredo pasta. The steaming pool of thick, white, creamy sauce was teeming with fettuccine, chicken strips and the occasional tuft of mushroom, and it all tasted as great as it looked. It was so good in fact that we decided to use the sauce as a dip for the meatballs.
Whilst forking our last string of pasta, our waiter returned to present us with the Om Ali. The traditional treat looked a little off at first, as it was sprinkled with icing sugar, but digging in proved our doubts to be misplaced.
The chunky pastry was moist without being soggy and its flavour rang through our taste buds, since the chef had been kind enough not to over-sweeten it. It was certainly much better than the Om Ali served at fancy Egyptian weddings.
In a neighbourhood has only recently become more receptive to nightlife, Horreya is great for evening hangouts with friends. Heliopolis residents can enjoy a rooftop view and an affordable dinner and drink without having to cross 6th of October Bridge.
While the number of bars and clubs in Cairo is always on the increase, the nightlife scene in the capital is somewhat cliquey congregations, some with expensive minimums and tough door policies.
Not blessed with a bar scene to speak of, the Korba district of Heliopolis has recently welcomed the Garden.
Having suffered at the wrath of Facebook-users of Cairo for an alleged screening process that pries into Facebook profiles, we were glad our photos were up to par, managing to secure our group a table mid-week. Situated at the end of a small alley, right next to the Coffeeshop Company, the Garden is spread over a large outdoor patio and an indoor – but open fronted – bar area.
Complete with bare-brick walls, hanging Edison light bulbs, copious numbers of potted plants and charming bright red shutters on the exterior windows of the building above, the Garden has been meticulously designed to be chic, contemporary and stylish for its mixed-bag of fashionable clientele. With DJ Hishram Zahran on the decks at the time of our visit, the place was filled with chilled out dance beats, at a decent level so that conversation was still a possibility.
Despite being mid-week, the bar was packed, with most of the crowd standing inches away from one another and the staff running around like headless chickens. Choosing from a fully stocked bar and a long list of cocktails, we ordered several Smirnoff vodka (70LE) and Red Bulls (35LE), as well as a glass of chilled, Omar Khayyam white wine (50LE). We also took our own bottle (250LE for bouchon), and were afforded ice buckets to keep it cool.
Whilst we could appreciate the place was busy, waiting around 45 minutes – and having to nag constantly for our drinks every time – seemed a little ridiculous and the same gruelling process applied when ordering the check.
From a full menu of international appetisers, main meals and desserts, we opted for an Oriental sampler as a sharing platter (80LE). Also taking forever to arrive, and served cold, the best thing about the herby sogo’, crisp cheese and meat sambousak, and rich liver, was the attractive presentation on a wooden chopping board. We also spotted a number of impressive-looking, thick hamburgers floating around, whilst hearing complaints regarding long waiting times from a large number of diners.
While the Garden’s energy is buzzing, and the aesthetics are undoubtedly fabulous, the service most certainly is not – yet.