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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.
With many of the most frequented bars in Cairo located in the city's international chain hotels, the lesser-known inns are understandably overlooked when it comes to nightlife. However, such hotels develop a certain, charm while enduring the test of time, and manage to establish themselves as the city's best kept secrets.
Located on the corner of Tahrir Street in Dokki, El Tonsy Hotel boasts a rooftop café-bar that has grown in popularity as a result of its moderate prices and magnificent Nile view. Stepping out of the elevator on the 18th floor, visitors must walk through what appears to be the venue's shisha storage space, before reaching the terrace. The view is undoubtedly the highlight of the place and it certainly provides relief from the immediately obvious shortcomings of Brown Lounge.
Requesting a menu, the waiter handed us a flimsy and greasy booklet which appeared to be on the verge of collapsing into single pages.
The menu seemed full of a wide variety of meals including cheese burgers (14LE), beef or chicken shawerma (11LE-18LE) and taamia (7LE). Salads include green (9LE), Greek (12LE), chicken Caesar (14LE) and an assortment of local dips (6LE/each). The menu also offers a variety of tagines, along with meat and chicken platters.
At first, we were intending to order lentil soup (10LE) and stuffed vine leaves (14LE). However, we were visited numerous times by the waiter to be told that these, and the majority of other options, were in fact unavailable. Spring rolls (11LE) were recommended to us, and we opted for Arabiata pasta (14LE), with penne rather than spaghetti.
With local beers (15LE) and a small selection of wines readily available, it appears food is rarely ordered at Brown Lounge, with most patrons opting for a good drink and smoke by the Nile view instead. Rather than alcohol, we finished our meal with an enjoyable cup of green tea (8LE).
The simple dishes of pasta and spring rolls took almost an hour to arrive; unfortunately, the long wait came to no avail. The pasta was both undercooked and chewy whilst the red sauce topping was tasteless and overly salted. Generously sized, the four, large spring rolls were stuffed with carrots and lettuce, and although the better of the two dishes, they would have benefitted from a dipping sauce of sorts. But in the end, this is a bar, and we're always grateful for cheap beer.
Brown lounge is evidently not a place best suited to fill an empty stomach. However, if you’re ever in the mood to enjoy a relaxing drink with a gorgeous view, this is the place to be.