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Zamalek, Cairo, Egypt.
Carmen Pub: Casual Lounging, Spanish Style
We confess there’s actually nothing particularly Spanish about this pub, except that it’s located in the Spanish-themed Flamenco Hotel, there’s a stained glass scene of a Flamenco dancer at the entrance, and it attracts a more European crowd. Everything else looks standardly ‘pub’-ish, with a dark wood bar and wood chair bar-seating. But it’s still a nice place to spend a few hours.
White leather couches lend an atmosphere of comfort and low tables encourage relaxation. Not much can be said about the food and drink, however, which was consistently underwhelming. A caipirinha (40LE) proved that the bar tender had no real knowledge of drink mixing, as it came in the form of rum and lime on the rocks, minus any hint of mint and no trace of the promised brown sugar. Sending it back for a second attempt proved futile, and when the waiter disclosed that he’d added extra rum to an already too-strong concoction, we gave up and banished it.
We should have learned our lesson, but we went on to try a South American sunrise (41LE) which had gold rum, crème de banane, campari, orange juice, and pineapple, and a mangola mocktail (20LE) with mango, guava, apple, and melon juices – and they ended up looking surprisingly alike. Thankfully, this time the cocktail was drinkable, with a subtle taste of rum, and a sort of spiked punch flavour. The mangola would have been tastier if made with a little less of the thick guava juice.
The gourmet burger (35LE) with mushroom ragout and fries was a surprisingly nice, juicy, big burger, that was slightly crumbly but had a good mix of caramelised onions and peppers to balance out the substantial sesame bun, and a good helping of fries. The salami pizza (28LE) however, was less impressive. Raw on one side and burnt on the other, it looked more like a microwave pizza than something you’d want to order out.
As we visited on the evening of the World Cup Spain vs. Portugal match, we witnessed first hand how packed with Spanish nationals it can get, and the flat screen, large screen, and leather couches were put to their best use. The lively crowd enhanced the atmosphere, although the small space is cosy whether empty or full - just be careful what you order..
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.