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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..
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.