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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..
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.