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Heliopolis, Cairo, Egypt.
Si Omar: Sohour at Fairmont Heliopolis' Ramadan Kheima
Located at the Fairmont Heliopolis, Si Omar – one of the most popular Ramadan tents in Cairo of the last few years – opened up its doors early this year to accommodate the World Cup. Serving flavourful shishas and housing giant screens, the Ramadan kheima has now gone into full force with both occasions bringing in flocks of hungry and football-loving customers.
With colourful couches and bean bags accompanied by low wooden tables and a friendly atmosphere by the pool, the aesthetics were pretty much set. This leaves more to critique however, as serving time, and accuracy of orders become much bigger factors under the pressure of Ramadan.
As with how these places are usually visited, we were a group of nine that went to catch the football match and then have Sohour. We called in advance for a reservation and were seated promptly upon arrival.
Offering two set menus for Sohour we opted for both. The first came with all the salads, including fattoush, tabboula, hummus, baba ghanoug and yoghurt, plus a main course of shawerma (165 LE).The second features the salads, but with a Mixed Grill instead (225 LE) for the main.
Serving time was quite prompt considering the number of people at the venue. Salads arrive with nice and warm breadbaskets before the main course. The one issue becomes that the tables are rather small for a party of nine.
Usually what happens in Ramadan is restaurants will make very large batches of everything. More often than not, you end up with stale food that tastes like it was reheated. This wasn't the case here. The greens tasted fresh and the bread was freshly baked, leaving us waiting in anticipation of the main courses.
While not exceptional, the Shawerma platter was still juicy and flavourful. Similarly with the Mixed Grill, it was tender but not incredibly tasty. We weren't wowed by the food, but we've had much worse experiences in Ramadan where all the rules and scales change.
Si Omar serve pretty good shisha too – another important part of the Ramadan kheima experience – at (45LE) for the shisha and plastic hose. Watch out while ordering small snacks and drinks, however; with tea goes at 35LE and juice around 30LE and on a late, breezy night , the bill can rack up very quickly without you noticing.
Although quite overpriced, the price ranges are the same you'll find at any other Ramadan tent in the top hotels. For a pleasant night and meal surrounded by friends or family, Si Omar ticks all the boxes.
There’s a general feeling across Cairo that suggests that the city’s restaurateurs haven’t quite figured out how to bring nightlife into the already complex dining equation; an equation that has been the death of many initially promising ventures that tried to do so. Alchemy is one prime example; though praised from all quarters of both their dining and nightlife attributes, the two elements were never really able to find some kind of point of synchronisation in the minds of discerning Cairenes.
But the Tap, which opened a new branch in New Cairo this month and will be opening a third in Sheikh Zayed’s Westown Hub towards the end of the year, has shown that it can be done and so has Cairo Capital Club, but with a very different approach to the more gastro-pub-insipred Maadi bar.
Outrageous minimum charge aside, Dos Canas was the first to open at the Garden City-located huddle of venues, though Loft21 has been threatening to take the reigns as the CCC’s premiere spot.
Though it took some while to fill up with guests at the time of our visit, Loft21 certainly boasts a unique atmosphere – one reminiscent of hip, overpriced Manhattan bar. The key to that are two things; the stunning Nile view that frames the evening lights of Cairo almost idyllically; and the fact that Loft21’s general aesthetic is chic, sleek and, most importantly, simple.
If there’s one word to best evaluate the feel of Loft21, its subtle; nothing jumps out at you, or is even necessarily memorable, but this very deliberate approach fits what the guys behind the scenes like to call The Loft Experience.
And an experience it is. Not unlike its neighbouring Dos Canas, prices are very much entrenched on the expensive side of the scale; Beef Carpaccio and Salmon tartare starters set us back 103LE and 108LE, respectively. The latter was zinging with the fresh, raw, sharp flavours of a seafood tartare – but is it worth 100LE-plus? That’s open to interpretation, as is the price of the carpaccio, which was clearly of a good sirloin cut and generous on the parmesan.
Mains, meanwhile, are just as elaborate and spectacular as you’d expect – none more so than a 215LE scallop dish. The four large pieces each sat on a mound of champagne risotto, topped with caviar and indiscernible foam that gave each bite a nice acidic touch to the otherwise rich components. The scallops themselves were slightly overcooked and were a little chewy, though the perfectly cooked risotto did maintain its sharp champagne kick to great effect.
A slightly simpler, but no less delicious, dish is the Honey Roasted Chicken Breast (118LE). Grilled to a perfect outer crisp and tender centre, the dish was made more interesting by a delectably sweet raisin sauce and a serving of barley, as well as a whole roasted garlic – which is worth the hassle of trying to dissect.
As with any respectable evening-time haunt, cocktails (90LE-100LE) are aplenty, as are wines and beers; we enjoyed a couple of Sakaras at 40LE a pop and there was even Corona (100LE per bottle) available at the time of our visit. The prompt bar staff whipped us up a perfect Chinatown - apples, ginger, vodka, and pomegranate - while other creative cocktails include The Ellis (Cardamom, Whiskey, Pineapple, Orange Juice) and The Yellowstone (Whiskey, Cranberry, Apples, Mint, Lemons) amongst a list of twenty overall cocktail options.
Essentially, The Loft Experience is whatever you want it to be. It works as a casual drinking hangout, but can also cater to a more formal dining experience. But even if the latter is what you’re looking for, you’ll invariably find yourself unshackling any kind of formalness to take in what is a smart, elegant and easy package of food, drinks and socialising.