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Downtown, Cairo, Egypt.
Arabesque: Cabaret Revellery Back in Vogue
Stella’s sponsorship of the place is evident in the star-shapes that adorn lamps lining the walls and embellish the wooden chairs. Original Egyptian artwork adorns the place and a widescreen TV streams classic movie clips of famous belly dancers, complementing the bar’s overall authentic Egyptian experience. A belly dancer performs every Thursday and Friday night and the show has become so popular that you have to book at least one week in advance. The bar has a super-strict door policy on weekends so if your name is not on the list, you’re not getting in, no matter whose daddy’s son you are.
We decided to check out Arabesque on an early Monday night and the place was reasonably crowded for our 8pm drinks with a clientele that was a healthy mix of foreigners, intellectuals and young Egyptians. Service was attentive and friendly without being overbearing, while our drinks and mezzas came quickly.
The Foul Mahrous (Mashed Fava Beans) converted even the non-Foul eaters among us with its creamy and subtly sweet flavour, while the Warraq Enab (Stuffed Vine Leaves) were just the right side of acidic and chewy enough to mix perfectly with the Yoghurt With Mint and Cucumber Dip. As for our Kishk order, it was the best we’d ever had in Egypt and we were lapping it up like there was no tomorrow. For a main course, the Molokheya with Chicken was impressive without a garlic overdose, whereas the Mixed Grill, too dry and tough, should be given a miss. The final surprise of the evening had to be the bill, 300LE for drinks, mezzas and two main dishes for six people was extremely reasonable, considering the quality of the food and service.
Step inside, turn a corner and you’re in a dimly lit, low-ceiling room with a large dark wooden bar on your right and both high and low tables on your left. Something is oddly familiar about this new spot’s Egyptian-themed decor; whether it’s the faded sand-coloured tiles or the mashrabeya and stained glass windows, or maybe the high-top chairs with the Stella star emblazoned on their backs.
In fact, the star is
present throughout the space, from the chair backs to the large wall-width
glass window marked with Stella star stencils. The wall lightings’ alabaster
shade casts a comfortable and relaxed glow over the blue velvet seats and
wooden tables. The venue's music tends towards the easy listening chill classics, as well as a few Arabic classics and oriental chill tracks.
Service is prompt and polite though rather hesitant, which is probably due to the venue’s very recent opening. Prices at Almaz are decent: a bottle of Heineken costs 19LE, while a bottle of Chateau De Rêve will set you back 170LE. Spirits and aperitifs are also moderately priced– 35LE for a gin and 40LE for a crème de menthe. Cocktails all go for 40LE, including a dry martini, Sex on the Beach and Black Russian. Juices, sodas and Amstell Zero are also available for around 15LE, while the menu also lists tea and tea with milk and cinnamon.
The white lady cocktail (gin, Cointreau and lemon juice) was a satisfying and chilly drink that was not too heavy on the gin which works well as its light enough to accompany your meal. The black Russian (vodka and kahlua) was a much stronger drink: arriving in a highball glass, it needed constant stirring and delicate sips; but was nonetheless pleasant.
The food menu is a list of standard Egyptian and oriental cuisine items, such as the usual cold starters of yoghurt salad and dips for 15LE, soups for 20LE and hot appetisers ranging between 15LE and 25LE.
Our selection of fried onion balls came hot and appropriately fried without losing the soft centre of shredded onions; though the side dip of spicy tomato sauce was a little too hot for our liking–a dip of sweet sauce would have worked better with the pungent onion flavour.
The katayef with cheese were also deep-fried, which made their crusts a little too thick and crunchy– this reviewer would have preferred a much softer centre that would have emphasised the cheese filling.
The chicken liver was a gooey, wonderful dip that was lapped up promptly with the complementary basket of soft and dry baladi bread. Made with qarassya, a fruit traditionally associated with Ramadan drinks and oriental sweets, the liver was well-cooked and nicely flavoured; definitely a treat that is worth ordering on our next visit.
If you’re more inclined to a main course, Almaz has a selection of grilled platters for 70LE each, as well as meat and chicken dishes- we recommend the beef with prunes (60LE).
Dining and drinking at Almaz is both satisfying and moderately priced. What the venue lacks in terms of atmosphere and clientele will surely change in the coming weeks as word spreads of this venue. While we can’t quite shake the feeling that we’ve seen the decor and cuisine in other Egyptian night spots, we would recommend Almaz for an alternative night out.