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Zamalek, Cairo, Egypt.
Lemonada: Peppy Sohour at the Lemon Tree & Co's Ramadan Tent
With the wide array of restaurants and eateries to choose from in Cairo, it's always interesting to see how some of these venues adapt to Ramadan requirements and schedules. While some adopt special set-menus for the Holy Month, others transform themselves into full-on kheyam for that extra edge in the Ramadan dining experience. However, with so many out there, what separates one from the rest?
Zamalek favourite, The Lemon Tree and Co, doesn't lack for buzz and has proven to be a heavyweight in the Cairene nightlife scene. Their Ramadan kheima, Lemonada, located atop the Imperial boat, shares that very same buzz, so we couldn't resist going there for sohour.
As we walked in, we were taken aback by the bewitching décor and alluring air to the place. Gorgeous lanterns and potted plants were strewn around on ceilings, tables and walls creating a dimly lit, yet irresistible, aura. Pieces of fabric cascaded overhead, which, in addition to the mesmerising music – which they have mixed exclusively for them – completes what we loved the most about Lemonada: the ambiance.
We were seated at a high table, which proved to be a bit uncomfortable as time went by, with a great view of all the colourful lights of the feluccas in the Nile. Whilst browsing through the drinks menu, we thought to ourselves, we can't be at Lemonada and not order lemonade. So we opted for just that (20LE) and some peach ice tea (28LE), too. The lemonade was a perfect balance of not too sweet, and not too sour, a match surprisingly hard to find these days. The ice tea could have been a little colder, but it was quite flavoursome nonetheless.
As we were being handed the food menu, we couldn't help but notice how attentive and friendly the staff was; we were quite apprehensive that, in the sohour hustle, they wouldn't be and, fortunately, we were proven wrong. For appetisers, we chose the Kobeba Lava (42LE), Classic Falafel (26LE) and Butter Paprika Sweet Corn (32LE). The Kobeba, stuffed with cheese, was a delightful twist on a Ramadan favourite and we very much enjoyed how the cheese didn't overpower the Kobeba – as we thought it might. The Falafel, on the other hand, were a bit bland and lacked that classic Falafel crunch, but were good once coupled with warm bread. The Sweet Corn was as it should be, buttery and golden, and though the paprika was subtle, it definitely added to the overall flavour.
For the main course, we decided to sample some of their Feteer. With so many options, we picked the Chicken Rosemary Feteer and the Soujok Feteer (78LE each). The Chicken Rosemary was delectable, with hints of rosemary marrying nicely with the chicken and cheese. The Sojouk was equally scrumptious; the pomegranate reduction on top was strange at first, but proved to be a great flavour pairing with the bell peppers and sojouk.
Before dessert, we were craving some shisha, so we ordered some Bluemist (35LE) from the hilarious and amiable designated Shisha guy, and he did not let us down with either flavour or coal-maintenance. Now, for dessert; we had Zalabya Yonani (48LE) and Mixed Berry Madness (52LE). The Zalabya, though we would have liked it to be a little warmer, was quite delicious, the ice cream adding a nice, cool, element and completing the dish. The berry concoction, meanwhile, was an explosion of sweet berry heaven over a bed of meringue, topped with a scoop silky smooth ice cream; we would definitely recommend it if you have a sweet tooth.
Overall, though the prices were a bit steep, the night was quite enjoyable, and we would definitely go again.
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.