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Zamalek, Cairo, Egypt.
The Zamalek Residence Hotel: Summery Sohour
Once dominated by summer tourists from the Gulf, the newly renovated Safir Hotel has come into its own, moving beyond another Cairo hotel to a Zamalek evening hotspot. Its location on the Nile and its understated elegance make it an approachable yet special place to spend your Ramadan nights.
Now known as the Zamalek Residence Hotel, and recently taken over by Hilton, its stately five star, lobby and international clientele suggest exorbitant restaurant prices and inaccessible venues. Surprisingly, this is not the case at all; the hotel staff are friendly and welcoming, and fetar and sohour options are more affordable than some average Cairo restaurants.
Fetar at the hotel is served in Palm’s Coffee Shop. Don’t be fooled by the name; this coffee shop is actually a bright, contemporary restaurant with gourmet food and slick service on offer. An open buffet for 155LE is offered for fetar, with gourmet offerings of Egyptian, oriental and international cuisine to tempt a diverse clientele.
Open buffets at fetar are normally a nightmare with huge queues of people loading up multiple plates and leaving nothing for unfortunate stragglers. Fortunately, the restaurant’s small size and the hotel’s low-profile status make for a relaxed sunset meal rather than a fight for survival.
However, the real gem at the hotel is the poolside sohour, served every evening from 11PM onwards. Nothing says a summer Ramadan like an evening by the pool. Choose from two set menus priced at 75LE and 100LE and featuring sohour staples like omelettes and foul, in addition to a selection of cold Lebanese mezzas, Ramadan juices and oriental desserts.
The 100LE-set menu provides enough food to satisfy two people until fetar the following day: an army of small dishes of hummus, baba ghanough, yogurt and taboulah served with bread would be enough, but then they are mercilessly followed by a huge omelette, foul, fruit salad and a dessert plate loaded with basbousa, konafa and atayef.
The salads are average and the bread is nothing special, as is so often the case with 'Lebanese' appetisers in Egypt. The Egyptian elements of the menu were much more delicious: a perfectly cooked omelette and well-spiced foul were winners, as were all of the desserts, especially the soft, sweet basbousa. The service is noticeably lacking; waiters lagged behind on our orders and had to be prompted once or twice, but the location and scenic Nile-side setting generates enough good PR to keep us coming back.
Arrive at 11PM on the dot to make the most of sohour at the Zamalek Nile Residence. The more time you give yourself to digest and relax by the pool; the better your experience.