Ask most Egyptians in the know who the best kabab house in Cairo is, and Abu Ramy in El Madbah will make it onto several lists. Fifteen years ago, when the Children’s Cancer Hospital was barely a gleam in a developer’s eye, Abu Ramy straddled the unpaved sidewalk with plastic covered tables and a ten-meter-long trough full of hot coals and topped with cooked flesh. The smell of raw meat mingled with seared flesh filled the nostrils of the grease-lipped patrons, who came from all around to feast on the ambrosia on offer.

Those were the good old days. Today, no longer are we offered an honest street-side table amidst the parked BMWs and Mercedes. Instead, Abu Ramy now occupies a large building overlooking the hospital with a cavernous hall capable of feeding over a hundred diners. Even with the new digs, it was disconcerting to see that the bathroom had not been updated and still elicited uncomfortable odours.

Immediately noticeable is the absence of any poultry on the menu; here, only cow and lamb are served. In addition to your grill house staples of minced beef kofta, grilled kabab and ribs, there is also a slow-cooked roast of lamb in onions and vegetables (60LE). It is this last option that provides the stand-out gustatory experience of the evening, since the ever-so-tender meat is literally smothered in sweet onions and carrots, and swimming in a wonderful broth boosted by the drippings from the bone marrow from the length of hollow bone still in the clay pot.

The other options and the salads sadly fall short of the high bar set by the lamb dish, offering only a fleeting sense of satisfaction. We are used to being served well-done kabab, yet the marinade is what usually keeps it tender and juicy. However, at Abu Ramy, this reviewer found the kabab to be tough, chewy and lacking a substantial grilled beef flavour.

In typical fashion, prices are quoted according to weight, and a kilogram of mixed grill meats will cost about 140LE, with each individual salad costing just 2LE. In the end, the entire experience left us wishing that we had gone to try some of the other options, and we discover that it wasn’t just the area that had changed; Abu Ramy itself has changed for the worse.