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Mohandiseen, Cairo, Egypt.
Essence Barbecue and Mughal Cuisine: Near-Perfect Pakistani
The recently opened Essence Barbecue and Mughal Cuisine in Mohandiseen promises ‘delicious and mouth-watering Mughal cuisine’ prepared by the female executive chef and co-owner. What sets Essence apart from other restaurants in Cairo is that its promise of good food is backed up by a concise menu, courteous service and stunning interior decor.
The restaurant’s colour scheme is one of muted reds, accented with deep-coloured wooden chairs and wooden panelling adorning the length of one wall. The table setting is very elegant with well-polished cutlery; but it’s taken one step too far with the thoughtful but unnecessary addition of a fresh rose on each table, alongside a shot glass with a floating candle decorated with rose petals.
We started out by ordering the vegetable samosas (13LE), which arrived right on time, having been given sufficient time to rest from the heat of the deep fryer; but not so much that they had gone cold. This helped us enjoy the subtle heat of the spices as opposed to the raw heat of the cooker. The vegetable pakoras (15LE) were veritable pillows of light and airy deep-fried goodness, but not oily in the least. Both appetisers came with a bowl of mint-yoghurt dip to balance out the mild spices.
The restaurant was empty save for our own table; so the service was absolutely spot-on, and the main courses arrived just as our stomachs began signalling. Sadly, the rogan josh (68LE) was not available and, upon the strong recommendation of the head waiter, we ordered the smoked yogurt lamb (65LE) instead.
Arriving in domed copper pots, the chicken karai (54LE) was a quarter of chicken, bone-in, robustly spiced with (among other things) chilli, tomatoes, lemons and cardamom. The flavours were very satisfying, but the inclusion of the bones was unfortunate, since it forced this reviewer to get his fingers sticky. Finger licking may be good for fast food, but here it was an embarrassing oversight. The daal tarkewali (29LE) is made of lentils cooked with onions, tomatoes and a cornucopia of spices, but lacked the punch and full flavour of the chicken tarkewali.
Our taste buds thanked us profusely for the smoked yoghurt lamb, comprised of a dish of very tender smoked and barbecued lamb resting in a spiced yogurt sauce. The delicate flavour of the charcoal smokiness combined with a muted lamb flavour mingled very well with the tart spiciness of the yogurt. It was easily the best dish of the evening.
It has been said before; but no meal is complete without a dessert. With full bellies, we ordered the gulab jamun (20LE). Normally, this dessert is a sickly sweet confection at other restaurants; but at Essence it was made with even-handedness and grace. A brace of spiced coconut spheres settled in a shallow pool of cardamom-spiced syrup delivering spice and sweet in equal measures, culminating in a very satisfying end to an enchanting meal.
We always get excited when a restaurant in Cairo announces the launch of a new menu – don’t judge. When that particular menu is all about steaks, then yeah, we’re sold. Chili’s recently introduced the ‘Chef’s Cut’ menu, and though the quality of steak at the restaurant chain has always been up for debate, wild horses couldn’t keep this steak-lover away.
A pleasant waiter opened the door and greeted us as we stepped into the Bandar Mall branch; we sat outside to enjoy the final traces of spring weather and avoid the annoying American diner pop music playlist.
After browsing the menu, we opted for Boneless Buffalo Wings (59.99LE), and from the Chef’s Cut menu, we opted for a medium-cooked South West Short Rib Fillet (124.99LE) and a medium cooked Glazed Shrimp Fillet (149.99LE). Additionally, we opted for an Apple Berry Cobbler (39.99LE) for dessert.
We were surprised by how quickly our appetisers were served; a generous portion of boneless wings drenched in spicy buffalo sauce and complemented by a heavy-on-the-blue-cheese ranch dip. Falvour-wise, the chicken was flavourful, but, unfortunately, just a tad too soggy causing it to lose the crunch it would normally have.
The steaks were the true highlight of our meal. The South West Short Rib Fillet consists of a fillet resting on a bed of corn salsa, topped with short rib meat and pickled onions, spinach queso and fresh cilantro. The meat was medium-cooked as requested and the combination of fillet and short rib meat was just beautifully sinful. The spinach queso was a fine addition, but quite heavy, while the side of skillet mashed potatoes was surprisingly flavourful.
The Glazed Shrimp Fillet consisted of a fillet on corn salsa, topped with glazed shrimp, spinach queso and fresh cilantro, and a side of skillet macaroni and cheese. The fillet was similarly cooked medium as requested. While a little less colourful in the flavour department than its counterpart, this was still a thoroughly enjoyable main course. The shrimp were delicious, but unfortunately, the macaroni and cheese involved way too much cream and far too little cheese leaving it closer to Alfredo sauce.
The Apple Berry Cobbler, made with baked apples and fresh blackberries topped with cinnamon-nut crumble, a scoop of vanilla ice cream and sweet caramel sauce. The mixture of flavours was very interesting, as was the increased sweetness from the berries. Chili’s also serves an excellent vanilla ice cream, which really brought together the concoction and nicely rounded off the meal.
Frankly, our biggest piece of advice with Chili’s, especially this particular branch, is to avoid the weekends, the holidays and generally any sort of occasion that will involve family outings. They don’t seem to handle the pressure very well and it’s reflected in the food.