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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.
There’s nothing this reviewer likes better than a good steak; unfortunately, few Cairo restaurants deliver. Call it primal if you will, but when it comes to pure satisfaction from a dish, little can match up to a medium-rare cut.
Having landed in Citystars just last year, Ponderosa Steak House is one of those restaurants that takes meat very seriously. The restaurant itself is franchised from the US; many will remember it as the steakhouse right next to Disney World in Orlando.
Located on the fourth floor of phase two, the restaurant boasts a light wooden décor with bright lighting. The wooden panels cover the walls and are matched by the chairs and tables.
As we stepped inside, we were greeted by a pleasant waiter who showed us to a vacant table, placed menus on it and disappeared to find a bottle of water.
The menu, like many American diners in Cairo, features a wide selection of mains and appetisers, covering beef, chicken and seafood. We opted for a Fried Shrimp (45LE) appetiser alongside Chicken Wings (40LE) for our starters.
For our mains, we opted for the 280g Sirloin steak (110LE) as well as the Seafood Platter (130LE). Serving time was generally decent and the ambiance of the restaurant kept the loud and crowded at bay.
Our appetisers arrived with an array of sauces including tartar, marinara and ranch. Both the chicken wings and the shrimp were fried very well and drained of excess oil, retaining a very decent crunch. We favoured the chicken wings, though, as we found them to be more flavoursome.
The mains arrived shortly after. Our Sirloin was ordered medium-rare alongside sides of baked potato and green beans. The steak was served it just how we ordered it, retaining a great level of juiciness and natural flavour. The baked potato, topped with butter and a little cheese, was creamy and delicious while the seasoned green beans were similarly simple but delicious.
The Seafood platter, featuring salmon, fried and grilled shrimp with the same baked potato side and brown rice, will definitely get you full. The 150g salmon steak was seasoned with lemon, dill and butter and cooked to perfection. While the fried shrimp was just like the appetiser, the grilled shrimp soaked up more of the zesty flavour and was by far the superior of the two.
While the prices at Ponderosa may seem relatively steep, it is certainly reflected in the quality of food. With pleasant staff and more than pleasing food, Ponderosa’s only downfall may be being located inside such an insufferably busy mall.