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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.
When it comes dining in Cairo, the pairing of the words 'restaurant' and 'cafe' is one that we've come to approach with caution. Though at the very base of both meanings of the words the two should meld seamlessly into one another, it often results in the restaurant element suffering. Occasionally, however, some places buck the trend - as is the case with one of Maadi's newest eateries, Casa Lingo.
With a gorgeous courtyard area painted in shades of grey complimented by a lot of greenery, glass panels and stone cladding, Casa Lingo definitely looks the part. Both indoor and outdoor areas carry the same grey colour scheme with brighter coloured cushions on the chairs and couches. In short, the venue is extremely comfortable and even features extensive activities for your kids.
As we walked in through the courtyard, a waiter greeted us warmly and led us to an empty table where we found our menus. Covering everything from warm drinks and appetisers to main courses and desserts, the menu is both large and varied.
To get an all-around sense of the appetisers, we opted for a Lovely Sharing Oriental Appetisers platter (94LE) which features Sambousak, Kobeba, Oriental Sausages, Chicken Liver as well as Tehina and Baba Ghanoug. From the mains, we opted for the Shrimp Curry (84LE) and the Beef Steak (89LE).
The appetiser platter was served relatively quickly while we waited for our mains. Along with a fresh bread basket, the slightly overpriced platter was in fact quite delicious. The sambousak and kobeba had a perfect crisp, while the chicken liver was just the right amount of tangy.
During our wait, we noticed that the shishas being served smelled particularly tasty, which adds another dimension of laidback venue to Casa Lingo.
A few minutes later our waiter stepped outside with our food. The plates looked quite scrumptious, with the Shrimp Curry smelling particularly good. Served with a side of yellow basmati rice and sautéed vegetables, the poached shrimp tasted fresh and delicious. The curry itself wasn’t as thick as some of the ones we’ve tried, but in this particular case it worked in the dish’s favour.
In regards to the Beef Steak, we were encouraged by the fact that our waiter asked how we wanted it cooked; it's still somewhat of a rarity outside of restaurants that specialise in steak. We asked for it to be cooked medium and that's exactly what we got. The steak wasn’t covered in gravy, but had just enough to give you something to mix the fluffy white rice with. The meat was tender and just the right colour on the inside.
We love new venues because they try their hardest at offering the best service and quality food. While our experience at Casa Lingo was superb, we can only hope it doesn’t fall into the same rut of cutting corners that most new restaurants do.