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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.
As one of the first of its kind in Cairo, Dandy Mega Mall might not be the coolest spot in town, but continues to attract shoppers in the area. Smaller than its peers, Dandy isn’t exactly a place that suggests decent dining experiences await, but Café Du Jardin certainly has a charm about it.
A small bistro with soothing décor, Café Du Jardin is a nice alternative for those who like to step away from the fast food outlets offered at the mall’s food court, with its versatile selection of French and European cuisine.
The restaurant boasts has a kitschy aesthetic, painted in mint and white, decorated with artificial plants and white chairs, with small flower pots on the windows in pastel colours – it doesn’t quite seem real at first.
Among the dishes offered in the restaurant’s small menu, tuna and salmon tartar, beef stroganoff and fish fillet with lemon butter sauce stood out. Strangely, the menu didn’t feature any soups, but after inquiring with the friendly staff, we found out that seafood soup (22LE) and a mushroom cream (22LE) soup are available – we opted for the latter and had little complaint despite it being unremarkable.
Looking for a quick, light bite, we picked Cashew Chicken (60LE), which comprised of stir-fried chicken slices spiked with coloured peppers, coriander and ginger and served with angel hair pasta. We also went for a chicken Caesar salad (40LE).
The salad was, in short, disappointing; the chicken was cooked well, the lettuce was fresh and the croutons crunchy, but the dressing was way off - it was far too over-slated and the use of black pepper was rather heavy-handed, too.
Hoping for better results with our main course, the cashew chicken was quite tasty; seasoned and cooked well, the only thing it was missing was, well, anything else. It was all a bit one-note and just needed an extra dimension – maybe a side that can break the monotony of what was, overall, a solid if uncreative and flat dish.
There was little room left for drinks and dessert, that’s when we opted for some refreshing lemon mint juice and orange juice (16LE each), which were refreshing, moderately sweetened and all-round excellent. Of the dessert items, meanwhile, we tried the caramel-banana crepe (32LE). Again, there were few complaints with the dessert – it was cooked well and subsequently tasted as you’d expect – but, like the rest of our meal, there was nothing that stood out and elevated it and it desperately needed it. In this particular case, the caramel was dying out for something sharp, maybe acidic, to cut through it.
With all this in mind, one can’t help but think Café Du Jardin has focused more on creating a cute, quaint aesthetic than putting together a menu that will keep you wanting to come back for more. Having seen and sampled their menu, we left with very little reason to return.