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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.
Dining in Cairo is as unpredictable as anything else in the city and a visit to an old favourite is always a pleasure; but with recent mixed reviews of Crave, we had to put suspicions to rest and find out how it racks up against our first review.
Crave’s Maadi branch is more spacious than the one in Zamalek and is, unanimously, thought of as having and overall better atmosphere. The restaurant was as clean as we remember it, and our favourite decoration item remains the light hangings decorated with cutlery over the tables.
Upon entrance we were greeted at the door by a friendly waiter who leads you to a table of your preference in either the smoking or non-smoking section. The menus are laid out on the table, and the waiter retreats unless you have any questions.
Among our favourite dishes at Crave were the Zombie Burger with Mushroom and Cheese (48.95LE), the Beef Teriyaki (86.95LE) and the Shrimp Konafa. We wanted to check on the rest of the appetisers as well so instead we opted for a Combo Platter (68.90LE) and substituted the Fish Fingers for Shrimp Konafa.
Arriving around thirty minutes later, the Combo Platter featured fried mozzarella sticks, stuffed mushrooms, chicken strips and shrimp konafa; surprisingly, the oil was drained particularly well as nothing felt greasy, though the mozzarella was average and lacked flavour and the chicken strips were a little on the dry side. The stuffed mushrooms, on the other hand, were cooked and seasoned well, while the shrimp konafa was exactly how we remember it — delicious and fresh.
The main courses arrived shortly after. A good rule of thumb we employ when ordering steak is, who asked for the cooking? If they ask you, you’re probably safe, but if you have to mention that you want your steak cooked medium, you’re probably going to be served well done. Thankfully, at Crave, they asked, we said medium and that’s what we were served.
The Beef Teriyaki was perfectly cooked, beautifully seasoned and an absolute pleasure to munch down. While a little scarce, the glass noodles that are served with the dish were similarly tasty, but clumped together a little more than it should.
The Zombie Burger, sadly, didn't quite match-up. While the patty itself was flavourful and seasoned well, it was really overcooked - to the extent that parts of the inside were almost black. Otherwise, the burger was very well put together, decently sized, and had a very good bread to patty to toppings ratio.
Crave’s prices are slightly expensive for their portions in comparison to other restaurants, but they do serve much better food - especially in the steak department. Crave's popularity is understandable, but closer attention to the small things could make what is a good restaurant into a great one.