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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.
Recently, we’ve been going checking in on some of the longer running Cairo restaurants to see how 'things' have been going. Our most recent endeavour took us to Dishes in Maadi.
The relatively small venue in Degla, set up in the side area of a large building, boasts a typical comfortable outdoor area plus shisha and big screens combo, targeting mostly a younger demographic, particularly football fans. The semi-circle couches with the bright orange cushions, combined with the dark wood of the tables and grey plastic chairs reflect all the colours Dishes use in their long and creates a nice colour scheme throughout the venue.
They have an all-around menu that has options for breakfast through to dinner, including soups and salads and a large number of cold and warm drinks. Nothing exceptionally creative, however, just a lot of options.
We walked in and found some seats, a few moments later a waiter greeted us at the table and gave us menus. After some browsing we opted for a Magic Chicken Milanes (51LE) and a Chicken Tandoori (46LE). Main courses come with either a side of pasta with red or white sauce, or two sides of the regular sides like sautéed vegetables and mashed potatoes.
The food was relatively late which we found a little disappointing considering the restaurant was empty.
The Chicken Tandoori was quite tasty, with large chunks of tender chicken floating in a creamy, slightly spicy, curry. We had ordered a side of rice and sautéed vegetables. Both were very disappointing. The rice was overcooked and tasted cheap, while the sautéed vegetables were bland and slightly crunchy.
The Chicken Milanes was similarly disappointing. The chicken tasted stale and the seasoning was off, while the side of spaghetti with red sauce tasted virtually no different to pasta made at home with packaged sauce and not fresh tomatoes.
The all-around experience wasn’t very good. While the outdoor setting is decent, the slow service combined with very average food fails to impress. Perhaps a good spot of a cold drink with a shisha, but you should probably skip the food.