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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.
Sometimes, a good steak dinner is all you need to forget about a long and stressful day. Wanting a no-fuss, no-nonsense dinner, we made our way to the provider of just that.
Having done quite well for itself expanding throughout the capital, Steak Out has been providing Egyptians with a cosy atmosphere, albeit a little too identical between all the branches, and quality food in very decent portions.
The Heliopolis branch, across from the Tivoli Dome, sports the same dark brown/black and red colour scheme and comfortable cushioned seating areas all the other branches do. For many, the consistency, even in the decor, is part of the restaurant’s charm.
As we approached the door, a waiter pulled it open and greeted us with a smile. We asked to be seated in the smoking section and were promptly served menus and a bottle of water.
After scanning the extensive menu, we opted for a Cream of Chicken Soup (15.90LE) as well as a Country Chicken Caesar Salad (44.90LE) for our starters. For our mains, we opted for a Beef Fillet with Pepper Sauce (81.90LE) and a Steak Out Fried Chicken (64.90LE).
The Soup and Salad were served shortly afterwards. The Soup, strongly zesty but without a strong base of broth, tasted quite unsatisfying. Moving on to the salad, which was very generous in portion and consisted of mainly lettuce, croutons and chunks of country fried chicken topped with a decent, but unspectacular dressing. All together, the taste was indeed pleasant, but still not particularly memorable.
We eagerly awaited our mains hoping they could rectify the situation. Soon enough, a waiter came with our tray of food and proceeded to clear the table before placing the new entrees.
The Beef Fillet was ordered medium cooked, but was disappointingly cooked to an inconsistent medium well, leaving it surprisingly hard to chew on the outside, yet really red inside. The sides of french fries and sweet corn were adequate.
The Steak Out Fried Chicken, involving two chicken breasts stuffed with spinach and mozzarella cheese, didn’t quite hit the mark. The chicken tasted defrosted, while the stuffing just didn’t seem to harmonize with the chicken. We would’ve recommended ricotta cheese instead. The side of basmati rice was unspectacular.
Frankly, our visit was very disappointing. We’ve tried Steak Out’s other branches and this one seems to have fallen particularly shorter than its counterparts. Our advise is focus on the consistency, and do something about the sides, they’re not inventive so the least they can be is up to par with everyone else.