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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.
Overlooking the Nile and Cairo Tower, InterContinental Cairo Semiramis’ Night & Day has it all on paper – a stunning view, live music and a Friday brunch buffet offering a diverse selection of international cuisines. Located by the Garden City hotel’s lobby, the music can be heard all over the place, giving a fun positive vibe, once you enter the hotel.
Greeted at the entrance, we felt welcome and pampered as we were shown to our table, with the lovely sunny view giving a sophisticated backdrop to the culinary experience (290LE per person) we were about to embark on.
As we were still trying to figure out which station to start with, we were first greeted with a welcome drink made up of soda, coconut, lemon juice and a cherry on top; a great refreshing start.
After a buffet tour courtesy of Night & Day’s extremely friendly chefs, we started at the all-inclusive fresh salad bar, where we treated ourselves to an assortment of cold cuts, cheeses, breads and salads that boasted a variety to satisfy every pallet and an all-round freshness.
Our first station into the main courses, we opted for some Mexican sausage – available in regular and spicy – which had a somewhat dry outer shell but great flavourful meaty filling. We also tried the chicken fajita wraps which had a crispy outer shell with a warm and satisfying chicken punch, perfectly complimented by sour cream and guacamole dips.
Visiting Night & Day’s Chinese station, we were served some crispy spring rolls. Fresh out of the oil, with a crunchy golden brown outer pastry, fresh cabbage and vegetables fillings, these were among the best spring rolls we’ve had in some time.
Offering an array of mouth-watering grilled delicacies, our next stop was the grill station where we had a well-done lamb steak with gorgeous grill marks and an incredibly fresh taste, which we couldn’t get enough of. A side of shish tawook on a stick gave a welcome contrast to the steak and tasted just as good.
We wrapped up our grills fiesta with a large grilled salmon steak which had a melt-in-your-mouth pink texture and a sublime taste. We reached the soup station a little later in our tour, where we tried a Taiwanese soup comprised of coconut and mushroom which had a distinct flavour unlike any soup we’ve tried before.
Making our way onwards to other never-ending stations, we stopped by another Asian culinary special which had classic Indian selections, including flavoured rice infused with boiled potatoes and grilled vegetables and chicken curry which had a spicy kick and a creamy smooth taste.
Our last two stops before hitting dessert were the sushi bar; where we tried some tasty and fresh sushi bites and the pasta station where we tasted some over baked pasta which needed an extra kick in its flavours.
Offering both Eastern and Western desserts and an exquisite chocolate fountain, the dessert station was a lounge of its own, with a chef’s special one-meter-long mille feuilles with different fresh toppings and fantastic cream sauce which complimented the perfect crunchy taste. We couldn’t help to leave without trying the red velvet and black forest cakes, which, hands down, were outstanding.
All in all, with a versatile selection of foods, a chic atmosphere, not to mention amazing service, there was very little to complain about at Night & Day at the time of our visit – a visit that we have no qualms making again and again.