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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.
Cairo is not short of new restaurants introducing creative dining concepts, especially within new dining zones the likes of Arkan, Galleria40 and Westown Hub. Of the many dining areas, we paid a visit to the latter, and chose the Food Circus; possibly one of the most delightful experiences we’ve had to date.
Simulating a wooden kitchen cutting board, the Food Circus menu involves some promising choices including Salmon Ravioli (75LE), Roulade Chicken in Provencal Sauce (75LE), not to mention Seafood in a Shell (85LE)—the Food Circus signature seafood dish smothered in fresh cream sauce, parmigiano cheese and cooked in a shell.
We kicked off dinner with two orders of tomato soup served with croutons(27LE), which came in hot, fresh –perhaps a little too peppery – but overall quite tasty. After sipping our soups to finish, our Welcome Dip and Bread came in a little later.
Similar to focaccia bread in thickness, our welcome bread was freshly baked and was served with delicious cream cheese and chicken liver dips. The crispness of the bread and the exotic taste in our chicken liver spread were just the perfect treat we needed before our dinner was served; only we would’ve preferred if our bread didn’t have a salt topping, making it a little too salty.
As our main dishes, we opted for Entrecote in Special Sauce—well-done— served with sautéed vegetables and fries (105LE) and Chicken Cordon Blue (80LE).
Served in a silver platter and placed over a stand with candles underneath to preserve the heat, our entrecote was the highlight of our dinner. The sauce—which maintains its secret recipe by the chef— was similar in texture and taste to the Argentinian Chimichurri sauce; herby, flavorful and just the right escort to our beef which was tender and juicy.
Stuffed with roast beef, mozzarella and crispy fried to perfection, our chicken cordon blue was nothing short of delicious.
After a very satisfying dinner, came time for drinks and dessert, of which we ordered a Vimto Cocktail (25LE) and Brownies Ice Cream Sandwich (35LE). Our cocktail was a mixture of 7Up, lemon-mint and Vimto syrup; sour, refreshing, with the Vimto’s sugary syrup dominating the taste.
Similar in texture to sponge cake and served with vanilla ice cream, our Brownie was soft, crisp and delightful.
Overall, our experience at the Food Circus was fantastic. With dozens of international dishes, the restaurant introduces many flavors catering to many tastes; no wonder they call it a circus. We specifically enjoyed our entrecote; only next time, we will try the Seafood in a Shell.