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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.
We always have a number of restaurants at the back of our heads that we know we can always rely on for a tasty, non-fussy meal and Ruby Tuesday happens to be one of them. Not feeling up for any eclectic dishes and wanting a taste of the familiar, we headed over to Ruby Tuesday to see if they’re still at the top of their game.
With dim lighting and dark wood panelling, the place is anything but tacky; the décor is simple and steers clear from any cliché American-diner references. The choice of background music playing, however, begged to differ with the bubble-gum pop hits of the 2005-2010 era playing non-stop during our whole visit.
Our waiter greeted us outside and led us straight to a table in the requested non-smoking section, coming back a couple of minutes later with our menus. The menu offered more or less the same options it always has alongside new, rather interesting additions including: the Hickory Barbecue Chicken (65 LE), Hickory Barbeque Salmon (105LE), New Orleans Jambalaya (80LE) and the Black Fire New York Strip Steak (130LE), amongst others.
We called on the waiter, who instantly came and took our order. Our soft drinks arrived in a matter of seconds and our food arrived about 20 minutes later. Our Double Combo Fajita (75 LE), comprised of grilled chicken and beef strips atop grilled vegetables, came with sides of spicy rice, tortilla bread, sour cream, cheese and salsa dip. The fajita arrived sizzling and both the chicken and the meat strips were cooked to perfection.
The Parmesan Chicken Pasta (65LE) comprised of penne pasta topped with fried chicken strips and Swiss cheese drizzled in creamy parmesan sauce was, as its description suggests, sumptuous but oh-so-heavy. We found the mixture of cheese and creamy sauce to be a bit too hefty for our taste.
The service at the eatery, we must say, was on point, with the waiter coming by towards the end of the meal to check that everything was alright.
In a nutshell, Ruby Tuesday is still going strong, thanks to its alert, efficient waiters and its occasional new additions to the menu. The fajita was everything we had hoped for, but the same cannot be said for the pasta- it is definitely not for the faint of heart.