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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.
Forming an international cuisine menu can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, restaurants have more freedom to showcase their creativity and variety, but on the other hand, even when the restaurant aspires to offer variety, the real devil becomes in the consistency of execution. The Food Republic (TFR), a corner restaurant located in Cairo Festival City’s restaurant area, unfortunately falls into that category.
Comprised of outdoor and indoor dining areas, TFR boasts a blend of modern classic style with wooden chairs, beige buttoned sofas, photos of diners hung on wooden walls and simple light bulbs dangling from the ceiling with ropes. The indoor area has glass windows which gives a panoramic view of the mall.
We started our meal with the TFR Arancini (35 LE) as an appetiser, followed by the interestingly named The Caveman Burger (85 LE), as well as Grilled Chicken with Rosemary Sauce (72 LE) and Chicken Cordon Bleu (75 LE).
Arriving twenty minutes later, the TFR Arancini were three deep fried rice croquettes mixed with mozzarella, parmesan cheese and mushrooms, accompanied with a small bowl of sweet chili sauce.
Crunchy on the outside, mushy and soft on the inside with rice as its main component and mixture of cheese, the arancini had a delightful taste complimented by the sweet chilli sauce, but there was no mushroom flavour.
Coming in a glass cutting board with a side of potato wedges, the Caveman Burger is one of the biggest burgers we’ve seen in a long time and completely stole the show with its enticing double-patty and overall presentation.
Infused with chilli tomato jam, romesco sauce – nut and pepper-based sauce – along with onions, pickles, mozzarella, emmental cheese and sweet chilli sauce, it seemed that all the ingredients of the burger were wrestling for supremacy. While the burger itself had a pleasant homemade taste, the tomato-based ingredients gave an overall tangy and sour taste which overpowered all other flavours.
The wedges, on the other hand, were a little too salty, but had a great overall taste with the paprika seasoning, a great crunchy exterior and a lovely softer interior.
Served in wooden trays, with sautéed vegetables and white rice, the grilled chicken was bland it taste and was barely improved with the rosemary sauce it came with. The sautéed vegetables side needed some more seasoning and flavour, while the white rice had red kidney beans which didn’t work with the rest of the dish.
Arriving as a huge cylindrical-shaped pill cut in half, the Chicken Cordon Bleu had a brown breaded crust and was stuffed with crispy beef bacon. The chicken had a well-seasoned overall taste, with a welcome hint of garlic and, while the bacon gave an extra punch, the brown crust didn’t hold itself and started crumbling as soon as we sliced into it. The dish came with crunchy potatoes wedges covered with cheese – as requested— and some mashed potatoes which were lumpy and had an unusual egg flavour.
We wrapped things up with Chocolate Bomb (49LE); one of the Food Republic’s signature dessert. A big chocolate ball containing a scoop of vanilla ice-cream, a small cube of brownie, surrounded by kiwi and drizzled with melting hot chocolate sauce, the dessert was more of a show than it was a dessert. Though the chocolate itself had a sweet taste which was complimented by the kiwis’ sourness, the ice cream quickly melted from the hot chocolate sauce and the brownie was hard to cut into.
Our experience at the Food Republic was rather underwhelming. On the one hand, some of the items like the arancini balls and the burger showed potential, but on the other hand, most of the items were not properly executed and the staff were distracted by the Al Ahly and AS Roma’s football match – which we forgive them for, this time only.