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Sheikh Zayed, Cairo, Egypt.
Izakaya: Japanese-Peruvian Fusion Trend Comes to Cairo
Izakaya has officially ruined sushi for us. Having tried their delicious, palate-confusing, tantalising Peruvian-Japanese dishes – especially their maki rolls – we've concluded that we've been living a lie our whole lives and all other sushi we've ever had pales in comparison.
Located in Sheikh Zayed on the ground floor of Gezira Plaza Mall, next to Arkan Mall – which means no private parking and lots of kids sitting on cars outside – Izakaya is an upscale dining venue offering exquisite Japanese-Peruvian fusion food. With the concept being a huge hit in New York, London and Dubai, the brand's owners made the brave endeavour to try it out on Cairene diners – and judging by the crowded restaurant, it looks like it's been a success.
Dim lighting and jungle wallpaper mixed with hanging sheets of metal and wood is obviously the designers' take on Peruvian, and it works well, save for the lighting, which was so dim we were all squinting and pulling out our mobile phones to read the menus.
We started by ordering the tiraditos, which is Peruvian-influenced sashimi seared in lime with flavours. The miso (80LE) was basically salmon sashimi with miso, lemon and onions, while the nitai (130LE) had a more interesting and challenging combination of tuna, chili and coconut milk. The classic, which is apparently one of their biggest hits, consisted of seabass, leche de tigre and passionfruit, but it paled in comparison to our orders of maki, which arrived before the tiraditos and ruined the rest of the meal.
One bite of the ceviche maki roll (95LE) sent this reviewer into a state of shock and euphoria for its genius mix of seabass, quinoa, prawns, avocado and leche de tigre. The flavouring and spices were so subtle that we couldn't figure out what was going on in our mouths, but we couldn't talk either. Everyone at the table agreed; this was the best maki we'd ever eaten.
Our dinner party also sampled the karage roll (100LE): crab, calamari, avocado and fried quinoa, and the soy edamame (35LE) to munch on in-between meals.
The biggest mistake was ordering mains: we were already quite stuffed after the starters, and the large portions of our main courses left us gasping for breath and our palates confused after too much butter. The salmon teriyaki (140LE) was a pleasant and safe dish although a little too sweet and heavy on the teriyaki, served in two bite sized halves of one salmon steak with some asparagus and mashed potatoes.
The Batayaki (185LE) was a rich, sweet-scented seafood mixed plate of fish, shrimp and what tasted like scallops served with mushrooms and onions butter, possibly white wine, coriander and parsley. It would have been a pleasant meal on its own if we hadn't had those life-changing maki rolls.
We'd heard about Izakaya's cocktails and even though we'd been warned the meal would add up to a hefty price, we still went for the Berry Berry (125LE), a cocktail of two different types of berries, gin, elderflower and lots of fizz and ice, while the Black Mamba (125LE) was a fantastic pick-me-up of coffee with rum and lemon. Barely able to digest our food, the table ordered a slice of lemongrass cheese (55LE) to share, though we honestly didn't taste any lemongrass; more like passionfruit or mango.
For a table of five, we paid 2600LE, including 13% taxes and service of over 500LE. Despite the hefty price, we'd love to come back if only for the maki menu alone. In terms of a dining experience, we were a bit confused by Izakaya's dress code of casual evening, only to find diners in jeans and sneakers. And the music was unbearably loud: there seems to be a trend in upscale restaurants these days where they crank up the volume at 10PM, turning the venue into a nightclub; except no one's dancing, and no one's talking either. We'd recommend Izakaya for a special date or occasion, and it's definitely worth trying if you're an experimental eater up for a tantalising, taste buds-gone-wild experience.
While sushi is popular as any cuisine on the Cairo restaurant scene, Kai Running Sushi has added a long-due dimension to the Japanese delicacy in Egypt’s capital – conveyor-belt sushi.
Located in the Mosaique Dining Zone on the fourth floor of Heliopolis mall, Citystars, Kai Running Sushi takes a side corner of tables surrounding the conveyor belt, with an exposed kitchen where you can see the chef in action. For those unfamiliar with the concept, the kitchen produces a steady stream of dishes, which emerge to diners along the conveyor beltl from there, ou pick and choose what you want as it appears to you. Traditionally, these set-ups employ a colour-coding system, where each dish’s prices indicated by the colour of the plate, but Kai offers all you can eat for 150LE++. There have been attempts to introduce the concept in Cairo before, but it’s often been abandoned before it’s even started.
After our waiter served us our pickled ginger, wasabi and soy sauce plates, we started digging in with the shrimp konafa, which came in the form of a well-wrapped shrimp paste made into a ball with konafa spiralling all around it. Although the taste of the konafa dominated the shrimp, the moist filling after breaking through the konafa shell made for a delicious combination. There was a similar imbalance with the Philadelphia Roll; it was as good as any we’ve tried, but needed more cream cheese filling.
There were similar issues with the nigiri; trying both the shrimp and salmon, there was far too much rice, marking another balance problem in the ingredients.
One of the problems with conveyor-belt sushi is picking a dish, only to realise that it’s been on the belt for some time – something we experience with the fried salmon rolls, which were cold. You can, however, make requests to the chef which we did and quickly received fresh salmon rolls, whose crispy shell and inner combo of salmon and avocado were excellent.
But if we had to name our favourite for the day, it would be the Spider Roll, which was by far the best thing that came along on the belt. Presentation-wise, you couldn’t help but notice it slide by and the use of diced salmon cubes and mushrooms, stood out as the best executed pieces of our meal.
The overall experience at Kai is, without doubt, a novel one. As the only operating independent conveyor-belt sushi restaurant in Cairo, it has the potential to be a player on the scene. But when it comes to the sushi itself, its inconsistency – possibly a by-product of its concept – will keep it lower down in the pecking order for now.