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Garden City, Cairo, Egypt.
Okashi: Fresh Juice and Sushi at the Grand Hyatt Cairo
We love sushi. We can't get enough of it. However, the problem lies in our endless hours of deliberation as to where this supposedly fresh fish is really coming from. Luckily, we've stumbled upon a sushi restaurant in Cairo that just might have it right.
Okashi is located in the Grand Hyatt Cairo Hotel on the Garden City Corniche. The fake waterfalls inside the restaurant didn’t impress this reviewer, but the glass wall overlooking the Nile automatically put us at ease. An intimate setting composed of ten small tables and a teppanyaki grill make for a great lunch spot.
We were quickly met with a cup of soothing green tea and two pieces of fried calamari as a small gift from the chef. After giving our orders to the knowledgeable, patient and friendly waiter, we were able to relax and enjoy our entire meal in peace.
The drink menu includes fresh juices (around 25LE) and a rather exquisite tea list. However, the lengthy list of mocktails had us curious. For 35LE, the banana stretch includes fresh banana, pineapple and vanilla ice cream, as well as cinnamon, nutmeg and brown sugar; rich enough to be a dessert. The arounthai mocktail is inventive, filled with creamy melon, lychee and crushed ice. Served in wide-rimmed cocktail glasses, both mocktails were undeniably delicious.
We couldn't help but choose our standard appetiser pick, the miso shiru soup (30LE); small in portion and even in flavour. The Japanese soy bean broth is complemented well by tiny slices of spring onion, seaweed and tofu. Takokarage (60LE) is another great option on the appetiser menu; especially since fried octopus is a unique find in Cairo.
The unagi nigiri (40LE) comes with two pieces of grilled sweet-water eel on top of perfectly sticky rice. We opted for suzuki (35LE) and shake sashimi (40LE) for a test of absolute freshness. The sea bass was perfect and even better with a bit of fresh lime, while the shake was just as tasty.
The California roll (55LE) includes a miniscule portion of avocado paired with cucumber and crab garnished by tobiko caviar. The caviar provides an understated punch to the delicately created roll. For 160LE, a plate of mixed seafood and vegetable tempura comes paired with a minimally salty broth for dipping. Lightly fried with just the right crunch; the courgette, carrot, salmon and calamari were nicely filling.
When you’re looking to splurge on sushi, Okashi is the place to go to. With a dashing simplicity, the absolutely fresh quality and wonderful flavours had us in a dream world for hours.
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.