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Downtown, Cairo, Egypt.
Wabi Sabi: Sushi Bizarre
Although this sushi restaurant has been open in Citystars mall for several years now, it opened its second branch in Cairo on the Nile City Towers first floor this year. Still very much a mall eatery, Wabi Sabi boasts an eclectic mix of food court cuisine and Asian flare with an enthusiastic dash of contemporary art-chic
The chain calls itself 'sushi couture' and offers a menu strictly of Japanese seafood fare. The restaurant’s decor is a confusing blend of modern art, nature installations with a copious mix of sheet metal walls, dark wood lattice and carved wooden table pieces.
Formerly occupied by coffee chain Cilantro, the dining space was clearly never designed to house a cosy, casual-chic Far Eastern restaurant; and the result is slightly unsettling. Four or five tables are placed in the open mall hallway, equipped with high-back chairs on one side and backless benches on another. Tables are each decorated with three wooden Ukrainian-patterned eggs that nest in oblong carved trays.
The interior of the restaurant is small, and made even smaller by the fact that a larger-than-life wooden tree made of pieces of plywood is planted in the restaurant’s centre. The tree is flanked by a warped wall of silver sheet metal on one side, and a plaque on the other, where silver foil is folded into shapes of birds; adding to the place crowded, mixed styles.
Service here is prompt and friendly, and we had not problem attracting the waiter’s attention to request more rice or inquire whether the kitchen served seaweed salad– sadly, they don’t. We were delighted by the fragrant and pungent miso soup’s broth, its firm silken tofu and plentiful seaweed strands.
The menu is extensive, advertising everything including nigiri, sashimi and ura maki, with several house variations on the classic such as the naked maki, which excludes a nori skin; or the sashimi special that sears the fish instead of serving raw slices; in addition to an elaborate list of house special rolls.
Our tuna sashimi (50LE for eight pieces) tasted delightfully fresh, although the cuts were clumsy. Instead of delicate slices, we were served uneven slabs that were difficult to separate into bites. The shrimp black sesame roll (42LE) was a lightly fried, crispy compilation that had us quite pleased. We sampled the pan-seared salmon with black sesame (59LE) from the sashimi special section. The slices of salmon meat arrived ever-so-lightly touched in the pan on the surface and sprinkled with black sesame seeds. The dish left us bemused: while the salmon was fresh and tasty, we had anticipated a deeper braze in the pan, and would have appreciated a golden edge or a touch of crispiness to make the dish more exciting.
Portions are not small, and the prices are decidedly mid-range for sushi restaurants in Cairo. We would return for a quick, informal bite of some fresh seafood, and perhaps for another look at the decor just for fun.
Though arguably one of the most popular cuisines around the Cairo restaurant scene, other than in a few hotel establishments in the city, Japanese and sushi restaurants rarely include itamaes - chefs trained to prepare meals in style. However, in the second level of the basement of the Intercontinental Citystars, Shogun strives to provide an authentic Japanese experience.
Aside from feeding their patrons, the Japanese hold faith that a cook must entertain; juggling ingredients and utensils in ninja-like fashion to leave diners in anticipation of the treats to come. This combined with the cuisine’s ability to evoke all the possible flavours and senses, leaves no surprise as to why everyone keeps coming back for more.
Host to a unique ambience, Shogun gives an impression that it was once a warehouse, now converted into a high end diner, adorned with traditional oriental decorations. A focal point of the restaurant is the dazzling selection of exotic fish, swimming around organic coral in the fish tank at the centre of the space. Diners are given the choice between sitting at tables – for sushi only - or at one of the bars surrounding the teppanyaki griddles.
First, we opted for a serving of succulent Black Horse special rolls (120LE); delicious, semi-sweet eel-wrapped rolls stuffed with shrimp and rice. Soon after, we took pleasure in their all you can eat sushi (250LE) selection, served with miso soup and a glass of Aida rose wine. Unlike other sushi establishments, the restaurant also includes unlimited sashimi in their offer, which gives diners more room to enjoy their fine quality fish without the carbs.
Sushiphiles will be glad to know that the chefs at Shogun don't hold back with their cuts of fish; each piece of nigiri, rolls and even the sashimi feature a thick generous portion of sushi. Served at a perfect temperature - a little cooler than room - the sushi at Shogun is of the highest quality with bursting flavour and a tender texture. We were especially impressed with wild Norwegian salmon and the well-made rolls.
Under the umbrella of Ogosho Teppanyaki (395LE), we were served chunks of slipper lobster, a generous cut of fresh Norwegian salmon along with large scallops, cuts of beef, soup, salad and rice. Whilst the lobster was a little over-salted, the rest of the seafood was masterfully prepared with a succulent texture. We were impressed by the itamaes technique, although – rather amusingly – a minor miscalculation by the otherwise first-rate chef, left a smashed egg all over his griddle.
All beef served is Australian, which maintains a high reputation for its quality. Given the choice, we requested our meat medium and were most satisfied with its smoky flavour and juicy texture.
Undoubtedly, Shogun serves up delicious meals in an impressive setting. However, the aura of disorganisation amongst staff means that the high prices are difficult to justify – even for a hotel restaurant.