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New Cairo, Cairo, Egypt.
Zo Asian Restaurant: Underwhelming Asian Cuisine in Cairo
Brought to you by the DivineWorx – the same company behind Makani, El Sit Hosneya and Burger Joint – Zo endeavours to bring far eastern cuisine to Cairo’s diners. The effort may be commendable, but the results – in the case of their 5th Settlement branch at least – are diluted by overproduction and heavy-handed recipes.
Located in 5th Settlement's Downtown Mall, Zo has very little atmosphere here. Five tables are set out with a total seating capacity of twenty patrons; but unlike other small restaurants, it is anything but cosy – this is in large part due to the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the interior alleyways and empty shop fronts of the mall. The loudspeaker played Shaggy’s greatest hits on repeat, serving to further disconnect from whatever kind of experience this reviewer was meant to have at Zo.
Zo has a large menu divided into appetisers, soups, beef, chicken, seafood, rice, noodles and dessert sections. Each entry has an intuitive set of symbols, indicating spicy or vegetarian foods as well as their country of origin. We settled on three appetisers: satay mix (24LE), vegetable spring rolls (16LE) and dim sum (22.50LE). We shared the barbecue beef (52LE), mix fried rice (25LE) and the pad Thai (35LE), and sought to end the meal by ordering both of the desserts on the menu; fried bananas with ice cream (28LE), and sweet potatoes with cinnamon and coconut cream (22LE).
For the gluttons out there, rest assured: the portion sizes are adequate. For gourmands looking for flavour, there are but two dishes from those sampled that stood out. Both the satay mix and the delicious shrimp pad Thai delivered on flavour big time, mainly because the sauces used on both were the same tasty mix of ground cashews, honey and coconut milk. However, even that can be too much of a good thing; this reviewer periodically reached for a piece of salty overcooked BBQ beef to counteract the one-dimensionality of the sweet shrimp pad Thai.
The trend continues onto the desserts. Sweet potato is a pretty powerful ingredient, but the huge hunks had their flavour completely overpowered by a sickly sweet coconut glaze – even the cinnamon was overpowered. The fried banana was drizzled with honey and placed next to two hard scoops of ice cream, which was a disappointing and soggy dessert.
Yet the glaring error of the evening lay in the dim sum dishes, which were still frozen in the centre when they arrived at our table, making us unable to finish eating them.
The service is confusing: after flat-out refusing to take our main course order with the appetisers, the waiter delivered each by appetiser on its own, giving us the chance to sample each one separately. Never at any point in the evening did we wonder where the food was –it arrived just as the previous plate was emptied, giving the overall impression of a five-course tasting menu.
Zo Asian Restaurant does not do the cuisine of the Far East any justice. If you’re in the mood to recreate a food memory, this may not be it. However, if you just want a decent pad Thai, then head on over to Zo.
Asian cuisine seems to be on the rise in Cairo, and luckily for us, we’re huge fans of anything from-the-wok.
One of the lesser known restaurants in Maadi is Yam Yen. Maadi is no stranger to Thai cuisine, with several options to choose from should you be in the mood to eat with chopsticks, but this particular restaurant has one thing most of the others don’t; a good venue.
With a nicely landscaped garden area featuring a fountain, wooden archways and bamboo decorations, Yam Yen is a break from the overly stereotypical decorations found across all Asian restaurants—including Indian.
The interior features dim yellow lighting contrasted against dark wooden furniture, and dining areas are divided using opaque glass panels with metalwork.
We were seated indoors by a pleasant waiter and handed our menus. Featuring all the regular appetizers as well as some interesting soup options, the main courses feature red and green curries, as well as building your own stir-fried shrimp, fish, chicken, beef or vegetables main course from the wok in a sauce of your choosing.
We opted for the Tom Kha Chicken Soup (34LE) alongside Shrimp with Sweet Basil and Chili sauce (59LE) and Beef with Oyster Sauce (54LE). For the sides, we opted for a Vegetable Pad Thai (39LE), Stir-Fried Egg Noodles (39LE) and an order of Vegetable Fried Rice (19LE).
The food took a little longer than average to serve, but the soup was definitely worth the wait. Wonderfully bursting with coconut milk flavour, the Tom Kha soup, featuring pieces of tender chicken, galangal, lemon, mushroom and coriander, was the highlight of the night.
We tried different combinations of rice, noodles and pad thai with the main courses, but we found the Stir-Fried Noodles to be the weakest and most lacking in the flavour department.
While the Beef in Oyster Sauce was tasty, the portion was relatively small. The Shrimp was even smaller, consisting of exactly four pieces of shrimp in a sea of carrots and bell peppers. Both their sauces were interesting, but there just wasn’t enough of either to enjoy it for very long.
The Pad Thai was probably the tastiest, aside from the soup, featuring bean sprouts and peanuts in good non-overpowering amounts. The Fried Rice, topped with eggs and vegetables, was also quite filling and better than the average side of steamed rice.
The problem with Yam Yen isn’t the quality of food, it’s how little of it you get for so much money. The venue is clean and the service decent, but with the sides costing almost the same as the main courses, expect to either leave it hungry, or pay a hefty amount.