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Mokattam, Cairo, Egypt.
Al Dahan: Traditional Egyptian Grill in Mokattam
Al Dahan is a large, air-conditioned and newly fitted, 90-seater restaurant located on the Suzanne Mubarak Road, midway along Street 9. It prides itself on serving the highest quality traditional Egyptian food.
Upon entering the restaurant, you are immediately attended to by the smartly dressed and ever smiling staff, who guides you through to the open, clean and spacious dining area. The decor is simple and tasteful; Oriental with a modern twist and plenty of marble and dark oak-wood finishing. The menu is simple and is in both Arabic and English, offering the usual suspects of grills, tagines, soups, salads and side dishes.
A waiter will attend to you within minutes of being seated and regardless of how many times you ask for a recommendation, he will almost certainly tell you everything ‘tastes excellent’.
This reviewer’s recommendation is to opt for the meat dishes over the chicken if you prefer fuller flavours but if you are after a lightly spiced meal, the half-grilled chicken with mixed rice and salad is a bargain at just 29LE. The rice is the thick, traditional kind, which is fluffy and moist, but you can also opt for the lighter basmati rice cooked with turmeric. Both can come plain or laced with veal liver or nuts. The chicken is grilled with a crispy outer skin and moist inside whilst lacking a little in salt.
Meals came out of the kitchen within ten to fifteen minutes and tasted fresh. The specialty is the fatta, served with lamb, veal or kawaraa’ (marrow), but if you’re feeling adventurous, we recommend the tagine meals, which may take slightly longer but come in a tempting variety including with molokheya, which tastes homemade and not at all overcooked, or with okra or orzo.
Portions are big, so be prepared; a kilo really does mean a kilo. This is where Al Dahan comes into its own. The kofta, ribs and tarb are marinated and cooked to perfection, arriving at your table fresh off the grill on a bed of diced carrot and greenery. A kilo will put you back between 100LE and 150LE, but the meat is definitely good value for money.
You will not be offered the customary free water but soft drinks are available at an average price, and the most expensive drink on the menu is Nescafé at just 7LE. Home delivery is available in surrounding areas including Nasr City and Maadi.
The Cairo dining scene is notorious for its quick embracement of food fads; the cupcake, macaroon and sushi trends are just some examples that have occured over the last few years. The latest craze swooping through the nation seems to be that of gourmet junk food with new chains popping up almost every other week.
Mince, one of the strongest contenders in that category, recently opened a second branch in Heliopolis. Needless to say, we had to check out how it compared to the original Zamalek branch.
We instantly fell in love with the simplicity and cosy feel of the venue. Taking the American diner theme and putting a modern spin on it, less tacky fixtures and furniture and an easy-on-the-eyes platinum colour scheme ensures that Mince looks the part.
The menu, which was laid down on our chosen table in the outdoor seating area within a few minutes, is anything but boring or cliché. With breakfast specials, starters, salads, burgers, hotdogs, main dishes and dessert options, Mince seemingly has it all. The burgers come in two patty sizes: 170g and 250g. A few unique, not to mention delicious-sounding, options definitely stood out including the Calamari Crispy (44LE), the Smoked Burger (38LE/50LE), featuring raspberry jam as one of its toppings , the Mexican burger (42LE/55LE), with guacamole and sour cream as toppings, and the Veggie sandwich (36LE).
Upon making up our minds, our waiter came by to jot down our order and made sure to ask about how well we wanted our patties to be cooked. Twenty minutes later, our food was laid before us asking to be devoured. The Fries (12LE), which came in an ample amount, were delightfully crisp and non-greasy.
The 170g Mozza Burger (36LE), which consisted of a beef patty topped with fried mozzarella cheese, pickles, tomatoes, onions, lettuce and Mince’s signature sauce, was, despite having so many toppings, lacking in any strong flavours. We did however, love the taste of the fried mozzarella added to an otherwise basic burger. The 170g BBQ Special burger (40LE) was, on the other hand, bursting with more flavour perhaps due to its excessive toppings of caramelized onions, bacon, BBQ sauce and American cheese. It’s worth noting, however, that the beef patties, in general, needed more seasoning and/or marination.
The service, on an ending note, was notably stellar all throughout our visit, with the waiters always being around to offer refills. The burgers, despite their undeniably good quality, seemed to lack distinctive, hard-to-forget flavours and did come in a limited portion. There's always a danger with small, local restaurants when they expand into other branches; quite often, the elements that made the original so popular are difficult to replicate. In the case of something like the burger patties, however, that shouldn't be the case; a recipe is a recipe. But at the time of our visit, they just simply didn't live up to the expections set by the Zamalek branch.