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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.
There’s an intangible charm in simply walking through the roads and winding alleys of Downtown and Old Cairo that many simply become smitten with. It’s a charm that is becoming rarer and rarer around Egypt’s capital, but one that Cairenes have also become more appreciative of in the last few years. In Maadi, hidden restaurant, Harah 9, uses that as an inspiration and tries to recreate the feel of 1930s Cairo.
As soon as you step in, you will find the decoration of boxes engraved with stones, colourful carpets and antique wooden furniture will take you back to an Egyptian cafe from the 1930’s complete with a courtyard as well as two floors of indoor seating.
The interior reflects this mood using colourful carpets and antique – possibly faux antique – wooden furniture.
The menu is primarily built on classic Egyptian dishes and offers the likes of Kabab, Kofta, Tarb, Fattah and Molokhiya. We opted for Sambousak (25LE) from the appetisers as well as well as a Moza with Rice Casserole (85LE) and an order of Kofta and Veal Chops (100LE) for our mains.
We began our culinary exploration with a couple of drinks; a classic Lemon and Mint (20LE), a basic Orange Juice (22LE) and a slightly more peculiar Lemon and Kiwi (22LE). All three were noticeably fresh, with the lemon and kiwi being a particularly tasty combination.
Moving onto the food, we found the Sambousak to be fresh, hot and quite tasty, retaining just the right amount of crunch you would want it to. The Moza Casserole featured delicious seasoned rice, although you can have Fattah instead; unfortunately, the meat was cooked a little unevenly and left us in a game of Russian roulette.
The Kofta and Veal Chops, meanwhile, are served with your choice of rice, fries or vegetables. The Kofta was fantastic; cooked and seasoned to perfection, there was little to complain about. However, the Veal Chops didn not fare as well; they were extremely fatty and, essentially, difficult to eat.
For dessert, we wanted to try the Crème Brûlée, but we were told it was unavailable. Shelving our disappointment at testing the kitchen’s mettle at what is a notoriously tricky dish to pull off, we instead opted the gluttonous-sounding Sweet Potato with Caramel Sauce (30LE). Served in a cup with whipped cream, the dessert was hot and every bit as sweet and delicious as you’d expect. In fact, it was just as good when it became cold.
Harah 9’s staff were incredibly friendly – and patient to our indecisions and questions – and despite some faults with the foods, we left feeling satisfied with the dishes. As a whole, though, Harah 9’s decor and ambiance lends it better to being a cafe or hang-out spot..