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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.
Many has waxed lyrical about Shakespeare and Co. in Dubai and when news broke that it was to open in Egypt, those same people waited with bated breath – such excitement at the prospect of a restaurant even had us wondering what all the fuss was.
As the first venue to open in Sheikh Zayed’s Capital Business Park, the restaurant boasts a spacey indoor area, offering smoking and non-smoking sections, and a large cluster of tables and chairs for outdoor seating, as well as a kids’ corner.
As for the décor, well your eyes won’t get bored anytime soon. Sporting a classic Victorian look with the modern lick here and there, the design is a feast for the eyes, with looks like an endless amount of lighting fixtures and chandeliers brightening up the many different furnishings – it’s a pleasing mishmash of materials, patterns, colours and shape, though the wood-panelled ceilings is particularly novel, featuring frames and paintings of old European royalty.
Now onto the meaty stuff – firstly, the service was spot on, though the restaurant, at the time of our visit, wasn’t exactly busy; only one other group was present. Not unlike the décor, Shakespeare and Co’s menu is busy and detailed, with a special Lebanese section on offer.
Of the many appetizers, we settled on crispy calamari (39LE), while for mains, we went for a classic Cordon Bleu (80LE) and a beef tenderloin steak (130LE).
After taking our order, our water arrived promptly with a big bread basket with four different types of bread, all of which were noticeably fresh, and delicious herb and garlic butter – a perfect opening to the meal.
Our appetiser, crispy calamari (39LE), arrived soon after with lemon segments and tartar sauce. The calamari itself was under-seasoned and slightly overcooked, giving a slight pull to the bite. But with a sprinkle of salt and pepper, a dash of lemon and dip into the tartar sauce, the different elements came together perfectly to make the dish the highlight of the meal.
The mains didn’t fare as well. Firstly, main dish portions are comparatively small. A beef tenderloin steak (130LE) was ordered it well done, but it came well, well, well done and had an overly charred flavour to it. The dish came with a side of potato gratin which was under-seasoned to the point of being flat in, and largely devoid of, flavour. Peculiarly, the dish also came with a garnish of wasabi – not wasabi garlic sauce, but just wasabi.
We were compelled to order the Cordon Bleu (80LE) after seeing it – and staring at it for a good ten minutes – on the Shakespeare and Co’s Facebook page. What we saw in that photo and what arrived at our table were to very different things, however. Firstly, what was meant to be a side of sautéed vegetables transpired to be one stick of broccoli, one stick of asparagus and a splattering of diced courgette – that was it. The dish also comes with a side of potato cubes and bacon bits that disappointed, too; the potato cubes lacked a desperately needed outer crunch and didn’t stand up to the flavour of the beef bacon. The main element of the dish, the chicken, was even more disappointing; the first cut into the chicken produced a river of oil and one slice of mushroom inside – no cheese as is customary – while the breaded exterior lacked crunch.
To wash it all down, we tried Shakespeare and Co’s pink lemonade (25LE) which is made at the restaurant by adding pomegranate juice and rose water – it was a resounding success, though a little heavy-handed with the rose water. For dessert, meanwhile, we went for a French classic – profiteroles (40LE). Served as three large pieces, each with ice cream sandwiched between each two halves and drizzled with chocolate sauce, tasted noticeably un-fresh, particularly the choux dough.
And so for all the hype and reputation that carried Shakespeare and Co to Cairo at the end of last year, a string of missteps throughout our meal left us disappointed and feeling that the extravagance of the décor and design was hollow.