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Manial, Cairo, Egypt.
Andalusia: Mediocre Nile-view Dining on the Manial Corniche
Manial was once a luscious, shady neighbourhood filled with trees and palaces along the Nile banks. The neighbourhood has changed considerably since. What hasn’t changed is Manial’s excellent location right by the Nile. Andalusia is a restaurant on a docking boat called Happy Dolphin parked alongside the Manial Corniche next to the Nile Lily boat. The restaurant has a big terrace by the Nile, providing a terrific view.
During the day, Andalusia offers a buffet lunch but at night you can order from an à-la-carte meal.The menu is extensive, ranging from sandwiches to pizzas to main courses. We sampled the generous Greek salad (18LE), which was absolutely fresh and bursting in flavour, and made exactly the way it was supposed to be. Although meant as a starter, its portion was big enough to function as a main meal. We also sampled a dish of tehina (10LE), which tasted fine although it was nothing extraordinary.
For our main courses, we sampled the royal fish mix (60LE) and the fillet poivre (58LE). Again, the portions were extremely generous. The royal fish mix consists of calamari, cod and shrimp. The calamari and cod were spiced up a bit and covered with a vegetable mix of onions, peppers and tomato. The shrimp were grilled and easy to peel.
The fillet poivre weighed at least 300 gram and had nice, spicy pepper sauce. The meat was medium grilled as we had requested it, but the sauce covered the whole plate, making it impossible to taste the meat without being drenched by sauce. Both meals came with mashed potatoes and vegetable mix as a side dish. The mashed potatoes were a bit too creamy for this reviewer’s liking, but tasted delicious when combined with the pepper sauce. The vegetable mix was made up of carrots, courgettes, broccoli and baked baby potatoes.
For dessert, we sampled the tiramisu, which tasted good but its texture was more like that of a tiramisu pudding than authentic tiramisu.
Despite having good food, Andalusia lacks in its interior design and atmosphere. It is one big space with tables and chairs lined up without any imagination. Background music is provided by flat screen TVs.
Service was a little awkward: we received our main courses before our starters, for which the staff apologised. Although friendly, the waiters were often hard to spot in the large restaurant; so getting their attention took some time.
Andalusia does provide tasty food in generous portions, but it doesn’t deliver in terms of atmosphere and service despite its great Nile-side location.
When Zamalek institution, La Bodega, closed down at the beginning of 2014, it left a hole in many a heart. While a beachside iteration has since popped up on the North Coast during Sahel Season, its closure has certainly left a gap that not even its replacement, the phenomenal U Bistro, has been able to quite replace in the same way.
But remnants still remain in the form of sister venue, Aperitivo, located on the same floor of the same building. It’s by no means similar in appearance or, one could argue, atmosphere, but La Bodega regulars have adopted it as a replacement and the spirit is very much cut from the same cloth. For those not familiar with Aperitivo, the bar and restaurant maintains a classic element in its décor and design (think wood and glass cabinets displaying various piece of crockery and ornaments) while also using various more modern pieces (the chandeliers are very cool).
Divided into two sections – the bar and the restaurant proper – there isn’t a lot that will jump out at you in its appearance; but that’s the best way to be for a venue of this standing – demure and unpretentious.
There’s been something of a revolution happening at Aperitivo as of late, including the launch of a new menu; one that walks the line between high-end culinary delicacy and the kind of wholesomeness you get with bistro food.
The concise but varied menu covers soups, salads, meat and poultry dishes, as well as pastas and seafood, which is where we began our evening.
We rarely give up the opportunity to try a dish with scallops in it – not only because it’s a rare commodity in Cairo, but because it’s also often mishandled, which felt like the case with Aperitivo’s seared scallop starter (155LE). While it was a creative and enticing dish, the scallops were slightly overcooked, the accompanying black truffle was too little, though the spiced apple puree that also accompanies the dish gave a pleasant sweetness to every bite despite tasting more like a beetroot puree. Meanwhile, four sticks of asparagus were cooked and seasoned perfectly, while a faint balsamic reduction did little to elevate the rest of the ingredients.
Among the menu’s salads, we were seduced by the camembert salad, which brought together generous chunks of deep-fried camembert cheese together with mixed greens, roasted pears, sundried tomatoes and walnuts. The greens were fresh, the sundried tomatoes added a sweet acidity to thick, pungent cheese and the walnuts gave the whole dish an earthy touch. However, the pears were undetectable, which is a real shame as it could have been the ingredient that brought everything together.
While various mains are included in the new menu, we decided to test the kitchen’s mettle with meats. Despite being served with far too much uncooked fat, a medium-cooked sirloin steak (150LE) was full of flavour and served in a very big portion, alongside some perfectly made oven baked vegetables. Our second dish, the roast veal fillet, was also of a noticeably good quality and served in a large portion, though it was unevenly cooked, meaning some pieces were a little tough and others had a perfect pink interior.
Unfortunately, there was not much else to talk about with the mains, despite the menu promising more; the veal dish, for example, should come with roast pumpkin ad soft polenta, but both were missing from the plate, as was the roasted garlic on the steak dish.
This, actually, defined our meal; what we were served was well-made, but with so much missing from both mains – as well as the missing pear from the salad – severely dwindling what promised to be a fine evening of fine dining. Would we go again? Absolutely – the new menu reads fantastically; but maybe the kitchen needs a little more time to perfect it.