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Maadi, Cairo, Egypt.
Dunes Lounge: Is Bedouin Chic Back?
Those familiar with the quiet streets of the Degla area of Maadi are no doubt well-versed with Dunes and its regular crowd. The Bedouin theme of this seasonal open-air restaurant is shielded in the winter when heavy burlap encloses the dining space, making it a year-round spot to enjoy.
Make it a safari inside the city, and relax amid the bright pillows and orange-themed interior. The outdoor feeling is emphasized by the presence of a sapling at the back of the café that rises up towards the open roof, so diners must navigate accordingly when seating themselves. While it is a little awkward to communicate with the waiters as they tower over floor-level tables, they are generally prompt, and will obligingly bend to hear your requests.
The 50LE minimum makes Dunes a mid-range investment for those stopping by to enjoy the evening, but most meals including an entrée or a few appetisers will cost between 50LE to 75LE.
As standard as it may sound, the pizza is a recommended item on the menu, especially the chicken, vegetable, mushroom and BBQ options. The pies are served on flat, wooden paddles for special effect, and can easily satisfy one diner with a big appetite or be shared among a group as a light snack. The various sandwich selections are served on large platters and are complemented with plenty of French fries, while refreshments range from fresh juices that are slightly too sweet for some tastes, to milk shakes and coffees.
In a city with countless shisha-eatery venues, Dunes stands its ground well, and brings something unique to the...tent. Ignore the misspelled mural on one wall (reading 'Dunes Louuge'); this is a competent establishment and a Maadi secret that should be sought out. If you're looking for some adventurous dining, however, you might not come around here too often. Believe it or not, the atmosphere can be a little too relaxing: it’s not a place you can visit regularly if you want to mix things up.
Substantial flat screen TVs often play re-runs of HBO series or muted Melody Arabia music videos, so you get a wide enough range of entertainment.
Of course, Dunes serves best as a place to catch up with acquaintances, lounge for an hour or two in a safari-type setting, and puff away at a shisha pipe.
Located right opposite to the synagogue on Adly Street, we paid a visit to Eish & Malh (literal for Bread and Salt); an unconventional but somehow familiar Downtown diner that has garnered a reputation stood for its urban atmosphere and its tasty Italian delicacies.
Eish & Malh is a bistro that with a modern, simple concept and aesthetic; white chairs, round wooden tables and an American kitchenette on the right hand side, equipped with a coffee machine, glasses and whatnot, paint the picture.
As urbanised as it is, the black and white vintage photographs of Downtown act as a reminder that you’re still in one of the oldest districts in the city. The bistro’s upper floor is furnished with comfortable red and grey chairs and sofas, a cosier setting which still wasn’t equipped to receive guests yet at the time of our visit. Even though we liked the overall mood of the bistro, we couldn't help but feel that the lighting should've been brighter to better highlight the ambiance.
Eish w Malh’s menu is a single, double-sided page detailing sophisticated Italian dishes including Tagliatelle Al Ragu (39LE) – homemade tagliatelle pasta cooked in meat sauce – and Branzino Al Forno (95LE) – sea bass baked with butter and served with vegetables – in addition to some luscious appetisers including Mixed Bruscetta (18LE).
While we were initially opting for a Grilled Halloomi appetiser (27LE) and a Risotto Fruitte de Mare (65LE) as one of our main dishes, we changed our entire plan as soon as the waiter uttered the house’s specials for the night.
Drooling over the specials, we opted for a Tuna Arancini (45LE) – rice, tuna chunks and mozzarella cheese rolled into bread crumbs and deep fried – and Mushroom Cream soup (25LE) from the menu as appetisers; and as our main dishes, we ordered a Fungi pizza (35LE) from the menu, alongside a Salmon Spinachi (95LE) – another house specialty. Thirty minutes later, our appetisers arrived, fresh, hot and completely worth the wait.
Cooked with chicken broth and cream and infused with a generous amount of fresh mushrooms, the cream mushroom soup had a rich, thick texture, was fresh and quite flavourful. Even though it didn’t disappoint, it paled in comparison to our fried balls of tuna aracini, which were crispy on the outside, tender on the inside and served with a marinara sauce which gave it the right kick of flavour it needed.
With mushrooms and a subtle amount of basil and oregano, our fungi pizza, was flavourful enough, though perhaps it needed more time in the oven as the crust wasn’t as crispy as we would’ve hoped.
Our salmon spinachi was, without a doubt, our favourite dish of the night. Smothered in creamy spinach sauce with a spike of dill, the salmon was tender and juicy with an incredibly succulent creamy sauce and had just the right kick of lemon which didn’t overpower the strong salmon flavour.
With barely any room left for dessert, we couldn’t possibly leave Eish & Malh without trying out a dessert. Between vanilla ice cream served with chocolate sauce and salty pretzel chunks and tiramisu (25LE) – another of the restaurant’s specialities – we picked the latter. Served in a glass, the velvety tiramisu boasted a strong creamy coffee flavour; a delightful end of a very special dinne .
All in all, if you're looking for a fancy or a cosy diner, Eish & Malh – with its crowded mishmash of Downtowners and expat customers – is not your restaurant; but if you're looking for a simple bistro in the heart of the city, with perfectly crafted Italian selections that are fresh, reasonably priced and taste absolutely delicious, don't think twice before heading there.