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Maadi, Cairo, Egypt.
El Rancho: Tex-Mex Cuisine at Sofitel Maadi Towers & Casino
Authentic Tex-Mex cuisine is still quite a rarity on the Cairo restaurant scene, despite the many Tex-Mex franchises like Chilli’s and On the Border. While hunting for a new undiscovered Tex-Mex restaurant, this reviewer ended up in the Sofitel in Maadi, home to El Rancho.
El Rancho’s interior looks like a bad imitation of the Mask of Zorro set with sombreros and guns serving as wall decorations. Other decorative items include a bag of money (empty FYI), pictures of Indians and cactuses. Next to the bar is an open kitchen, which we always find comforting.
The menu is more international than Tex-Mex with dishes such as chicken Caesar salad (35LE), Greek salad (29LE) and mushroom soup (15LE). We started off with the guacamole con tortillas (49LE) and were immediately disappointed. The guacamole had a molokheya texture and was pretty slimy, while the accompanying tortillas were as thick as bricks and difficult to bite through. Overall, it wasn’t the ideal combination in our opinion. The guacamole was also overly spicy, probably due to the Cayenne pepper on top.
For our mains, we opted for the platos de los campesinos (120LE): sirloin beef with fried egg, red beans and rice with vegetables. We also took the beef and chicken fajitas (105LE). The sirloin steak was cooked medium as we had requested it but the meat was a bit tough, difficult to cut and even more difficult to chew on. The fried egg was the same style that you get on your regular egg burger at a shawerma joint. The best part was the rice and beans. The beans actually turned out to be chilli con carne, which was delicious, spicy and full of sauce and minced meat. Combined with the rice with green beans and corn, we loved the side dish more than the main dish itself.
The fajitas came in a generous portion, although we got more chicken than beef, and were presented with guacamole, sour cream and cheese. The beef and chicken were both nicely grilled and seasoned, and were presented with vegetables. The only downside was once again the guacamole, which fortunately blended in with the meat and the sour cream; so it wasn’t as awful this time.
For drinks, we were dying to try the margherita (80LE), which consisted of lemon ice cream with tequila. Unfortunately, the tequila had run out. Instead, we ordered a brownie for dessert (40LE). The brownie was rather tasteless and we still don’t really understand what the accompanying sauce was. Was it whipped cream gone bad or vanilla sauce? it will probably remain a mystery to us. Also, 40LE for a pretty small piece of brownie is very expensive.
The service is friendly but the place itself lacks atmosphere due to its location in the hotel’s hallway, and quite the boring hallway too for that matter. However, if you’re in Maadi and absolutely dying for some Tex-Mex, than El Rancho is one of your few options.
Over the last year or so, new restaurants in Cairo have been introducing more and more exotic cuisines to the dining scene, be it Mongolian or even Peruvian with a Japanese twist, leaving classic favourites like Italian and Asian last week’s news. However, recently opened restaurant, Akli, has gone against the tide and specialises in not only one cuisine, but six, across everything from soups to desserts.
Located off Meccas Street in Dokki, Akli is divided into two zones; the ground floor, which has a exposed glass-wall baking room and shawerma station that wasn’t working at the time of our visit, is made for take-out orders, while the top floor is for dining-in. Besides the unfinished ceiling – which doesn’t seem like it will be finished because the AC duct has already been installed - the interior of the restaurant is on the classic side, with olive green, traditional panelled walls behind ruby buttoned couches. The setup of its tables is also pretty basic, but it actually has a cheerful view of a mini garden. If we were to compare it to another restaurant, Akli has the same spirit of everyone’s favourite, Bon Appetit.
Now let’s talk about the food. Our first flight was to Italy with Spicy Arancini Di Manzo (25LE). Starting from the spot-on creamy texture and the scrumptious golden brown crust, to the melted mozzarella cheese and minced beef, which was bursting with Italian herbs flavours, those four fried Italian rice balls were rather tasty.
Our second stop was at our beloved country with Sojouk (42LE). Lying on a bed of chopped parsley in true 90’s style, the grilled sausage was seasoned well, but it was a bit tough and dry. Overall, though, the appetiser seemed incomplete and needed some kind of a sauce or a dip with it.
Moving to the mains, we opted for the Greek Shrimp Saganaki (120LE). Made of perfectly cooked jumbo shrimp in tomato sauce and topped with feta cheese, the dish was a good one, but it wasn’t Saganaki. There was too little cheese to the flavour and the tomato sauce didn’t have any Greek flavours and tasted like Egyptian vegetable stew. One the other hand, the side of lemon rice added a good zesty flavour to the dish.
We also tried Adana Kebab (89LE) from the Turkish side of the menu. Two pieces of kofta laying on Lebanese bread and served with tahini dip and basmati rice topped with nuts, the dish didn’t capture anything particularly Turkish. Although the kofta was seasoned well and the rice was light and fluffy, the dish was overpriced – it’s almost exactly the same as Shawarmaister’s Kofta Halabi Platter which costs 45LE.
We finished our meal with the French Nougat Glace (27LE) for dessert; a rectangular slice of flawless vanilla ice cream filled with mini bits of pistachio and dried fruits. It was served with sour cherry syrup with a very sticky consistency, but the dessert as a whole was light and well executed.
There’s something about what Akli is trying to do that you can’t help but appreciate – but it’s not an easy job to perfect six different cuisines in one kitchen. The ambiance of the restaurant will take you back in time when you used to dine in a sporting club with the family and the food was, overall, good but there’s nothing remarkable about it.