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Zamalek, Cairo, Egypt.
Black Rock Restaurant: Confusing New Steakhouse in Zamalek
It is always exciting to hear about a new restaurant opening up because it holds the potential of becoming the new favourite spot to grab lunch, catch up over a drink or go out on a date. Black Rock, on Al Kamel Mohamed Street in Zamalek, is categorised as a steakhouse and promises delicious flavours trapped inside of every bite.
Directly across the Aquarium Grotto Garden, Black Rock at first glance looks nothing like one would imagine. Although it’s located in an ideal location, in a truly nice area, its shiny, somewhat polished décor didn’t blend as well as we’d anticipated. The impression is that the restaurant probably serves Asian cuisine, or so the interior highly implies. A black and gold palette fills most of the wall space – with a fully gold wall taking up most of the restaurant – as well as smaller details, such as the gold menu. The chairs that almost shine in their velvet upholstery complete the somewhat overly flamboyant design. Whether or not this is a matter of taste doesn’t make a difference because either way, it does not look like a steakhouse.
The restaurant at 7:30PM was completely empty which was only nice because we got to sit by the window. It was disappointing to find a flyer on the table with what could only be described as a terrible photograph of one of the dishes; the menu itself wasn’t much more impressive with weak English and unappealing layout. The food itself was confusing. The appetisers were a combination of basic salads, traditional starters and Asian dishes. From amongst the spring rolls, tiger shrimp, Carpaccio and noodle salad, we settled for the latter. The salad (36LE) was neither wonderful nor awful. It was light and fresh but there’s nothing that really stood out about its taste; it also had too little vegetables in ratio to the noodles.
The main courses we chose were the Black Rock fillet (180LE) and Peri Peri chicken (110LE). An original approach to dining, Black Rock gives you the option of cooking your own meat on a heated slab of rock at your table, which we decided to try. The idea was interesting and we felt adventurous but it didn’t fare as well as we’d hoped. Though the process comes with a guide – telling you to cut bite sized pieces at a time to cook –our inexperience with grilling left the meat overcooked and not too appetising. The meat kept sticking to the granite, inducing a definite skin-crawl every time a piece were ripped off, feeling like a piece of Velcro. The chicken with Peri Peri sauce, that didn’t taste so Peri, was decent but had some fat and cartilage that should have been removed prior to serving. Both dishes came with a selection of dipping sauces and the chunky chips we chose as a side were more like wedges and seemed like they might have been from a frozen packet.
The cheesecake (38LE) for dessert was also served on a ‘black rock’, only this time it was cold. The portion of cake was small and elaborately styled; it tasted relatively good. Using us as guinea pigs, the manager offered a complimentary dessert of chocolate fondue, wanting our feedback as to whether it should be included on the menu. The plate of fruit was nicely varied, with added marshmallows, and the dipping chocolate was well sweetened with the right consistency, so it certainly got a yes.
The service was over eager, with a waiter almost whispering in our ears every five minutes – perhaps this was because for the most part we were the only two people there; the music, as in most places, was disengaging and for these reasons the overall ambiance wasn’t enjoyable. We understand that this is a new venue and they still have a lot to learn and improve on, however we can’t help but wonder: isn’t this in fact the time you need to be making the best impression?
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.