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Maadi, Cairo, Egypt.
Maharaja and Zen Zen: Four-Cuisine Asian Restaurant in Maadi
There’s no shortage of Asian-inspired restaurants in Cairo. Thai, Korean, Indian or Chinese cuisines are found everywhere and Maadi is no exception. However, choices can be a double-edged sword; where picking a single place to eat can be challenging. So when we heard of an Asian restaurant in Maadi that serves four varying cuisines - essentially hitting four birds with one super hungry stone - we were instantly curious and set off to discover what it’s all about. Welcome ladies and gentlemen to Maharaja and Zen Zen.
Located on the ground floor of a residential building, the restaurant was empty – very large and very empty. The furniture was old and the walls covered with generic Asian art; the stained and ratty-looking tablecloths left much to be desired and the marble flooring looked like it hadn't seen a mop in years. It looked like a typical Chinatown restaurant and when Celine Dion began playing on the stereo, all was complete.
The menu presented us with the first pleasant surprise of the evening - over five pages of options. After looking through the menu for several minutes, we decided to try both the Chinese and Indian food; ordering a bowl of hot and sour soup (12LE) and an appetizer of vegetable samosas (12LE).
The Chinese menu was the most extensive with a lot of appetisers, including popular items such as spring rolls, going between 12LE and 20LE. The selection of beef and chicken was also quite impressive; including known dishes such as sweet and sour, chop suey, beef with broccoli and kung-pao. We settled on chicken kung-pao (43LE) and the more health-conscious option of vegetarian Dal Maharaja lentils (26LE).
The food arrived a few minutes later, piping hot and smelling delicious. The portion of the soup was generous and extremely flavoursome, spicy and full of sliced vegetables. The vegetable samosas were three to a platter and were perfectly crunchy; they accompanied the soup surprisingly well, with their potato filling evening out the spicy tang of the soup.
The chicken kung-pao was colourful and perfectly cooked. It had a nice amount of sprinkled peanuts and the spiciness level was just as requested. The Dal Maharaja lentils, despite being made of only a few ingredients and nowhere near as complicated as kung-pao, held its own in flavour. The lentils were puréed just right, and despite not being served with traditional Indian naan bread, the dish was filling and light at the same time.
The dessert was fried bananas, topped with vanilla ice cream and honey. Although it was not as awe-inducing as the previous courses, it gave the much needed warm and sweet ending before having to step back out into the cold.
Our waitress, the only waitress in the place, was chatty and an absolute delight. We discovered that Maharaja and Zen Zen has been in Maadi for over nine years with another branch in Rehab City. However, most people don't visit and have their food delivered instead. This might be due to its unappealing ambiance. Since we can‘t find a reason to warrant going back there, apart from the food, the delivery menu will most certainly be given its place on our fridge.
One of the hotel’s seven dining venues is Asia House, which serves Indian cuisine. The restaurant’s decor is more Arabic than it is Indian, with an alabaster fountain and arabesque woodwork. The menu is shaped like a Chinese hand fan. Already confused? So were we; but in the end it’s the food’s quality that matters.
For a starter, this reviewer sampled the satay (85LE) of twelve pieces of lamb, chicken and beef served with peanut sauce. The meat was nicely spiced and grilled well but it still had a juicy and tender texture. The peanut sauce was tasty and a bit spicy, but its texture was oddly crumbly and its portion was too small for the twelve pieces.
For a main course, we had the chicken tikka (88LE) and the sea bass Thakkali curry (95LE). The chicken tikka was served sizzling in a pan with tomato, onions, peppers and cabbage. It didn’t come with any side dish so it was a good thing that we had already ordered the buttered naan (22LE) on the side. The naan tasted more like baladi bread with an Indian twist, but it was tasty nonetheless.
The chicken tikka was spiced well and grilled close to perfection. The meat had that nice barbeque taste, and combined with the grilled vegetables, it made a very healthy meal. The sea bass Thakkali curry is a sauce made of tomato, cumin and coconut, which had us thinking of superlatives such as 'to die for'. Yes, it was that good. The sauce was a bit spicy but nicely balanced with the cream. Unfortunately, the sauce left the fish’s flavour indiscernible, but the fish meat itself was firm and came in a generous portion.
For dessert, we were served a complimentary dish of kolfi (35LE), which is an Indian variant of ice cream. It’s a custard-based ice cream that tastes quite delicious once you get the hang of its texture.
Asia House’s staff is friendly and gives you space during your meal. Service was fast but since we were the only guests at the time of our visit, we don’t know what it would be like on a busy night.
If you want a pleasant dinner of Indian food in one of Cairo’s landmark hotels, then try Asia House. It doesn’t come cheap, though; we paid 479LE for one starter, two main courses and two beers.