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Zamalek, Cairo, Egypt.
Arjeela: A Pleasant Lebanese Restaurant Opens in Zamalek
Novotel in Zamalek is a considerably elusive hotel; there are no mainstream events that take place in it, and it has no outlets that are particularly known around town – let alone that are popular. So when we heard about Arjeela opening on its grounds there was more than a new venue to be curious about; there was the hotel itself.
Located on the corner of Zamalek just off Midan Kasr El-Nil, Novotel is quite small and its clean-cut interior is reminiscent of boutique hotels found around the world. It’s unfortunate that they don’t serve alcohol.
Arjeela, which is shisha in Lebanese, is just up a quick flight of stairs to the left of the hotel’s main entrance. The majority of the space is outdoors and it takes up an interesting portion of the hotel. Curved around the outer wall, facing the main road, Arjeela is almost like a long, turning balcony. The décor is kept understated with soft browns and beiges; the music during our visit was unobtrusive and calming.
The menu that is also the placemat made ordering easy and relaxed. From a generous selection of authentic Lebanese dishes, with names like jawaneh and maqaniq, we chose hummus (13.5LE), garlic dip (12LE), fattoush salad (15LE), cheese sambousak (18LE) and arayes (28LE) – which are essentially hawawshi– from the cold and hot mezze sections; and shish tawouk (40LE) from the main dishes. These all arrived after a fresh lemon-mint drink (19LE) that was pleasingly sweet and sour.
The food was all served at the same time, filling up our little table. The hummus was decent, though it lacked a needed tanginess; the garlic dip wasn’t good at all, tasting as we’d imagine blubber would. The fattoush salad was crunchy and zesty; the cheese sambousak was lightly crispy and delightfully oozed with well-seasoned feta cheese – both dishes were eaten up completely.
The arayes, though we believed were a starter – came as a full dish with French fries on the side. The meat in the sandwiches was rich and the outer bread nice and toasty, but it could have been firmer and with a fuller bite. The shish tawouk dish was very well flavoured, with roasted peppers on the skewer; this was also eaten all up, even though some pieces were a little on the dry side.
We settled on a universally appreciated dessert: crepes with Nutella (28LE). The two rolled up crepes came with ice cream and had just the right amount of sweetness to end the meal with. Naturally we had to try the shisha; the peach one (25LE) was well-rounded with flavour and the signature Arjeela flavour (30LE) had a sweet flowery aroma.
The service was very pleasant and eager to help; however the popularity of the place, where there’s a constant stream of people coming in and out, could be a little challenging at times.
The evening overall was a successful one and for this reason we think Arjeela is a great place to go if you’re looking for a nice atmosphere and a spot to enjoy your shisha.
There’s a general rule on the Cairo restaurant scene that suggests when a restaurant opens a second branch, it affects the overall quality of the original, so we were rather worried when we paid the new branch of Hayda a visit.
Recently opened at Galleria Moon Valley Mall in New Cairo, the interior uses the same famous chairs, pink and turquoise colour scheme, posters of Lebanese stars on the walls, and white Islamic patterns, but on a smaller scale. The venue has two separated indoor areas; the first one has only four tables and a linear table-set-up that looks like an open buffet, while the second is more spacious and has a lot more seats.
We kicked things off with Sambosek Spinach (35LE); four pieces of triangular pastry filled with spinach and walnuts. The pastry had a great crispy crust and a soft interior and the spinach was perfectly seasoned and had a terrific zesty kick to it, while the walnuts added a great crunchy component.
Moving to the mains, we opted first for the Kofta Azmeer (80LE), which came as three pieces of grilled meatballs stuffed with mushrooms and served in a huge bowl filled with tomato sauce and then sprinkled with parsley and cheese. Despite its appeal, the dish was just very disappointing. Served with rice topped with a scarce amount of toasted nuts, the meatballs themselves were very dry, the mushroom centre was very similar to the canned variety and was completely untreated which made the meatballs feel tougher and drier. Meanwhile, there was far too much tomato sauce, which was bland, while the cheese didn’t really add anything.
On the other hand, the Sausage Fatteh (65LE) was considerably better, though not perfect. The sausage itself was seasoned well and had a great texture and the rice was cooked perfectly; but the bread at the bottom was a bit soggy and the fatteh was topped with tahini not yogurt sauce as promised on the menu. Overall though, it was pretty good.
We finished our meal with Konafah Naboulsy (50LE) with Nutella and Bananas. It wasn’t our first time to try Hayda’s outstanding Konafah Naboulsy and thankfully it had the same crispy crunch, the same stretchy cheese and the same spot-on sweetness, but with the addition of the Nutella, which made for a good match with the fruity, fresh bananas. But although those two ingredients worked together, we felt it was a bit too much with the cheese. These kinds of desserts are usually a hit with diners, but it wasn;t exactly the most innovative of combinations – the chocolate, banana and cheese just never came together as a trio.
This summed up our visit at Hayda’s new branch perfectly – it had its ups and downs. We loved the service and the cosy ambiance, but it’s definitely not as striking as the Nile-side Giza branch and, at the time of our visit, there were several issues with the food.