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Dokki, Cairo, Egypt.
The Yemen Restaurant: Waning Taste of Sana'a in Dokki
Located on a sleepy street in Dokki, the aptly named Yemen Restaurant has been a cult favourite on Cairo’s casual-dining scene for quite some time. Having closed down and renovated, we decided to check out if said cult following is still warranted. Now looking like a large cafeteria, the shiny tiled floor, metal seating and straight-to-the-point name is by no means a sign of laziness, but more a sign of economy – a theme that runs deep throughout the whole dining experience.
Small bowls of soup were rushed to the table almost as soon as we’d sat down; bowls that would traditionally be drank out of. Fortunately, the restaurant provides you with spoons. The meat stock soup, though pleasantly unassuming in taste, suffered the occasional slither of fat; a defect that is not for the weak stomached.
Ready to dig into something of more substance, we were informed that only a handful of the dishes on the menu were still available. Legend had warned us that we’d need to arrive early to be privy to all the dishes, but an 8PM dinner isn’t late by any stretch of the imagination in a city like Cairo.
We received a veritable smorgasbord of everything that was still available. First to arrive at the table were two large portions of Yemeni bread (3LE per one piece). Served hot, the bread isn’t too dissimilar to feteer or naan bread but was in no way greasy and held together pretty nicely.
Plates of liver (15LE), chopped meat (10LE), beans with eggs (6LE), vegetables (5LE) and salta (10LE) were served up as promptly as the soup was. Both the liver and chopped meat were cooked and/or served with the same mix of sliced vegetables, with the meat faring better than the liver, which was tasteless in comparison to Egyptian-made liver dishes. The meat was a little dry, but the accompanying fried peppers, carrots and other unidentifiable vegetables provided a much needed tenderness to the dish. The salta – also a mix of meat and vegetables – only differed in that it was drenched in a brown, meat stock sauce. It tasted no different.
Said vegetables also make up the mixed vegetables dish, with the only addition being slices of soggy potato. Just for the fact that they didn’t contain the same mix of vegetables as the other dishes, the beans with eggs stood out as the highlight. Served sizzling hot in a generous portion, the dish uses the beans as a mix of foul and a bean casserole. Although basically a mush of beans, tomato and boiled egg, the hearty dish was full of flavour and made for a great impromptu sandwich with the bread.
Though the staff members at the restaurant are quick as bunnies, they have no clue what the dishes are and are only able to repeat the ingredients of a dish when asked about them. The fact that there was only one variable ingredient between three of the dishes left us feeling a little short changed. Apart from the bread, we left the restaurant none the wiser to what Yemeni cuisine actually is.
They say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day – and we’re not about to argue that – but unless you have the time before work or school to really make something off your first food-intake of the day, you end up going through the motions. Even if you choose to venture out, breakfast menus across Cairo are, more often than not, pretty basic – there’s no such problem with Ben & Florentine’s breakfast menu, though.
The Canadian chain had originally opened in New Cairo and, seemingly, its popularity has lead to the opening of a second branch on Maadi’s ever-changing Road 9.
As a venue, Ben & Florentine is small, housing only five tables overlooking the colourful, busy street. The menu brings together the type of items you would expect of ‘international cuisine’ – think sandwiches, burgers, pastas, pizzas etc. Visiting bright and early(ish), however, our focus was very much on breakfast – a breakfast we’d heard much about and covers almost 3 pages of the menu. The options are plentiful – ranging from simple eggs Benedict, to breakfast combos, to three-egg omelettes.
We kicked off what we were hoping would be a top-notch breakfast with a simple cappuccino (18LE), which was much more bitter than a cappuccino should be – it could have done with a bit more milk. But onto the main event of our breakfast, we ordered the Two Eggs Etc – a reasonably simple dish that comes with toast and beef bacon – the latter of which was, unfortunately, quite dry. What didn’t disappoint, though, was the portion of Ben & Florentine’s famous oven-baked fries, which were cooked perfectly to an outer crunch and an inner softness. Other than that, the eggs themselves were good, if unremarkable – they were cooked well and that’s all you can really ask for from eggs.
We also tried the Three Musketeers crepe (48LE), which pulls together beef sausages, cheddar and mozzarella – as well as more of those fries. This time, however, the fires were hard and dry – a disappointment if there ever was one, when you consider how good the ones with the eggs were. The crepe itself, meanwhile, was simple but delicious, with both the sausages and crepe cooked perfectly.
We sealed our breakfast with Ben & Florentine’s Raspberry Mojito (25LE) – the epitome of refreshing. Using lemonade and raspberry syrup, the real kick was in the fresh lemon and mint garnish, which – because of the basic other ingredients – added a subtle but noticeable dimension to the flavour.
Overall, we left the new branch of Ben & Florentine satisfied; though nothing wowed us, it delivered on its promise – a decent, wholesome breakfast.