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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.
Cairo restaurants and cafes have seen numerous trends over the years and recently, the emergence of fondue has become apparent all over the city. Run by two young entrepreneurs and a team of friendly waiters, the Fondue Pot in Heliopolis celebrates the Swiss dish in all its forms.
Sitting above Mood Restaurant and Lounge on Abdel Moneim Hafez Street, the exterior of the restaurant resembles a Swiss chalet with natural wood accents and traditional windows. The interior is equally as charming; wooden seating, red and white checkered tablecloths and Swiss memorabilia hang from the beams.
Being one of just two groups, the menus arrived quickly, along with an explanation of some of the dishes. The drinks menu includes a long list of fresh juices, mocktails, iced teas, frappes and hot drinks, including a selection of the increasingly popular ‘Nespresso’ coffees. We went for one Geneva mocktail (22LE) – a deliciously fruity, slushy concoction of peach, orange and passionfruit – and an icey Lugano (23LE); a fresh, citrusy, but sweet, mixture of orange, lemon, guava and honey.
The food menu doesn’t limit itself to just your basic cheese fondue, but instead lists numerous, exotic sounding variations of the traditional dish (90LE-140LE), along with salads, raclettes – a traditional Swiss side dish – chicken, meat and sweet dessert fondues. The restaurant works on a DIY and sharing basis; the portions are large and the meats are cooked at the table, by the customer, using their chosen method. Combo meals are also pre-arranged should you be unsure about what to order.
We ordered a 'traditional combo' (450LE), advisably for two people, which included traditional Swiss cheese fondue, a garden green salad, chicken, traditional raclette and milk chocolate fondue. Before long, the cheese fondue arrived, along with a gigantic bowl of bite-sized, yummy toast pieces and a plate of fresh, crunchy broccoli. We were shown how to turn down and turn off the heat of the flaming fondue contraption, in case our fondue began getting too hot. The fondue was both cheesy and creamy, with a béchamel sauce consistency, perfect for coating our dipping pieces. Our side salad was a healthy mix of fresh greens, dressed with a delectable, flavourful vinaigrette.
Unable to finish our course of fondue, it was replaced by an electronic stone plate, heated and coated with oil, ready to cook our chicken on. The generous servings of raw meat were thinly sliced, served with a selection of six tasty sauces and herbs for seasoning. Our passionate waiter demonstrated how to prepare a raclette with new potatoes, pickled onions and strong tasting gherkins in our tiny, square frying pans. We melted the cheese on top by placing our creations under the grill, beneath the hot plate, and although we cooked everything ourselves, the waiter was never too far away should we have required any guidance.
Next, we dipped pieces of ripe banana, green apple, sweet strawberries and soft kiwi in the heavenly, sweet, milk chocolate fondue. The only thing missing from this scrumptious dessert were spoons to help drink the chocolate straight from the pot, even if such a practice isn't etiquette.
The Fondue Pot provides a unique, sociable dining experience, serving up large quantities of quality food in a cosy, friendly setting which wholly justifies the expense.