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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.
When it comes dining in Cairo, the pairing of the words 'restaurant' and 'cafe' is one that we've come to approach with caution. Though at the very base of both meanings of the words the two should meld seamlessly into one another, it often results in the restaurant element suffering. Occasionally, however, some places buck the trend - as is the case with one of Maadi's newest eateries, Casa Lingo.
With a gorgeous courtyard area painted in shades of grey complimented by a lot of greenery, glass panels and stone cladding, Casa Lingo definitely looks the part. Both indoor and outdoor areas carry the same grey colour scheme with brighter coloured cushions on the chairs and couches. In short, the venue is extremely comfortable and even features extensive activities for your kids.
As we walked in through the courtyard, a waiter greeted us warmly and led us to an empty table where we found our menus. Covering everything from warm drinks and appetisers to main courses and desserts, the menu is both large and varied.
To get an all-around sense of the appetisers, we opted for a Lovely Sharing Oriental Appetisers platter (94LE) which features Sambousak, Kobeba, Oriental Sausages, Chicken Liver as well as Tehina and Baba Ghanoug. From the mains, we opted for the Shrimp Curry (84LE) and the Beef Steak (89LE).
The appetiser platter was served relatively quickly while we waited for our mains. Along with a fresh bread basket, the slightly overpriced platter was in fact quite delicious. The sambousak and kobeba had a perfect crisp, while the chicken liver was just the right amount of tangy.
During our wait, we noticed that the shishas being served smelled particularly tasty, which adds another dimension of laidback venue to Casa Lingo.
A few minutes later our waiter stepped outside with our food. The plates looked quite scrumptious, with the Shrimp Curry smelling particularly good. Served with a side of yellow basmati rice and sautéed vegetables, the poached shrimp tasted fresh and delicious. The curry itself wasn’t as thick as some of the ones we’ve tried, but in this particular case it worked in the dish’s favour.
In regards to the Beef Steak, we were encouraged by the fact that our waiter asked how we wanted it cooked; it's still somewhat of a rarity outside of restaurants that specialise in steak. We asked for it to be cooked medium and that's exactly what we got. The steak wasn’t covered in gravy, but had just enough to give you something to mix the fluffy white rice with. The meat was tender and just the right colour on the inside.
We love new venues because they try their hardest at offering the best service and quality food. While our experience at Casa Lingo was superb, we can only hope it doesn’t fall into the same rut of cutting corners that most new restaurants do.