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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.
There’s a certain charm to this restaurant that it carried through from its old venue in Degla. Little Swiss and the charming owner Charlotte have been the centre of Swiss Cuisine in Egypt. Having not seen the new venue that they moved to about a year ago, we decided to pass by for cheesy goodness.
Located on Road 18 just past Spectra and Roastery, Little Swiss has taken up a decently sized apartment on the first floor of a residential building. You walk into a courtyard and up a flight of stairs into a very cozy, wooden-cabin-in-the-mountains type of interior, with the charming black and white cow print being the centerpiece of the décor. While the red candles provide dim romantic lighting, the music is unfortunately protruding and works against everything else that sets the mood.
As always, Charlotte will stop by your table to greet you and check if you’re familiar with Swiss cuisine. We already knew what we wanted, so the friendly waiter, dressed in red to match everything else, took our order.
From the appetizers, we opted for Fillet Pfannli (35LE), a small plate with bite sized chunks of fillet baked in the oven. With a strong salty flavour, and very tender consistency, the Pfannli was both delicious and inviting of more yummy food.
Next was the Mushroom Cheese Fondue (145LE), which your waiter will ask you if you want with or without white wine. Traditionally, fondue is made with wine and gives it a bit of a kick in terms of flavour, but it’s still delicious should you choose to opt out. Little Swiss has always been secretive about what exactly goes into the fondue, our taste buds might be wrong, but we could taste Emmental and Gruyère. Served with a bowl of bread bits that you hook onto the end of a long fork and dip, there’s little in life a pot of melted cheese can’t fix. Should you have one such issue, the next entrees will clear them right up.
The Beef Fillet Table Grill (130LE) consists of raw slices of beef fillet which you can place on a hotplate that’s plugged into a nearby outlet. The meat is served with homemade sauces and some herbs you can marinate it with. While this ordeal can seem a little inconvenient, cooking the meat takes very little time and leaves with you with hot, tender and delicious pieces of meat.
Still not full? That calls for some Chocolate Fondue (75LE). Available in dark or milk chocolate, the Toblerone bars are melted in a small pot and served with marshmallows, cake, apples, grapes, pineapples and bananas for your dipping pleasure.
While the food is certainly delicious at Little Swiss, everything is a little on the expensive side, which makes it a very difficult for this otherwise great restaurant to become a regular dining spot. Otherwise, it’s a great place to take a date or to spoil yourself every now and then.