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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.
If there’s one thing that the Cairo restaurant scene is good for, it’s the wide variety of options, suitable for just about every taste and wallet size. Known for its big menu and bigger portions, Spectra continues to be a popular franchise in the city, despite all odds. Their newest branch sits on Mohamed Mazhar Street in Zamalek; decidedly indistinct, this branch fashions the familiar cosy, chalet-style decor, homely artwork and low lighting.
As with each of its counterparts, the mammoth menus offer a vast variety of international appetisers (14.99LE-74.99LE), soups (6.99E-12.99LE), salads (13.99LE-39.99LE), combination platters (68.99LE-279LE), pastas (16.99LE-49.99LE), burgers (24.99LE-44.99LE), risottos (19.50LE-44.50LE) and sandwiches (14.99LE-39.99LE), along with chicken, veal, beef and seafood mains (39.99L-99.99LE). There’s also a separate menu dedicated to juices, cocktails, smoothies and hot drinks (4.99LE-16.99LE) as well as desserts (8.99LE-29.90LE).
For our starters, we opted to share a platter of mini burgers (29.99LE), before moving on to a tuna nicoise salad (26.99LE) and grilled chicken (39.99LE) with penne bolognaise on the side. For drinks, we chose one, surprisingly fruity and flavourful Spectra cocktail (16.99LE), as well as a cherry temple (8.99LE) - a chilled can of Sprite with a generous addition of sweet cherry syrup.
In a fairly short amount of time, our mini burgers arrived, generously portioned to share between two or three people. Encased in small, soft, sesame seeded buns, the patties were thick, juicy and delicious, with crisp pieces of lettuce held in place with cocktail sticks.
Next, our salad was delivered, and we were far from impressed. Despite being made with crunchy greens and vegetables, the potato-mayonnaise was hard and uncooked, whilst the dollop of oily, fishy tuna was little larger than the size of a teaspoon. After our complaint, the dish was returned with more of the same unpalatable tuna, whilst the potato salad was removed completely.
Adding salt to the wound, our grilled chicken was served swimming in an unrequested – and cold – mushroom sauce. Once again, we sent the dish back to the kitchen, and two plain, quality chicken breasts were hastily redelivered. Although not exceptional, our side of bolognaise was surprisingly pleasant, with the al dente penne pasta rolled in the beef and tomato sauce.
For dessert, we ordered a large slice of strawberry cheesecake (19.99LE) which transpired to be thick and creamy, with a tasty topping of sweet strawberry sauce and canned strawberries. Although the biscuit base was practically non-existent, it managed to satisfy our after-meal sweet cravings.
And so in true Spectra fashion, the meals are hit and miss, generously sized and moderately priced.