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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.
Located on a narrow, hidden road in Sheraton, Heliopolis, Osteria might not be the easiest restaurant to find, especially if you’re not from the area. After getting lost and calling the restaurant for directions, we eventually found our way and were greeted warmly by the waiters who walked us to our seats and passed us our menus.
We found a wide range of options to choose from including salads (26LE-38LE) appetisers (16-53LE) steak (58LE-80LE) seafood (40LE-90LE) chicken (40LE-62LE) and fajitas (46LE-74LE). In true Egyptian chain restaurant style, all main courses are served with two sides of your choosing; sautéed vegetables, French fries or pasta.
We opted for Chicken Cordon Bleu with French fries and penne pasta with white sauce (47 LE) and Country Fried Shrimp, but were delivered the devastating news that the kitchen was out of shrimp and calamari. Instead, we chose a 220g beef fillet with mushroom sauce, sautéed vegetables and penne pasta with white sauce (58 LE). We also opted for an Osteria Appetiser Sampler (40LE) which was made up of four spicy chicken strips, mozzarella sticks, onion rings and Doritos covered in herbs and mozzarella cheese. The appetiser sampler comes with three different dips and was served hot and, remarkable, within five minutes of ordering it.
Equally as impressive, the main courses took around twenty-five minutes to emerge from the kitchen. Unfortunately, however, the Cordon Bleu was dry and a far cry from the moist chicken cutlet one would expect. In addition, there was a distinct, almost baffling, lack of cheese and the promised smoke beef. Being the positive Petes we are, we were able to at least enjoy the well made and seasoned fries. Already disappointed by the aforementioned shortage of shrimp and calamari, the meal’s saving grace came via the substitute dish of beef fillet. Well cooked and at the very reasonable price of 58LE, it was enjoyable without being spectacular - a slab of beef and no more.
Our check came out to 160 LE which is very reasonable for a dinner for two. The service was both great and quick and the waiters always had a smile on – shame about the execution of the food.