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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.
The last five years have witnessed the opening of dozens of dining complexes that have redefined dining in Cairo. The newest dining zone to open comes in the form of Patio in New Cairo, where we visited new self-proclaimed pasta and grill specialist, Tuscany.
Located at the second floor, Tuscany boasts an Italian countryside feel with colour-stained glass, pergolas and low-hanging lanterns defining the indoor area. The outdoor area maintains the Italian countryside atmosphere, but with a more rustic feel thanks to stone clad walls as well as wooden chairs and tables.
After taking our seats, we were greeted with a welcome bread basket with olive oil and cheese dip. Coming in three colors – beige, orange and green – the crunchy bread worked \well with the savoury cheese dip and was a great start for our meal to come.
After going over the elaborate menu, we went with the Spicy Potato Skillet (45LE) as an appetiser and Smoked Turkey Chicken (70LE) and Triple Sauce Steak (120LE) as our mains, alongside some Italian Soda with Watermelon (23LE) and Strawberry Milkshake (20LE).
Fifteen minutes later, our appetiser arrived in a sizzling hot skillet bursting with aromas and herbal scents. Comprised of cubes of roasted potato covered with minced beef and topped with a blanket of gooey cheese, the potatoes had a delightful herby flavour which worked well with the rest of the ingredients of the dish. The skillet was extremely hot, which gave the minced beef a smoky aftertaste that integrated well with the spiciness and sharpness of the cheese.
Moving onto the mains, the smoked turkey chicken came with a side of French fries, as well fettuccini pasta with cheddar cheese sauce. Unfortunately, with the two fried chicken breasts stuffed with turkey and cheddar cheese, and then topped with even more cheese, the cheese flavour overpowered almost everything except the chicken and gave the turkey a slight aftertaste.
The fettucine pasta, on the other hand, was well cooked and drenched in a gooey melted cheddar cheese and covered in cheese shavings which worked well with the overall taste, though it was a bit heavy. The fries were a nice complementary side though it didn’t bring anything unique to the plate.
Comprised of four pieces of well-done steak each drenched in one of gorgonzola cheese, pepper, barbecue and mushroom sauces, the steak was grilled to perfection/
The gorgonzola cheese sauce gave the beef a distinct taste that was both savoury and aromatic, while the pepper sauce had an overpowering spiciness to it that worked well with the beef; meanwhile, the barbecue sauce gave a tangy backdrop and the mushroom sauce had a savoury aftertaste. However, a side rice that came with the dish had minimal seasoning and was a little dry.
With a hint of watermelon and a dash of cream, the Italian soda was refreshing and worked well with our plates, as for the Strawberry milkshake, it had a milky texture with a syrupy flavor leaving a strawberry aftertaste after every sip.
For our dessert we ordered the Nutella and Hazelnuts Pizza (60LE) which came as a medium-sized pizza with a thin crust topped by Nutella along with some crushed hazelnuts, coconut shavings and powdered sugar. Though it looked quite promising, the pizza had a disappointingly chewy crust as it was chewy that was just as difficult to cut as it was to bite and chew.
As a whole our visit to Tuscany was quite pleasant. Though some flavours fell short – especially the Nutella pizza — we enjoyed the cosiness of the restaurant and we can definitely see the potential in its dishes. Does it present anything new or unique? No, not really, but it has the potential to be a solid favourite amongst diners.