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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 eclectic and unpredictable Cairo dining scene can be unforgiving when it comes to value-for-money; while we have plenty of good restaurants across the city, they all come with a rather hefty cheque at the end of your meal. This is a problem at the end of the month, when cash is low – quite often, standards become low, too.
In Maadi, the brains behind Cuba Cabana have opened sister restaurant, I Mix. With a menu of mostly generic international dishes, the first thing you will notice is it is significantly cheaper than its counterparts.
It’s important to note that I Mix is strictly delivery-only – an increasingly common preference for food entrepreneurs in Egypt – and acts as a cheaper alternative to its sister restaurants.
Of the seemingly rudimentary options, we opted for a Caesar Salad (18.99LE), as well as a Waldorf Salad (18.99LE), alongside or Beef Escalope (39.99LE) and Chicken Pane (32.99LE) and a side of French Fries (8.99LE).
The delivery time was decent and our food arrived satisfyingly hot.
The salads came in round plastic boxes with the dressing packaged separately. The Caesar Salad was the usual lettuce and croutons affair, but with the addition of olives, which overpowered everything, including the already scarce lettuce.
Unfortunately, the Waldorf Salad wasn’t much better. With lettuce, watercress, apples, pineapples, cherry tomatoes, raisins and walnuts, we opted to try one of the restaurant’s vinaigrettes – what came was a strange dressing of ketchup and mayonnaise which didn’t compliment the salad at all. Without the dressing the salad was far too sweet.
So, the salads were a bit of disappointment, but, thankfully, the mains fared relatively better.
The Beef Escalope was cooked well, though unremarkable in taste, while the pasta-with-red-sauce side suffered from a flat sauce despite the use of oregano.
Coming with tasty white basmati rice, sautéed vegetables – including fresh mushrooms seared in butter – and a creamy lemon sauce, the Chicken Pane was a surprising hit. The chicken itself was well-cooked, well-fried – retaining a pleasing crunch – and packed plenty of flavour. On top of that, the portion was ample, especially considering its more than reasonable price.
While the food at I-Mix is unlikely to wow, it’ll definitely impress you in terms of buck-for-bang – keep the number on speed dial for when your wallet is thin.