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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.
On a quest to check out some of our old favourites on the Cairo restaurant scene, we decided to stop by Cuba Cabana in Maadi. It had been four years since our last review, and many a restaurant have shut down in that time.
Located on the quiet Road 7, Cuba Cabana boasts beautiful décor and a spacious, comfortable courtyard. The shades of brown and beige create a subtle contrast that’s complimented by touches of greenery and strikingly-coloured cushions.
Eager to try some of the higher-end food this time around, we were seated by a friendly waiter at an outdoor table adjacent to a small wooden bridge that leads you from the courtyard to the indoor area.
Although we were interested in a hearty launch, Cuba Cabana’s menu offers everything from breakfast options like omelettes and pancakes to soups and salads, their signature square burgers, fajitas and enchiladas, all the way through the main courses to desserts and an extensive drinks menu.
We opted for a medium-cooked Balsamic Onion Steak (84.99LE) and a Salmon Steak (94.99LE). Both are served with sautéed vegetables and your choice of a second side including potatoes – mashed, baked, wedges or French fries – pasta or a salad. We chose wedges and a baked potato.
Served roughly 25-30 minutes later, our food arrived hot on large white square plates.
The 250g tenderloin Balsamic Onion Steak was cooked medium as requested. The meat was brown and slightly firm around the edges, while the inside was tender and just the right colour of pink. The steak is topped with balsamic sauce and caramelised onions creating a very pleasant mixture of sweet and slightly tangy. The sautéed vegetables, albeit a little too greasy, were seasoned and topped with butter. Finally, the baked potato, although completely bland itself, was complemented by a ranch sauce that’s heavy on the blue cheese which rendered any seasoning unnecessary.
The 250g Salmon Steak, seasoned with herbs, capers, pickled onions and ginger was tender and had a crispy crust around the edges. The salmon is topped with a creamy lemon and dill sauce giving it that extra bit of zing. The salmon is served with the same seasoned and buttered sautéed vegetables, plus another side of potato wedges that’s seasoned the same as the vegetables. We do wish they were baked to additional crisp though.
All round, the food was quite delicious. The atmosphere is very relaxed outside and, should you want, the indoor area has a more intimate vibe. At night, the restaurant features low light yellow lamps that add a nice subtle ambiance. Moderately priced for main courses of that calibre, and with friendly attentive staff, it’s no wonder Cuba Cabana has survived for this long.