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Zamalek, Cairo, Egypt.
Nawab: Zamalek's Beloved Indian is Still the Best in Cairo
Even with an exterior appearance that looks more like a barbershop than a place of gastronomy, Zamalek’s premier Indian restaurant Nawab has always had a place in many a Cairene heart. As with many ethnic cuisines in this schizophrenically consistent city, purveyors of good, reasonably priced Indian food are few and far between. Nawab’s slight new look, kitchen and considerate staff make a good go of filling that most desperate of needs.
Although Nawab conveniently provides home delivery, the food never seems quite as good as when you occupy the restaurant itself. Why? No one knows. It can’t be the rather drab decor or the feeble attempt at infusing the place with an air of authenticity by playing Bollywood films and music videos. Whatever the reason, eating out is as much about the feeding all five senses anyway.
Dinner began with an order of vegetable sambousak (12LE). Presented with two saucers of dips, the two pieces of sambousak were bursting with well cooked vegetables, although they were a little cold. The yoghurt, cucumber and mint dip clashed with the vegetables, while the tamarind dip was sweet with a bitter kick; a perfect foil to the rich pastry of the sambousak.
Late in its arrival, the prawns pakora (27LE) fell short of the other appetiser. Though it was served sizzling hot, the deep-fried pieces lacked seasoning and weren’t as agreeable to the complement of the dips as the sambousak was.
Luckily though, the mains blew away any dissatisfaction. An extraordinarily creamy khoya mutter paneer (33LE) tasted great with both garlic butter naan bread (8LE) and jeera rice (17LE). Although the meat of the dish, so to speak, is the paneer cheese, it’s the incredible gravy that makes it one of the best Indian dishes on the menu. The plain tasting paneer, which falls somewhere between halloumi and cottage cheese, added little to the dish, whereas the cashews and peas added a texture to the gravy. It complimented the sharp cumin of the jeera rice and the crunchy flakes and soft centre of the naan bread perfectly.
As did the lamb kadai (60LE), which is one of the more expensive items on the menu. Although the decent-sized pieces of lamb ranged from slightly dry to melt-in-your-mouth tender, the crimson massala sauce gave the dish a spicy tang. It’s also one of the sexiest looking dishes you’ll ever see.
Stumbling out of Nawab with a full-belly-induced limp and a slight throb of spice on your tongue, the only regret is that this marvellous restaurant doesn’t serve alcohol. Because everyone knows that nothing goes better with a curry than an ice-cold beer.
Having been around for over twenty years, what Nile Bukhara has achieved is no easy task. Our previous reviews of the restaurant were favourable, but a variety of Indian restaurants have emerged recently and we were curious to see how they all compared.
Located near the Total Gas Station by the Maadi Entrance from the Cornich, Nile Bukhara boasts a slightly over-done interior of wood fixtures and dim lighting, complimented with sitar music. It's a bit much and the wooden slab menus are further proof of this, but then again, Indian restaurants in Cairo have never scored particularly well in terms of décor.
Realising that little had changed with the interior, we shifted our attentions to the menus. We ordered a Vegetable Samosa (12LE) from the starters, the Murgh Makhani (55LE), the Chicken Tikka Masala (55LE), Rogni Naan (11LE), Pudina Paratha (11LE) and Steamed Basmati Rice (15LE).
The Vegetable Samosa, savoury pastries stuffed with vegetables, were served first and were accompanied with a small yoghurt and mint dip and pickled onions. The Samosa’s were perfectly crispy on the outside with a nice vegetable mush on the inside.
Now, our first review of Nile Bukhara raved about the Murgh Makhani — also known as Butter Chicken. So as we waited in anticipation, and folded out the napkin into a bib, we spotted our waiter swiftly manoeuvring through the kitchen and out to us with our tray.
Served in copper bowls, the two curries looked completely and utterly indistinguishable. The Murgh Makhani is described on the menu as chicken in a tomato, butter and cream soup, but the seriously intense tomato flavour dominated all and would have been better suited to pasta. To add insult to injury, the chicken, although cooked well, was very scarce.
The Tikka Masala, although less intense, wasn’t creamy and had no discerning flavour - essentially, it was a red soup with green peppers floating in it and the same lack of chicken.
The Rogni Naan and Pudina Paratha, both kinds of bread, one with butter and garlic and the other butter and mint, were both disappointingly average, and so was the Basmati Rice. Any and all combinations were attempted but none really stood out.
Maybe it was the reputation that was over-hyped, or this was a one-off day, but we’ve have had much better Indian food right here in Cairo at the same prices or even less.