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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.
Indian restaurants in Cairo are among the most haphazard and inconsistent on an already unpredictable scene. While the cuisine is a popular one in the capital, the execution of the dishes here varies from spot-on to way-off.
When we heard about a new Indian restaurant in Maadi, needless to say, we dropped by as soon as we could. Another feature of Indian restaurants in Egypt is that they all look exactly the same; dark wooden chairs and tables, dim lighting, Indian murals and paintings on the walls, and Maharani is no exception.
Located on the currently booming with good food Road 6, Maharani takes up a modest space that was mostly empty upon our arrival. We were greeted at the door, shown to our seats and menus were laid out before us in not time. The loud Indian pop music coming from the TV was a bit of a distraction, but then loud pop music coming from any TV in any language is a bit of a distraction at a restaurant.
We dove into the menu looking to test how Maharani does with the classics; Butter Chicken (40LE) and Vegetable Biryani (30LE). We also opted for Saag Gosht (45LE) and Kashmiri Pullao (40LE), as well as Karak Rolls (15LE) from the appetisers, Butter Naan (10LE), Cheese Naan (15LE) and a Mango Lassi (15LE) to wash it all down.
Our food was served in about twenty minutes and boy, were we surprised. One of the amusing features of the restaurant is that they serve water in glazed clay cups and the Biryani is served in what looks like a glazed clay vase. Little gimmicky features aside, the food was astounding.
The Karak Rolls were served first along with the Mango Lassi. The rolls are basically breaded chicken rolls stuffed with cheese. On their own they were a little dry and uninteresting, but took on a different flavour altogether when dipped in the sauces that were to come. The Lassi is a traditional yogurt based drink, mostly served savoury, but in this case, it was mixed with mangos and actually tasted very refreshing.
The Butter Chicken was some of the best we’ve tried; The chicken tasted fresh, clean and tender, while the sauce was phenomenal, finding a perfect balance between the exotic spice flavours and creaminess. The Vegetable Biryani was a perfect combination, as was the Naan bread, which was served hot and delicious.
The Sagg Gosht – a slow-cooked spinach-based curry with lamb cubes – had us confused on what our favourite dish was. The lamb was cooked to a beautifully tender state, while the spinach curry was just as creamy and flavourful as the butter chicken. The Kashmiri Pullao – basmati rice with dried fruit and cashews – was, again, a perfect complement to the main course.
The main’s portion weren’t as big as we expected, but the quality of the food was through the roof and we were indeed full by the time we were done. Our only problem with the restaurant is the restaurant itself – it verges on parody.