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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.
In an ever-evolving restaurant scene, Le Pacha 1901 in Zamalek has succeeded in preserving a decent standard of dining by the Nile – none more so than the boat’s Indian restaurant, Maharani.
Located on the ground floor, Maharani stands out with a cosy, yet maybe overdone, burgundy and green Far Eastern interior – think paisley patterns carved on wall fabrics and on the frieze, drawings of women dressed in traditional saris on a wooden paravant and ethnic golden jewellery frames, not to mention a statue of the Hindu God Ganesha –an interesting ambiance to observe, though perhaps a little too clichéd.
As soon as we were seated, we were promptly handed the menus and while we knew that the classic paneer pakora (54.90) – cheese cubes deep-fried into lentil batter – was our obvious appetiser choice, it took us some time to settle on the mains. We opted for a Murgh Tandoori half chicken (87LE), along with a Chicken Korma pot (103LE) and a side of vegetable Biryani (49.90LE) – classic Indian basmati rice.
Shortly after we ordered, we were served some complimentary dips consisting of mint paste, pickled mangos, lemons and peppers served with flat bread and a mango chutney dip – which we requested from the attentive and friendly staff.
With a sweet taste and a subtle spicy kick, the mango chutney dip didn’t disappoint; the other dips did, however, due to an overwhelmingly spicy flavour in the mint dip and a stale taste in the pickled mangos. Luckily, we were able to soon quell the fires in our taste buds with some freshly baked naan (16.90LE) and the appetiser made up for it. Served as six deep fried cheese fritters with a parsley garnish, the paneer pakora had a perfectly crispy crust and a great taste.
Moving on the mains, the half tandoori chicken was tender and well-seasoned, though the delicious tandoori marinade hadn’t penetrated further than the surface, leaving the inside of the chicken bland. In spite of the overall good taste, however, it was by no means a satisfying serving for one person – given the small chicken size and the fact that it came without side dishes.
Our other main, however, was the star of the night. Cooked with cardamom, rose water, curry and cream sauce, the chicken korma boasted an incredibly creamy curry sauce, hints of garlic, herbal flavours and a hint of sweetness, which were all perfectly complimented by the crushed cashews and the tender chicken cubes; it’s a dish highly recommended for those who want to experience an authentically Indian dish.
The vegetables biryani – cooked with herbs, spices, peas and carrots— tasted absolutely delicious, especially when paired with the delectable chicken korma sauce and is possibly the best biryani we’ve ever had.
After our mains, we opted for a Gulab Jamun (34.90LE), a classic dessert popular in Southern Asian countries which consists of deep-fried balls of condensed milk simmered in rose water. Perfectly golden on the outside, warm tender and chewy on the inside, the gulab jamun balls were an absolute delight with a rich creamy flavour and its sweetened rose water sauce which was just as tasty as the main component itself; think of it as an Asian version of Oriental dessert, zalabya, which marked a perfect ending of an imperfect, yet enjoyable, dinner.
Small portions and the insufferable vibrations emanating from the music from the boat’s rooftop venue, Ontop, aside, Maharani is among the few restaurants in Cairo that backs up its claim of authenticity.