Sign in using your account with
Heliopolis, Cairo, Egypt.
Athena: Slightly Greek Restaurant in Heliopolis
Among all the burgers/pizza/Chinese restaurants one has come to expect, a certain blue sign piqued our interest; Greek food-specialists, Athena. Despite strong Greek cultural roots in Egypt, and a shared affinity in Mediterranean food, this is a cuisine that is rarely found in Cairo.
At the time of our visit, the dish of the day was a meal consisting of two portions of a meat of your choice, with a side of rice or pasta, accompanied by soup, fries, and bread, all for 35LE – a full meal to say the least! And it is indeed as filling as it sounds, especially when the meat options are mushroom steak, veggie-stuffed chicken, meatballs and chicken in white sauce.
It’s unfortunate that you don’t get to pick the soup, but luckily, their plain chicken soup had an enjoyable herb flavour and it's a decent appetiser. The bread loaf dipped in their special garlic dip proved to be a better one, however.
The steak was cooked properly and was perfectly tender. The mushrooms were a little dry, but the steak’s delicious gravy made this less of an issue. The chicken in white sauce looked suspiciously raw at first, but turned out to be cooked just fine. In the end we found that the combination of both meats in one meal was surprisingly delightful.
With a second look at the wall-mounted menu, Athena doesn’t seem to offer anything much different to any generic Mediterranean cuisine. Trying to hone in on anything remotely Greek – the menu mentions no desserts of any kind – we opted for the fried calamari (33LE), which also comes with all the previously mentioned sides. While the calamari’s batter was pleasing, the dish smelled and tasted a bit on the fishy side.
Part of trying a new restaurant is experiencing signature dishes and exotic, new flavours. While the food is cooked well and is at great value, Athena is lacking in any kind of authenticity and the menu needs to be more adventurous.
Over the last year or so, new restaurants in Cairo have been introducing more and more exotic cuisines to the dining scene, be it Mongolian or even Peruvian with a Japanese twist, leaving classic favourites like Italian and Asian last week’s news. However, recently opened restaurant, Akli, has gone against the tide and specialises in not only one cuisine, but six, across everything from soups to desserts.
Located off Meccas Street in Dokki, Akli is divided into two zones; the ground floor, which has a exposed glass-wall baking room and shawerma station that wasn’t working at the time of our visit, is made for take-out orders, while the top floor is for dining-in. Besides the unfinished ceiling – which doesn’t seem like it will be finished because the AC duct has already been installed - the interior of the restaurant is on the classic side, with olive green, traditional panelled walls behind ruby buttoned couches. The setup of its tables is also pretty basic, but it actually has a cheerful view of a mini garden. If we were to compare it to another restaurant, Akli has the same spirit of everyone’s favourite, Bon Appetit.
Now let’s talk about the food. Our first flight was to Italy with Spicy Arancini Di Manzo (25LE). Starting from the spot-on creamy texture and the scrumptious golden brown crust, to the melted mozzarella cheese and minced beef, which was bursting with Italian herbs flavours, those four fried Italian rice balls were rather tasty.
Our second stop was at our beloved country with Sojouk (42LE). Lying on a bed of chopped parsley in true 90’s style, the grilled sausage was seasoned well, but it was a bit tough and dry. Overall, though, the appetiser seemed incomplete and needed some kind of a sauce or a dip with it.
Moving to the mains, we opted for the Greek Shrimp Saganaki (120LE). Made of perfectly cooked jumbo shrimp in tomato sauce and topped with feta cheese, the dish was a good one, but it wasn’t Saganaki. There was too little cheese to the flavour and the tomato sauce didn’t have any Greek flavours and tasted like Egyptian vegetable stew. One the other hand, the side of lemon rice added a good zesty flavour to the dish.
We also tried Adana Kebab (89LE) from the Turkish side of the menu. Two pieces of kofta laying on Lebanese bread and served with tahini dip and basmati rice topped with nuts, the dish didn’t capture anything particularly Turkish. Although the kofta was seasoned well and the rice was light and fluffy, the dish was overpriced – it’s almost exactly the same as Shawarmaister’s Kofta Halabi Platter which costs 45LE.
We finished our meal with the French Nougat Glace (27LE) for dessert; a rectangular slice of flawless vanilla ice cream filled with mini bits of pistachio and dried fruits. It was served with sour cherry syrup with a very sticky consistency, but the dessert as a whole was light and well executed.
There’s something about what Akli is trying to do that you can’t help but appreciate – but it’s not an easy job to perfect six different cuisines in one kitchen. The ambiance of the restaurant will take you back in time when you used to dine in a sporting club with the family and the food was, overall, good but there’s nothing remarkable about it.