Following the moderate success of our brilliantly insightful and informative look at the top five cafés of 2012 (so far), it seems only right that we churn out one on the many restaurants we’ve gorged at in the last six months too.
If there’s anything that the inhabitants of Cairo love to do, or maybe even end up doing for lack of anything better to do, it’s to eat, and eat well. Eating well by no means constitutes either eating healthy or eating quality - it simply means eating lots.
That’s because there aren’t many better cities that make a spectacle of eating as Cairo does. Subsequently, 2012 has thus far been a prolific year for dining. We’ve seen the new, the bold, and the mutton dressed as lamb. You see, interesting cuisine in Cairo can be as ghastly as it is enticing – a perfect metaphor for the city.
All in all though, it wasn’t difficult to compile a list of adequate-to-superb restaurants, both new and old. In fact, the list could have easily have been double in number.
Though usually slight, the variants of Middle Eastern cuisines are always big on flavour and personality; none more so than Lebanese cuisine. Having launched earlier this year, Arjeela has become the crown jewel of the Novotel Hotel in Zamalek. If the lure of authentic Lebanese dishes isn’t enough, maybe playing backgammon, cards or chess while wheezing on shisha will satisfy on warm summer evenings.
This daring new concept of baladi-chic is as troubling as it is fascinating. You’d have to get up pretty early in the morning to fool Cairo 360 into paying 39LE for a bowl of koshary. Having said that, though, we did indeed pay 39LE for a bowl of koshary – and we quite liked it. We’re not sure how, but Cairo Kitchen has also managed to add a touch of elegance to a tagen meal.
As good, and as large, a burger as we’ve sunk our fangs into in Cairo, the aptly named American Beef Burger alone makes the still-in-development Sun City Mall in Heliopolis a little warmer. Plus, you’ll never worry about waiting for your food, because the evil genii behind Kook’s and Bigg’s distract their unsuspecting customers with Sudoku, spot the difference and other similarly frustratingly addictive games. Perfect for those little rascal kids of yours.
Undoubtedly the most ludicrously ambitious of the restaurants on this dazzling list, Khamsa We Khmesa offers diners five (khamsa) very distinct cuisines. Appetisers, soups, entrées, desserts and drinks are all divided into categories: Egyptian, Moroccan, Thai, French and Italian. So theoretically, one can enjoy Thai shrimp rolls, French onion soup, Egyptian chicken and molokheya and Italian tiramisu in one sitting. The possibilities are endless.
Yes, another new Egyptian baladi-chic restaurant in Zamalek. You’d be forgiven for rolling your eyes had Zooba not been one of the best things to happen to dining in Cairo in the last decade. Before you throw your arms up in despair at the price of the falafel container (14LE – yikes), take a bite of one and realise that this is one of the best cholesterol-laden examples of an Egyptian classic, it is probably also the cleanest - the same goes for their koshary and hawawshi.
Started by a group of students unlike any we’ve heard of, this humble, unfussy eatery is very special. The miserable lack of good Chinese cuisine in Cairo compelled a troop of heroic Al Azhar University students from the Uhgur region of China to embark on what is nothing short of a triumph of dining.
Like all their best restaurants, the proud folk of Maadi like to keep Bua Khao to themselves. Selfishness aside, this is one of the few places in Cairo not to dress up Chinese dishes as being Thai. If you can bring yourself to ignore the drab interior, Bua Khao is cheap, relaxed, affable and, most importantly, authentically Thai.
What does a 305LE filet mignon taste like? Like beef bliss. The prices at JW’s Steakhouse are preposterous in the context of Cairo dining, but equally justifiable in the context of quality dining. There are few things sexier than the sight of a fresh slab of beef, and that makes JW’s the posh bordello of steak.
Cairo often gets the short end of the stick when it comes to seafood compared to its more coast-adjacent siblings. Yet Heliopolis restaurant, La Sirena, seems to have little trouble in serving fresh, creative seafood dishes at reasonable prices like the Louisiana shrimp; a tagine of shrimp with feta, mushrooms and tomato sauce. Sounds like a mess, but it’s pretty mind-blowing. It’s small and dark, but Las Sirena’s staff and craft in the kitchen is extraordinary.
Speaking of seafood, Downtown Cairo’s Pomodoro has garnered a large part of its cult following based solely on its seafood pasta. Ranging between 25LE and 50LE depending on which fish and crustacean to throw into the mix, it’s the attention to detail that makes it a winner. Pomodoro also offers a range of seafood, chicken and meat sandwiches – perfect to grab on the go and settle in for a session at Horreya, which is just around the corner. Happy days.