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Heliopolis, Cairo, Egypt.
Tamara Lebanese Bistro: New Citystars Restaurant Opens in Time for Ramadan
Tamara in Citystars serves traditional Lebanese food with a modern flair. Brought to you by the same people behind Mori Sushi, this time they're looking to entice Cairo with an authentic taste of Lebanon. Located just across the VIP cinema on the ground floor, it caused quite a stir in the weeks leading up to its opening.
In a mostly white-washed interior, colourful oriental patterns and arabesque decorations accent the space, while the staff are clad in a galabeya-like uniforms of pink and grey. Tamara has multi-level seating areas to separate the smoking area from the non-smoking one. The restaurant also serves shisha (25LE) and with sufficient ventilation, the smoke won’t irritate you.
With Lebanese chefs, we were eager to begin ordering. The maqanek (Lebanese sausages) with potatoes and pomegranate dip (40LE) was heavenly; the sausages were delicious and perfectly spiced. The dish came with thin, fried potatoes and was soaked in the rich wine-red coloured dip that was sweet and distinctly sour; a perfect combination and a must try.
The potato soufflé with minced meat (35LE) seemed to have come right out of the oven to our table. The mashed potatoes were soft and creamy but could have used an extra pinch of salt. The lower layer of minced meat was well-cooked and flavourful.
Other appetizers include hummus (20LE-45LE), vine leaves (25LE) and kabbe nayee – or kobeiba (40LE). In addition, they have Lebanese pastries, such as chicken and shrimp roqaq (39LE and 45LE), fiteer with spinach (30LE), manakeesh (25LE) and meat in pastry (35LE).
For a main course, we ordered the baby chicken messahab (70LE); half a grilled chicken with thyme and mixed with potatoes. Fresh tomatoes and mint leaves gave it an extra special touch. The whole plate was covered with thin Lebanese bread freshly baked in front of us in their open kitchen.
Out of several shawerma options we tried the chicken shawerma plate (50LE). The shawerma came in a generous amount, wrapped in delicious Lebanese bread. With garlic sauce (tomeya) on the bread, the chicken was mixed with tomatoes, tasty herbs and topped with mint leaves. They also offer meat shawerma plate (55LE) and mini shawerma sandwiches (chicken 35LE and meat 45LE)
There are also fattah plates such as chicken fattah (45LE), lamb fillet fattah (55LE), and fattah with hummus and pine nuts (55LE).
We ordered konafa with cheese (35LE) for dessert, which was served quickly and initially given to us on the house. However when the order didn’t turn up correct, the waiter quickly apologized and soon after brought us the right one, only this time we were charged for it. The konafa came topped with a thick layer of cheese and was covered in syrup mixed with nuts and Lebanese mazaher. To guarantee the full experience, have a bite with all ingredients together.
We washed it all down the lemon with mint (30LE) that is blended milk, lemon, mint syrup, and little mint chunks. It was refreshing and one of the best lemon drinks we’ve had.
Despite the fact that our table
was a bit too small to handle all the dishes we ordered,
Tamara succeeded in tempting us to return – especially with the month of Ramadan upon us.
One thing we’ve learned over the years at Cairo 360 is that when it comes to Cairo’s dining scene, the only certainty is that nothing is certain. We’ve seen many a novelty and gimmick fade into obscurity, though certain cuisines all but guarantee a certain level of success – Lebanese being one such cuisine.
Located on the Giza Conriche, recently opened Alwan Lebanes Bistro takes up the space where short-lived Asian restaurant, Chop Chop once was, right next to the new Saudi Arabian Embassy. As with Chop Chop, Alwan shares an entrance with a neighbouring Indian restaurant – previously Asha’s – which is currently under renovations.
Upon entrance, a friendly waiter greeted us at the door and stayed with us in the endeavour of exploring some of the more unfamiliar dishes.
Though the names Alwan (‘colours’ in Arabic) seems more suited to a quirky cafe, the décor is actually very contemporary and the use of colours subtly brightens up the cold, sleek space. Our favourite feature was the coloured strands running across the windows.
We started with a classic Fattoush salad (20LE), which we found very balanced and generous with the crispy, fried bread. Next they served us the Fruit Cocktail (29LE) which was fresh and delicious.
We had opted for Mankoushet Alwan (40LE); a round mana’eesh split up into four pieces, each with a different filling. The oregano and cheeses sections were flavourful and light, though the meat in the minced meat piece was noticeably not fresh. Confused about what was in it, our waiter clarified that the fourth piece was in fact stuffed with Lebanese kishk – a dish made of cracked wheat, yoghurt and milk. Similar to a savoury rice pudding, it didn’t quite sit well with the bread of the mana’eesh.
The great thing about Lebanese cuisine is the colourful and liberal use of spices, which was very obvious in the Mixed Grill (99LE). The Shish Tawook and Kabab were incredible; the seasoning was perfect and they were cooked exactly right. The Kebab was so tender it would melt in your mouth. The Kofta on the other hand, while perfectly seasoned as well, just couldn’t seem to keep its consistency. Every time you touched it with a fork it would crumble into smaller pieces.
One of our favourite features of the experience was the tasty and freshly baked Lebanese bread. We decided to end the meal with a Nutella Pie (35LE). Topped with bananas and kiwi, the pie was a great combination of soft and crispy, while the banana and kiwi was fresh.
Being a relatively new restaurant on what is an already very busy Lebanese dining scene in Cairo, Alwan delivers what it promises, but lacks the pizzazz to challenge more established Lebanese restaurants like Taboula.