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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.
There’s a plethora of options in Cairo for the fasting masses to dine out during Ramadan. Many offer buffets and set menus, while others prefer sticking to their usual dishes. For the first few days of Ramadan, people seem less willing to experiment with cuisines and prefer traditional food, and one that fits quite easily into that category is Lebanese cuisine.
We had previously reviewed the Maadi branch of Al Dayaa and found their food to be quite tasty and the atmosphere pleasant. But Ramadan, along with impatient and fasting customers, changes the ball game completely.
Restaurants can usually tackle this issue in a number of ways and Al Dayaa chose one that should, in theory, work well. You can call in and reserve a set Ramadan fetar menu for 130LE per person. The thing about a set menu is there’s nothing you need to ask the customer after the phone call. The restaurant basically tells you what you’re ordering, and they know what time the Maghreb prayer is called;so, in theory, all should go smoothly.
We arrived ten minutes before the call to prayer and were shown us to our seats upstairs. There were six tables being served besides us, two of which had not yet arrived when we walked in. The Ramadan meal consists of different salads including hummus, fattoush, pickles, spinach manakeesh, batata harra and a plate of mix grills.
By 7.30PM – half an hour after the call to prayer –we were only served the humus and salad. We asked for lentil soup and instead got lesan asfour, which was bland at best. We asked for hibiscus and instead got tamrhendi – they ran out.
But it got worse; the two empty tables beside us were served their main courses well before the party itself got to the restaurant, and when they did, the waiters paid much more attention to them. Why? They were tourists.
When we asked about why our food was so late, the waiters looked at us puzzled and asked us what we had ordered. It’s a set menu. Everyone called in hours earlier to reserve. There should be zero confusion.
So after a long wait, we were given two plates of mixed grill each containing a skewer of tangy kebab, a skewer of somehow bland shish tawook – chicken that’s supposed to be marinated overnight – and two semi-decent skewers of kofta.
You’ll realise we talked very little about the food itself, which may or may not have been good, it’s hard to tell when the service is that incompetent and they make you wait an extra hour. But this is exactly how memorable the food will be in light of a terrible experience.