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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.
When in the mood for a light, easy-on-stomach late-night snack, there isn’t much outside of fast-food across the Cairo dining scene. – well, that’s what we thought.
We stumbled on Al Karmeh in Maadi on Road 231. The lights were bright around the modestly-sized venues and the restaurant uses the same red and white colours as in its logo. With an elevated-from-street-level wooden patio outside, the venue is perfect for a quick and quick snack.
As we walked in, the waiter behind the cashier greeted us and offered us menus. The restaurant offers light Lebanese cuisine — think manakeesh, alongside most of the traditional Lebanese salads including fattoush, tabouleh, humus, and spiced potatoes. We opted for a Kofta Karmeh (44LE) alongside a Zaatar with Cheese (14LE), Labneh (19LE) and Homemade Fries (10LE).
Service time was relatively short, but we realised shortly afterwards why that was. Offering the options of Saj or Oven Baked for all the manakeesh, we asked for ours toasted but received them cold. The Kofta Karmeh, meanwhile, was served face up in a pizza box; the dough had no discernible crunch to it, and the meat didn’t really stand out in flavour, due mostly to a lack of seasoning. It was simply meat, cheese and dough with none of the subtle Levantine flair one expects of Lebanese cuisine.
The Labneh, served in wrapped saj bread that, again, wasn’t toasted, also contained diced cucumbers and tomatoes, which was a nice touch, but was sorely lacking thyme and olive oil.
With the Zaatar and Cheese, the ratio was off, so unless you really like the tangy flavour of zaatar, you may find this mankousha a little much. Again, had it beentoasted , it would’ve made a world of a difference.
The homemade Fries were the surprising highlight of the whole meal. Retaining some crunch but still very fleshy, they made for a good side.
The problem with this type of cuisine now is that it’s no longer a novelty. Not only is Shami food now available in any and every part of Cairo, you also have choices and price ranges. With all around average food, it's hard to see how a restaurant like Al Karmeh will compete, especially when there are three other Lebanese restaurants within walking distance of it.