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Zamalek, Cairo, Egypt.
Cairo Kitchen: The Ramadan Edition
Ramadan is in full swing and we’re seeing a lot of our favourite spots swiftly adapting to the holy month by offering exclusive fetar menus sure to satisfy your pressing hunger. With rumbling stomachs in tow we made our way over to Zamalek’s Cairo Kitchen to check out what their special menu had to offer.
The balady-chic restaurant offers a set menu (110LE) depending on the day. Check out their blog for a full list of their daily dishes. Visiting on the third day of Ramadan, our fetar consisted of lentil soup, a mixed salad plate, a choice of either well-being koshary, okra with beef or fireek with chicken liver, as well as the daily serving of sambousak, dolma (rice-stuffed vegetables) and kobeiba.
Arriving just as the sun finally set, the place was already bustling with hungry Cairenes. We were quickly seated, where our soup and starters arriving promptly after. The lentil soup was light but it lacked a bit of flavour and needed salt and pepper, as well as some cumin. The salad plate was a bit of a disappointment seeing as so much was missing, such as the beetroot, green beans and spinach tehina, which were promised on the menu. The green salad wasn’t very fresh with cucumbers that were a bit soggy, but the labna was refreshing and the couscous with khalta (almonds and raisins) was flavourful. The spicy potatoes were also enjoyable though a little heavy on the garlic.
The side dish that is served daily had pepper and aubergine dolma, where the former was perfectly moist and tasty but the latter was a bit tough to chew. The cheese sambousak finger was crunchy and soft in all the right places, while the spinach sambousak triangle was equally enjoyable with a well-seasoned filling. The kobeiba was especially good; it had a superb crunch to its outer layer as well as a lovely hint of cinnamon.
The staff were most attentive and very efficient; constantly moving around from table to table, they made sure nothing was left to desire. Bringing us karkadeh before our main course was served, the juice was absolutely delicious with a satisfying tang and a perfectly subtle hint of sweetness.
The well-being koshary was well cooked but we found it to be lacking in punch and needed to add a considerable amount of da’a, the traditional garlic, lemon and vinegar dressing. The okra came with a generous piece of meat and was served with white rice. With a slight hint of lemon, the dish was satisfying and the meat tender, with a melt in your mouth quality.
Towards the end of the meal, milk with dates was passed around to whoever craved the sugar and there was also a dessert counter with konafa, basbousa, meshmesheya and vermicelli pudding. The sweets were pretty basic, indifferent to most you'd find in Cairo, except for the vermicelli, which definitely got our vote.
The atmosphere at Cairo Kitchen for fetar is very warm and welcoming. The service is top notch and the food was delivered to tables in ideal time. So if you’re the type that likes to eat a lot for fetar and feel like going somewhere different, then Cairo Kitchen should be on your list of stops.
Unlike so many of the international hotels in Cairo, the Sofitel Cairo El Gezirah bucks the trend of its competitors’ inability to sustain quality and consistency in their food and beverage outlets. The hotel has it all, offering Cairenes options for nightlife in the form of Buddha Bar, one of the best swimming pool day-use options in the city, the extravegant So Spa, and even a swanky salon. These facilities, however, are just a prelude to the delights that await you at the hotel’s restaurants – namely, El Kebabgy.
Located right along the banks of the Nile, seating is predominantly assembled as an outdoor space, giving diners a pretty spectacular, if windy, view. The restaurant is often busy, so making reservations is highly recommended, lest you be left waiting beside the clay bread ovens and be teased by the wholesome aroma.
There’s nothing too complicated about dining at El Kebabgy; though the menu is pretty ample, you absolutely cannot visit this place and not go for the mixed grill (125LE). But we’re getting a bit ahead of ourselves.
No Oriental meal is complete without a spread of cold mezza (40LE) and El Kebabgy goes all out with hommos, tehina, baba ghanough, taboula, fattoush and spiced cheese, all with a bottomless basket of freshly made balady bread. Dipping at the fresh dishes makes for a great way to get the old enzymes going, though unfortunately, tomeya is not included and comes as a separate dish for 20LE. It is, however, in no uncertain terms, well worth the extra money; it’s the perfect accompaniment to the restaurant’s grilled meats.
Said grilled meats come sizzling on rather kitsch charcoal grills, where diners can continue the cooking process as they please. Chicken, kofta, kabab and lamb chops come as part of this magnificent package, and all are succulent, tender and full of flavour – just be weary of leaving it on the grill for too long. Outside of the mixed grill, the grilled veal liver (65LE) is an absolute must. If you can get the grilling right, you’re in for a treat; it comes in very generous portions and you’ll feel like you’re digging into a big meaty steak.
The only downside to our last visit was the service. Overwhelmed, slow and generally hateful of their lives, the staff members have a way of making you feel like you’ve offended them in some way; in a restaurant that feeds all the senses, it really does make a difference to the overall dining experience.
Thankfully, however, these shortcomings are not severe enough to diminish the crux of an evening of wining and dining at El Kebabgy; the food.