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Taboula: Excellent Lebanese Cuisine in Garden City
A little overwhelmed by the menu, we opted for a mezza-style meal and ordered hummus (16LE), baba ghanough (16LE), vine leaves (16LE), muhammara (hot pepper dip, 18LE), taboula (20LE), kebbeh (raw beef, 32LE), spinach sambousak (16LE) and chicken liver (25LE).
A complimentary garlic dip was served with a strong yet amicable flavour, along with fresh bread that arrived warm and fluffy.
Both the hummus and the baba ghanough were blended nicely. The latter has a tendency to be served rather chunky, but this version went down nice and smoothly. The vine leaves were firm, with just enough olive oil to give flavour without becoming soggy. The chicken liver dish was so huge it could easily have been a main course; the not so appealing brown clumps of meat were juicy, with the right consistency which wasn’t spongy. The pepper dip could have been a bit spicier, but would suit the weaker taste buds just fine. Expectations for the taboula were high, considering the name of the restaurant, and they were definitely met. The salad was a balanced mix of bulgur, tomatoes, onion, garlic and parsley; without any ingredient overpowering another.
Kebbeh is a hit or miss dish; with the delicate, labour intensive preparation of the raw meat, it's either good or awful. The chef at Taboula got this one right: the beef was ground perfectly, not too pulpy, but also not to thick, with a hint of cinnamon and a touch of onion. The spinach sambousak however did not appear to be fresh, as stated on the menu, but was tasty all the same.
For dessert, the konafa with cheese (25LE) was simply delicious. Not too syrupy and, more importantly, not insanely sweet. The mahalabeya (12LE) had the right density however it didn’t have the regular garnish of crushed nuts and coconut, leaving it slightly bland.
An evening of Lebanese dining wouldn't be complete without arak, an anise-flavoured alcoholic spirit. Taboula serves Egyptian made arak at 200LE a bottle, but for the 'real' Lebanese deal you will have to fork out a steep 600LE. Don't worry about having to drink all of it in one sitting – with an alcohol percentage of at least 50% that would be a challenge – at the end of the evening you get to write your name on your bottle, so it will be waiting for you when you return for your next meal.
Taboula also serves shisha for those after dinner puffing needs.
The waiters at Taboula are prompt and very friendly, making jokes and small talk, without being obnoxious. Despite the place being fairly busy, our carafe of arak never reached the bottom without a waiter promptly appearing to fill it back up. And despite being seated in the back, they never missed our calls for service.
With a mix of delicious food, courteous service and a relaxed atmosphere, Taboula might be one of our favourite restaurants to date. Located under ground level, the place is a little difficult to find, but all the locals know it, so do ask around; your search will be royally rewarded.
Lebanese restaurants in Cairo are common, to say the least, but few truly elevate the cuisine. Located on El Thawra Street in Heliopolis, Tanoura struck us as being both aesthetically interesting and colourful, drawing us in with bright oranges, Mediterranean yellows and reds. The ground floor is only partially covered, creating an outside-in feel, complete with flower beds and a central palm tree. Continuing its cheerful theme indoors, the restaurant spreads over two more floors.
Named after a Lebanese dance, it seemed only appropriate that Oriental music served as the backdrop to our dining experience, whilst antique, reclaimed shisha pipes are used as light fixtures and are incorporated into the interesting screen designs.
We were promptly shown to our seats before the waiter discreetly told us that the minimum charge is 75LE; a minimum easy to surpass with their wide selection of tempting Lebanese dishes. All the typical hot and cold appetisers are available, along with salads, arayes, mana'eesh, fattah and grills. If Lebanese doesn’t take your fancy, there’s also a selection of soups and pastas to choose from.
Tanoura also offer a good variation of drinks; we ordered a lemon juice (18LE) and a watermelon smoothie (25LE), both which arrived swiftly. The lemon juice was a refreshing bitter-sweet concoction whilst the watermelon – now in season – was a deliciously fresh, icy slushy.
We requested one chicken fattah (45LE), an onion soup (20LE), hommos (20LE) and cheese sambousak (24LE). We didn’t have to wait long, and in true Lebanese style, everything was served together. A basket of cold, soft baladi bread was delivered as an accompaniment to the creamy, well-seasoned hommos. The cheese sambousak resembled four, generously sized spring rolls, deep fried to a golden brown. Unfortunately – due to the bed of lettuce they were presented on – the underside turned soggy fairly quickly. The onion soup was rich and flavourful, complete with a considerable amount of onion pieces swimming in it. Of all the dishes, however, our chicken fattah exceeded expectations; it was a creamy mixture of large, quality chicken chunks amongst crispy bread and soft white rice. The portion was so large that we struggled to finish it along with our starters.
Rather than choosing one of their Oriental desserts, we chose to wash our meal down with an apple shisha (18LE) which was as expected; fruity, flavourful and smooth.
The colourful décor, chilled-out atmosphere and contemporary setting of Tanoura modernises traditional Lebanese recipes, and is proving to be a popular place for both young and more mature clientele.