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Sequoia: Local Nile Lounge Continues to Generate a Buzz
The first Sequoia experience leaves a lasting impression: a white canvas tent covers the dining area during the colder months, giving one the impression of entering an exclusive, dreamlike domain as you walk onto the floating restaurant. In the summer heat the venue is open air, making daytime dining a sweltering, albeit scenic, affair. The white canvas lounge chairs and flowing robes of waiters add to the enchantment of what we shall term “the Sequoia effect.”
But where does the magic really come from? Certainly not the menu. While the assortment of oriental dishes are fair - from molokheya to fried liver sandwiches, to the more common shish tawouk and kofta - there is nothing truly remarkable about the cuisine. The beverage choices are standard, with classic sodas, fresh juice, and some beers and wines. A big selling point is the sushi, with the menu imported from local restaurant Mori Sushi, making for an expansive array of dishes to choose from. The sushi servers are generally much more efficient than the in-house waiters, who sometimes stumble over the menu even though it hasn’t changed in years.
There is of course some room for innovation. Instead of going with the usual apple or peach shisha, be adventurous and ask to hear the house specials; the blend of banana and vanilla flavoured tobacco can be a surprising treat. While that may be as exciting as the evening gets, most of us can expect to return, again and again.
Service can be frustratingly slow on weekends when tables are filled to over-flowing, and the food is sometimes less than spectacular. Sequoia is nonetheless undeniably a staple for informal gatherings, a fall-back venue for birthdays, or a solid choice for a casual date. Bottom line, when all else fails, Sequoia generally offers a safe and satisfactory solution to an informal evening out.
The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner, and serves a special Saturday brunch menu. At the moment weekend-goers are charged a 100LE minimum, but by the time this review is published, it may well have increased; as any regular knows the minimum is constantly on the rise. Say what you will, Sequoia remains one of the top and most popular lounges in Cairo, and we all know we’ll be back for more.
It's always hard to maintain food and service quality during the rush of Ramadan, but Sequoia is one of the few restaurants in Cairo that has pulled it off with its fetar buffet (250LE per person).
As one of the most uniquely located venues in Egypt, sitting at the tip of Zamalek, Sequoia knows how to make a fuss for Ramadan, but this year’s decor is decidedly simpler than that of 2014. Possibly a vague reference to star consolations, geometric shapes are the theme of Ramadan 2015’s aesthetic – and it works. The hard, sharp lines of the wire-frame lighting fixtures would provide an interesting contrast with Sequoia woody-and-green aesthetic, but for the giant, ads that surround the space – the red is visually disruptive and just plain aggravating.
After being seated in our assigned table, the waiters gave us the sign that it was time to fill our plates before sunset. Four stretches of food stand in the middle of venue, two of which are full of nothing but salad.
The evening’s food and drink didn’t get off to the best start, however. After filling our plates, we sat down to break our fast with some Tamarind and Amar El-Din, the former of which lacked flavour and was too watery. Thankfully, the Amar El-Din fared much better and was the perfect combination of sweetness and that very distinct concentrated apricot flavour. Then it was time for some chicken cream soup, which proved to be tasty, balanced and a perfect opener.
Meanwhile, coleslaw, baba ghanoug, yoghurt salad and tuna salad were amongst the very many salads, dips and sides that we tried, with all proving extremely fresh.
As for what we might call main courses, there was plenty; grilled meat, cold meats, pastas, mahshy, mombar and molokheya with chicken were just a few of the foods on offer.
The pasta station can be overwhelming for some – oh so many options – but we were more than please with our penne arrabiata; the sauce was thick and lush, while the shredded onions added a pleasant zing to the dish. Sequoia's sambousak has quite the reputation and we’re pleased to report that it didn’t fall short of it. The creamy cheese sambousak in particular was delicious, with the addition of nigella seeds adding an extra touch.
We also tried the fillet fish, which was cut into finger-length pieces, and presented in a mound of brown rice. Crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, the fish was cooked and seasoned perfectly, if unspectacular. No Ramadan feast would be complete without mahshy and Sequoia’s rice-stuffed vegetable delights were full of flavour and kept well – no messy mahshy for us.
Here’s what’s really strange about the whole experience, however; somehow, someway, we found room for dessert – don’t judge us.
Aside from the usual – konafa, basboosa, Om Ali and other traditional goodies – the buffet’s dessert offerings included various chocolate cakes, fruit salad and even profiteroles. The latter were the standout item, though; excellently baked, the fresh cream centre and melted chocolate top-coating were a perfect ending to an outstanding evening of Ramadan dining.