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Downtown, Cairo, Egypt.
Oak Grill: Masterclass Menu at Conrad Cairo Hotel
Simple in design, the interior is dim and unspectacular, but spacious and comfortable, though the late-night racket from neighbouring bar, Stage One, intruded on the hushed atmosphere.
An amuse bouche of one thin slice of smoked salmon sitting in a light anise dressing was a nice start to our intended feasting. The salmon was fresh, though the taste of anise was a shock to the palette.
It also set up our starter nicely; cured organic salmon and marinated scallops (120LE). Served in a large plate, three scallops and three pieces of sashimi-style salmon came with a hefty trimming of light, cucumber-infused crème fraiche, a small helping of brunoised apples, orange fennel sauce, basil oil and a balsamic reduction.
Each of the elements took position on the plate to create what was the closest amalgamation of art and food you’re likely to see in Cairo. Every one of these delicate ingredients contributed to the core of the dish in very different ways, with the orange fennel sauce being a particular highlight.
From the small menu, we tried Oak Grill’s lamb dish (235LE). The eclectic entrée included one overcooked, but full-flavoured lamp chop and a serving of lamb shank pieces, topped with mashed potatoes and an indistinguishable cubed cheese.
The shank pieces, though tender and full of flavour, were spoilt by the occasional wayward slither of fat. Looking like a shepherd’s pie, the mashed potato layer was bland in taste and got pretty cold, pretty fast. Accompanying the lamb were a serving of vegetables and a smooth dollop of carrot purée that complimented the meat perfectly.
As the most expensive item on the menu, the 295LE tenderloin dish is also the most divisive; it comes with a generous ration of foie gras. The foie gras comes in scallop-shaped pieces – as is described in the menu – and if you can alleviate any visceral guilt, you’ll enjoy one of the best examples of the delicacy in this city. Cooked perfectly, the pieces are rich and full of flavour – almost as much as the tenderloin steak itself.
Ordered at medium-rare, the thick piece of beef was unevenly grilled; one side was just past medium, while the other was closer to medium-well. It was a mistake that was quickly overlooked, though, as the meat was obviously of excellent quality and was as flavoursome as even the heartiest of steak-lovers would hope for. A cognac sauce adorned the plate, but had little say when up against the tenderloin; it was overpowered in taste.
A small selection of desserts included banana and mocha cheesecake (38LE), vanilla bean crème brulèe (53LE) and, most interestingly, camembert cheese (35LE). Cheese lovers have forever been hard-done by in Cairo, but this simple dessert blew us away. A thin but wide oven-warmed wheel of camembert came with a spiced plum compote, small pieces of crispy bread and pesto. Although heavy and rich, and not the best note to end a three course meal on, the creamy cheese was nothing short of a marvel, especially when paired with the sharper taste of plum.
Whoever was behind the grill at the time of our visit must have been having an off-day, but although the meats were over-done, Oak Grill‘s use of quality ingredients and employment of a simple menu should, and must, be applauded.
Over the last year or so, new restaurants in Cairo have been introducing more and more exotic cuisines to the dining scene, be it Mongolian or even Peruvian with a Japanese twist, leaving classic favourites like Italian and Asian last week’s news. However, recently opened restaurant, Akli, has gone against the tide and specialises in not only one cuisine, but six, across everything from soups to desserts.
Located off Meccas Street in Dokki, Akli is divided into two zones; the ground floor, which has a exposed glass-wall baking room and shawerma station that wasn’t working at the time of our visit, is made for take-out orders, while the top floor is for dining-in. Besides the unfinished ceiling – which doesn’t seem like it will be finished because the AC duct has already been installed - the interior of the restaurant is on the classic side, with olive green, traditional panelled walls behind ruby buttoned couches. The setup of its tables is also pretty basic, but it actually has a cheerful view of a mini garden. If we were to compare it to another restaurant, Akli has the same spirit of everyone’s favourite, Bon Appetit.
Now let’s talk about the food. Our first flight was to Italy with Spicy Arancini Di Manzo (25LE). Starting from the spot-on creamy texture and the scrumptious golden brown crust, to the melted mozzarella cheese and minced beef, which was bursting with Italian herbs flavours, those four fried Italian rice balls were rather tasty.
Our second stop was at our beloved country with Sojouk (42LE). Lying on a bed of chopped parsley in true 90’s style, the grilled sausage was seasoned well, but it was a bit tough and dry. Overall, though, the appetiser seemed incomplete and needed some kind of a sauce or a dip with it.
Moving to the mains, we opted for the Greek Shrimp Saganaki (120LE). Made of perfectly cooked jumbo shrimp in tomato sauce and topped with feta cheese, the dish was a good one, but it wasn’t Saganaki. There was too little cheese to the flavour and the tomato sauce didn’t have any Greek flavours and tasted like Egyptian vegetable stew. One the other hand, the side of lemon rice added a good zesty flavour to the dish.
We also tried Adana Kebab (89LE) from the Turkish side of the menu. Two pieces of kofta laying on Lebanese bread and served with tahini dip and basmati rice topped with nuts, the dish didn’t capture anything particularly Turkish. Although the kofta was seasoned well and the rice was light and fluffy, the dish was overpriced – it’s almost exactly the same as Shawarmaister’s Kofta Halabi Platter which costs 45LE.
We finished our meal with the French Nougat Glace (27LE) for dessert; a rectangular slice of flawless vanilla ice cream filled with mini bits of pistachio and dried fruits. It was served with sour cherry syrup with a very sticky consistency, but the dessert as a whole was light and well executed.
There’s something about what Akli is trying to do that you can’t help but appreciate – but it’s not an easy job to perfect six different cuisines in one kitchen. The ambiance of the restaurant will take you back in time when you used to dine in a sporting club with the family and the food was, overall, good but there’s nothing remarkable about it.