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Maadi, Cairo, Egypt.
T.G.I Friday's: Tasty Tex Mex with Nile View in Maadi
Once you've tasted real Mexican, many restaurants outside of North America will seem like bland interpretations of the original. There are just too few Mexicans in this part of the world for their unique cuisine to remain authentic.
T.G.I.Friday's, however, does a better job than most at offering a respectable take on delicious cuisine that centres around corn, beef and hearty spices. The chain's location in Maadi also offers an outdoor dining area with stunning and serene views of the Nile.
T.G.I.Friday's, short for the weekend-rallying slogan "Thank God it's Friday," opened its first branch in New York City and features American classics like New York Steak (102.99LE) and Friday's Cheeseburger (41.99LE). There is also plenty of Mexican food on the menu, and many offerings from the Tex-Mex kitchen that came about when Mexican immigrants settled in Texas and blended two culinary traditions.
A half-portion of Cheese Nachos (34.99LE) makes for a good appetiser; the corn tortilla chips were salty and crisp, topped with melted cheese and hot jalapeno peppers with guacamole and sour cream dips.
Our top pick was the chicken fajita dish (66.99LE), which arrived at our table on a sizzling hot pan. It included slices of charbroiled marinated chicken with grilled onions and bell peppers and a side of yellow rice with spices. The rice was fried lightly and was still soft, while the chicken was tender and flavourful. The dish came with a side of salad, Colby cheese, sour cream and delicious tortilla bread. However, despite the promises on the menu, the guacamole and salsa side dishes were missing.
The chicken quesadillas (54.99LE) were another good pick for expats from the United States who yearn Mexican fast-food. This dish featured diced chicken, peppers and Colby cheese stuffed between two layers of tortilla bread. The generous portion was served with cold sour cream, which went down well with the sizzling hot quesadillas and melted cheese. The guacamole was a bit too chunky for our taste, though, and the promised salsa was once again nowhere in sight.
The elegant outside dining area overlooks a calm part of the Nile where fishing boats are more common than the noisy party boats of Downtown Cairo. Several feluccas are parked within walking-distance, and make for a great after-dinner trip.
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.