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6th of October City, Cairo, Egypt.
Hash Coffee Company: Café By Day, Restaurant By Night in Cairo's Mall of Arabia
We sat outside in something like an English pub-garden terrace with wooden decking and furniture, plants and TV screens. Inside they’d plumed for a vaguely 60s look, with comfy chairs and sofas, or bar stools to sit at; seeing as in the daytime Hash functions as a coffee lounge. Patrons who choose to eat inside have the added pleasure of being able to watch the chefs prepare their food at the back of the restaurant.
London is not best known for its culinary excellence so we weren’t surprised to find that the menu struggled to keep up with the London theme. Big Ben and a beaming Beefeater were on the front cover, but inside the menu we can only assume they were attempting to reflect London’s multiculturalism. The appetisers included Thai and Mexican dishes but we opted for the English pub favourite, onion rings (15LE), which turned out to be plenty to share amongst friends.
We were offered a good selection of burgers and pasta dishes, which included meat and seafood options, plus a few vegetarian meals. The England motif came to the fore on the ‘English Grilled Steak’ page of the menu, although quite what was English about them was unclear, as the beef, we were proudly told, was Australian.
Apparently, Londoners are huge cheese fanatics, as a great many of the meals were described as ‘cheesy’ - shrimp and steaks included. In a delightful addition to the menu, Hash had a selection of British favourites, including a jazzed up version of the humble hot pot. For 69.99LE you can satisfy your English cravings with a chicken and cheese hotpot-pie, or try good old fashioned fish and chips (59.99LE).
We tucked into a Swiss mushroom bacon burger (44.99LE), and southern chicken and beef fajitas (69.99LE). Again, the portions were huge; the burger was more of a truckers challenge than an afternoon snack and the fajitas were bursting with plenty of meat, garnish and salad. To the credit of Australia’s finest, the beef was good in both dishes and the chicken strips for the fajitas were tender and well cooked.
The burger was the beef, cheese, mushroom, bacon tower we expected, and together with chips and a small salad, it made for a hearty meal. The fajitas came in their composite parts ready to be constructed into a meal, but the pile upon pile of relish and salad complicated matters. We received the meat in a sizzling steel pan atop mixed peppers and roasted vegetables.
The restaurant offers free soft drink refills, which were well received, but their latte proved to be not much more than steamed milk. All the waiters were very keen to please and the shisha we had was well attended, if a little bland itself.
London, it is not, but for a few English treats, Hash doesn’t do a bad job of trying to mix up the standard menu usually found at these places. If we find ourselves suddenly overcome with desire for a hotpot, we know where to head.
Some restaurants in Cairo have developed a following of families who dine at the establishment every Friday – like a family ritual of sorts. The thing with these restaurants is, since the people keep coming back, it leaves room for the quality of food to fall.
One such case is Chili’s in Maadi; seemingly a pioneer in overcooked steaks. You’ll find it packed with families every Friday, despite its location in the terrible Bandar mall, and it has somehow managed to survive the economic crash and the uproar in Egypt, all while serving subpar food.
The venue itself has the usual cluttered Tex-Mex diner feel, with an additional outdoor area that’s far too hot in the summer. Seating will take you quite a while if it’s the weekend, and you can also expect long serving times.
Much to our dismay, we sat down after waiting for fifteen minutes. We dived straight into the menu to shorten our waiting time. From the appetisers we opted for a Fajitas Trio (82.99LE).
Arriving on a sizzling hot plate with onions and bell peppers, the dish contained beef, chicken and shrimp, accompanied with small tortilla wraps, sour cream and pico de gallo. Fresh off the bat, the chicken and the beef were so over cooked you couldn’t bite through them; the shrimp, on the other hand, tasted like it had been defrosted and, similarly, hard to chew.
From the main courses, we opted for a Southwest Ribeye (114.99LE) and Crispy Honey-Chipotle Chicken (52.99LE). Served with mashed potatoes with cheese and bacon bits, as well as sautéed vegetables, the Southwest Ribeye is said to have southwest seasoning and topped with seasoned butter. The steak was ordered medium rare, but what we got was a good two stages past well-done. So well-done, in fact, that you could taste neither the seasoning nor the butter; just charred, terrible tasting meat.
The chicken, however, was much better. Served with French fries and the honey chipotle sauce, it too was overcooked, though in a roundabout way, it worked to the dishes favour. The chicken had pleasing crisp to it, albeit a little too chewy, and the sauce was very tasty.
To top off a sad experience, we hoped a dessert could salvage the situation. We were wrong.
We ordered the Brownie Sundae hoping to get to some cold vanilla ice cream melting over chocolaty goodness. Instead, we got a stale, barely warm brownie. The vanilla ice cream wasn’t bad though; don’t be alarmed by its yellow colour though; that’s just the egg whites in the French vanilla recipe.
One can understand the appeal of Chili’s; a big menu of unfussy, filling food. But how it continues to enjoy such a level of popularity, unaffected by the country’s economic woes, is a mystery.