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Heliopolis, Cairo, Egypt.
Tanoura: Middling Fetar Buffet in Heliopolis
The Lebanese are famous for their cuisine, making it a sensible choice after a hungry day's fasting. Famous for its colourful interior and authentic dishes, we headed to Tanoura in Heliopolis for their open buffet (140LE). Adding to its vibrant décor, the venue was lined with jolly, festive flags and lanterns for Ramadan. Despite it not being overly busy, we were disheartened to see the sea of tables pushed so close together; making for some difficult navigation before we were seated.
Drinks of sweet and authentic tasting amar el din, karkade and tamr hindi were offered, along with our order of one perfectly ripe, delicious, watermelon smoothie (25LE).
The buffet was a medium sized affair, with everything set out neatly just before the call to prayer. Between tomato and clear noodle broth, we'd more readily recommend the latter for its sweeter, more refreshing taste. The tomato soup was nicely seasoned with herb leaves, but was incredibly salty and a little spicy.
The salad selection was diverse, with dips and traditional greens. The soft baladi bread went well with the creamy hommos and the bitter-sweet baba ghanough. The fattoush lacked toasted bread pieces but was marinated in a pleasantly sweet balsamic dressing, and whilst the Tanoura salad was slightly more bitter, it also seemed a little crunchier. Our potato salad incorporated small pieces of vegetables and was smothered in plenty of creamy mayonnaise.
Moving along to the main dishes, we were glad to see something for everyone; chicken, meat and fish dishes as well as pasta and rice. We opted for some juicy kofta, cooked in a buttery white sauce; the breaded fish fillet was also delicious, crispy and tender without any signs of grease. Interestingly on offer was chicken fillet battered with almond flakes; although it looked and sounds exotic, the chicken itself was a little dry. The chicken kofta was slightly over-processed for our own liking, and the puff pastry parcels, filled with a delectable beef bacon were slightly undercooked. Our fries were fairly standard and the chunks of lamb tawouk were a tad charred, but nicely seasoned. The spaghetti option was rolled in a light, tasty tomato and vegetable sauce.
The desserts were as expected, a small selection of four different, fresh Oriental desserts; balah el sham, lo'met el ady, atayef and sowabe' Zeinab, alongside some disappointingly dry Om Ali. Our favourite were the balah el sham, which were soft, syrupy and curiously tasted of cocoa.
Unfortunately, at the time of our visit the atmosphere was not as relaxed as usual, the seating was cramped and there was no cheerful background music. Although the food was nothing out of the ordinary, the price of the buffet is very reasonable whilst the service remained as attentive as ever.
There’s a general rule on the Cairo restaurant scene that suggests when a restaurant opens a second branch, it affects the overall quality of the original, so we were rather worried when we paid the new branch of Hayda a visit.
Recently opened at Galleria Moon Valley Mall in New Cairo, the interior uses the same famous chairs, pink and turquoise colour scheme, posters of Lebanese stars on the walls, and white Islamic patterns, but on a smaller scale. The venue has two separated indoor areas; the first one has only four tables and a linear table-set-up that looks like an open buffet, while the second is more spacious and has a lot more seats.
We kicked things off with Sambosek Spinach (35LE); four pieces of triangular pastry filled with spinach and walnuts. The pastry had a great crispy crust and a soft interior and the spinach was perfectly seasoned and had a terrific zesty kick to it, while the walnuts added a great crunchy component.
Moving to the mains, we opted first for the Kofta Azmeer (80LE), which came as three pieces of grilled meatballs stuffed with mushrooms and served in a huge bowl filled with tomato sauce and then sprinkled with parsley and cheese. Despite its appeal, the dish was just very disappointing. Served with rice topped with a scarce amount of toasted nuts, the meatballs themselves were very dry, the mushroom centre was very similar to the canned variety and was completely untreated which made the meatballs feel tougher and drier. Meanwhile, there was far too much tomato sauce, which was bland, while the cheese didn’t really add anything.
On the other hand, the Sausage Fatteh (65LE) was considerably better, though not perfect. The sausage itself was seasoned well and had a great texture and the rice was cooked perfectly; but the bread at the bottom was a bit soggy and the fatteh was topped with tahini not yogurt sauce as promised on the menu. Overall though, it was pretty good.
We finished our meal with Konafah Naboulsy (50LE) with Nutella and Bananas. It wasn’t our first time to try Hayda’s outstanding Konafah Naboulsy and thankfully it had the same crispy crunch, the same stretchy cheese and the same spot-on sweetness, but with the addition of the Nutella, which made for a good match with the fruity, fresh bananas. But although those two ingredients worked together, we felt it was a bit too much with the cheese. These kinds of desserts are usually a hit with diners, but it wasn;t exactly the most innovative of combinations – the chocolate, banana and cheese just never came together as a trio.
This summed up our visit at Hayda’s new branch perfectly – it had its ups and downs. We loved the service and the cosy ambiance, but it’s definitely not as striking as the Nile-side Giza branch and, at the time of our visit, there were several issues with the food.