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Sheikh Zayed, Cairo, Egypt.
Tapas: Tapas-Less Restaurant & Cafe in Sheikh Zayed
With areas of Cairo expanding further out of the busy centre, Sheikh Zayed is one of the newest areas ripe for exploration. With its popularity increasing by the day, the area offers customers a number of shops, cafes and restaurants.
Drawn in under false pretences by their brightly coloured couches, we perched on one of Tapas' dusty, outdoor tables. Unfortunately, the music was turned up to an uncomfortably high volume. The interior of the restaurant itself is pleasant enough, decorated in neutral colours and stone-walling, with a dash of colour.
Their menu was both detailed and well-varied, offering up a range of salads, grills and meat dishes - but no tapas. The dessert menu was also diverse, promising unique sweets that we'd never seen in Cairo before. The chef himself took our order before handing over responsibility to one of the waiters. Despite being the only customers, all our food took an unjustifiable length of time to arrive, with the excuse that everything was cooked from scratch – as it should be.
We ordered one Tapas salad (24.99LE), a meat kebab (74.99LE) and vegetable stuffed chicken (57.99LE). Unfortunately, the mixed grill and steak were unavailable at the time of our visit. Service aside, the salad starter was fresh and crispy whilst the stuffed chicken was generously sized, complemented well by its topping of creamy white sauce. Sadly, the meat kebab was chewy and fatty, whilst the sides of vegetables and fries were decidedly average.
We diverted our attention to the dessert section, and ordered the exotic sounding ice cream boom (28.99LE); a ball of doughy pastry, stuffed with ice cream and topped with a sweet sauce. After waiting another half an hour for our order to materialise, the smiling owner finally approached us. He informed us that they were unable to provide our ice-cream boom as they didn't actually have any servings pre-prepared.
Despite being situated in the reputable Arkan Mall, Tapas' high prices were lost in a below-par dining experience and a very mediocre meal.
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.