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Heliopolis, Cairo, Egypt.
Al Rowda: Food From the Gulf in Heliopolis
Despite the eclectic cuisines found around restaurants in Cairo, the food of our Gulf neighbours is often ignored, despite the close cultural proximity.
Usually seen strategically located in tourist hotspots, we were surprised to find Gulf restaurant, Al Rowda, situated in Hegaz Street in Heliopolis; an area known for its Egyptian cafes and eateries.
Brightly lit with a huge, eye-catching sign, the small venue dons simple aesthetics both inside and out. No more than five tables are lined up neatly inside opposite the ordering counter, with a slightly uninviting vibe, encouraging a fast turn-over of customers.
The menu consists mainly of chicken and beef family-sized meals. There are also assortments of tagines, sandwiches and kids meals, as well as sides made up of oriental pastries, dips and salads.
We started our meal with a salad combo platter (15LE) which consisted of green salad, tomeya, tahini and coleslaw. Despite sounding appealing, all of the salads and dips were bland and unappetising; we were on the verge of cancelling our mains of beef mandi (58LE) and a rawda meal (36LE) – a unique platter of chicken and rice served with fries, kobeba, sambusak and a soda, assuming they would be of the same quality.
Thankfully this was not the case; the generous portion of beef mandi tasted fabulous, made of an on-the-bone beef cutlet, grilled to perfection, served on a bed of rice. The Rowda meal's chicken was cooked using a mystery method, and tasted fantastic. Both the kobeba and sambousek were decidedly average when compared to the main dishes.
Although it's considered a Gulf restaurant, we were surprised at the absence of biryani or madby dishes; arguably two of the most popular cooking styles from the region.
Excluding the salad platter to start, our experience at Al Rowda was an enjoyable one, even if it can't be considered a high-end restaurant.
Despite the influx of foreign cuisines on the ever-growing Cairo restaurant scene, Oriental food is still one of the most sought after in the city and one of the latest to promise that wholesome, authentic taste is Waraa Enab in Mohandiseen.
Located inside Italian restaurant, Gabriel, Waraa Enab boasts a spacious and colourful setting with comfortable chairs and sofas amidst a chilling musical ambiance. Guiding us to our candlelit table, the staff promptly served us with a bottle of water and menus.
Going over said menu, with its diverse Oriental eats from appetisers, soups, grills and tajins, we were already drooling and we could hardly wait to order.
For our appetisers, we opted for a hummus (12LE) and cheesy mince pasta tajine (44.90 LE), while grilled kofta with a side of mixed rice (59.90 LE) jumped out at us from the mains.
Smooth, creamy and topped with chickpeas, the hummus salad was the ideal starter to our meal. The minced pasta tajine, meanwhile, worked well with its melted cheese layer, which perfectly complemented the pasta, minced meat and the pike of basil and made it all the more filling and tasty. Meanwhile, grilled kofta came with brown rice rather than the mixed one we were promised, but the dish was satisfying nonetheless; served as four large pieces, the kofta was cooked to a perfect tenderness, while the grilled vegetables were particularly well-cooked, too.
When it comes to desserts, there are just two options at Waraa Enab; Couscous with sugar and nuts (24.90LE) and Om Ali (19.90LE); we opted for the latter, but couldn;t help but feel that an Oriental restaurant could and should have so much more.
Coming warm out of the oven, the Om Ali flattered to deceive. Despite being pleasingly creamy and the pastry retaining a level of flakiness, it was completely unbalanced; the first few layers had a distinctly bitter flavour, though as we dug more into it towards the bottom, it became overly sweet.
We washed our dinner with a cup of Turkish coffee (13.90LE) and some Grape-flavoured shisha (36 LE) which, without being spectacular, went some way to making up for the dessert. And so despite the mishaps, our visit to Waraa Enab was still satisfying enough – it just needs some kind of x-factor.