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Zamalek, Cairo, Egypt.
Florencia: A Touch of Spain on the Nile
Zamalek’s Hotel Flamenco is laced with Spanish influences, both inside and out, with whitewashed walls and unimaginatively thematic names for its restaurants, such as the Carmen Pub and the Sevilla Bar. Therefore, its Nile-view restaurant was especially intriguing, being one of a few, if not the only, Spanish restaurants in the city.
Our arrival at the empty restaurant felt like a scene out of Beauty and the Beast when the dusty dinner-wear stepped into play. We’d heard the place featured a live classical band that wasn’t there during our visit; so the restaurant played Bob Marley over the speakers instead (until we asked them to please stop). However, the view of the Nile from the restaurant’s windows was pretty spectacular, overlooking Kit Kat Square and all the houseboats, and somehow compensated.
For an appetiser course, the champinones al vino blanco (28LE) were amazingly tasty, meaty and flavourful mushrooms in a nice gravy that was perfect for bread-sopping. We were less enthusiastic about the gambas a la plancha (115LE)– not that there was anything wrong with them, but at 115LE we would have expected more than six undeveined and overcooked jumbo shrimp in garlic and herbs, with a side of roasted veggies and a scoop of what looked like leftover paella from our main dish.
For a main course, the paella Andalusia (70LE) wasn’t really paella; it arrived in a paella pan, but hadn’t been cooked in it. Again, nothing was wrong with it, but perhaps it was more of a seafood and chicken risotto dish with some parsley and herbs.
For dessert, the crema catalana (22LE) was phenomenal, pre-made and refrigerated, but still a fresh, thick and creamy custard in the style of Spanish crème brûlee. They also stocked a nice selection of both local and French wines, and all the top label liquors for various drink mixing.
Service was polite though barely there in the classic dining room that was a throwback to 70s glamour, and just a tad too hot, not having localised AC. We were left to dine intimately and peacefully watch the hectic world outside among the large chandeliers. This restaurant would be a perfect place to enjoy a fabulous Cairene sunset at, as the panorama cityscape is extraordinary.
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.