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Taboula: Oriental Nights
is a treasured favourite on Cairo’s
dining scene. A rarity amid the narrow streets of residential Garden City, this
below-ground restaurant emanates an inviting glow to those who duck inside its
doors. The restaurant has a pleasant ambiance, with classic oriental-style silk
pillows for couch seating, stained glass sconces on the wall and large rotating
tables. The décor is executed with good taste – and most importantly, of course,
it serves excellent food.
Diners can expect Lebanese cuisine made with fresh ingredients; from baskets carrying fresh, steaming bread out of the oven, to the complimentary goat labnah presented to diners as they contemplate the extensive menu. The fatoush is always fresh and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds, and the hummus Beiruti is garnished with tomato and parsley. The baba ghanoug maintains a balance between light and smoky flavours, while the taameya is substantial without being too heavy. Another recommended favourite is the kebda, which is tender and generously soaked in pomegranate sauce. Grilled halloumi is a rarity in Cairo (most restaurants fry it), and Taboula does it exceptionally well.
Specialties for the more adventurous diners include the semman (small birds) appetiser, in which five fine-boned birds float in a curious marinade of tangy lemon. The eggplant fatta is also divine, creamy and delicious, although the chicken fatta with rice is a little heavy. The shish tawook is also recommended; the grilled chicken pieces are well-cooked without losing their juicy flavour.
The service is friendly and usually prompt, but it fills up after 7PM when the
evening crowd arrives, and you would be wise to place all your orders at once
to avoid the gruelling process of catching the eye of the maitre d’, who sulks
in a black suit near the entrance.
A three course meal for two could go up to 300LE excluding drinks, not bad all things considered. Appetisers average around 15LE, main courses start at 40LE, while desserts start at 18LE.
If you seek the food experience alone, we suggest you snag a table during lunch hours on a weekday, when the restaurant is sparsely populated; and you can order at a leisurely pace to your heart's content. Taboula is also known for its quality shisha, which compliments an espresso and dessert, if you make it that far.
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.