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Maadi, Cairo, Egypt.
ZENTRO: Find your Zen at New Asian Restaurant in Maadi
Asian food across restaurants in Cairo is quite haphazard at best. Ranging in prices, quantity and quality, it's hard to tell if a new restaurant is good, great or downright terrible. But every so often, a new restaurant rolls up into town and raises the bar for all its competitors.
Welcome to Zentro, where simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. Located in Maadi, a staircase takes you up into a large, well-lit grey room with imple wooden tables, paired with slightly more blue-grey cushion–padded chairs. Backlit art hangs down the length of the right wall and minimal accessories in black in the centre. The idea is no distractions, but we couldn't help but think it may be a little too bare.
Greeted by friendly waiters, we were shown in and handed our menus. Divided into Thai, Japanese, Chinese and Korean cuisines, the menus included sushi, rice, noodles, meat, poultry and seafood, as well as soups and salads.
From their drinks menu we opted for a Zentro Special Mocktail (32 LE) while we waited for our orders; a zesty infusion of orange, kiwi and lemongrass that was both refreshing and appetising.
As recommended by our waiter, we chose a Thai Appetiser Platter (60LE) made up of four skewers of Satay beef and Chicken, two Thai shrimp rolls and two Money Bags. The skewers were particularly tender, the Money Bags – wonton wrapped around a stuffing of vegetables – were perfectly stuffed and crunchy, though the shrimp rolls were rather bland in flavour.
Moving to the Japanese section of the menu, we opted for some sushi; half a portion of Dynamite Shrimp Rolls at 36LE (shrimp and salmon with dynamite sauce) and a half portion of Red Fire Dragon Rolls at 45LE (fried shrimp with avocado and cream cheese (45LE). The ingredients were fresh and complimented and in the grand scheme of things were well above average without being spectacular.
From the main courses, the honey plum chicken bites (58 LE) sirloin beef with green curry (72LE) stood out, with which we also ordered vegetable Chow Mein (36 LE) and vegetable fried rice (36 LE).
The honey plum chicken came as bite sized-boneless chicken pieces with honey, plums and sesame; a gorgeous combination of sweet, crisp and chewy. It went particularly well with the Chow Mein.
The sirloin beef with green curry comes in fives levels of spiciness. We opted for the second, believing it would be somewhat mild. But be warned; while the green curry sauce itself was mild in flavour, there are plenty of chopped red chilli pieces. The beef was tender and delicious but the green curry was rather heavy.
Together with the vegetable rice, which included chopped up black mushrooms, we must say were a weaker combination than the chicken and noodles. The fried rice, a common staple of Chinese cuisine, was less fried and more overcooked; losing what sets it apart from regular vegetable rice.
While for the most part, the food was of an excellent quality, we have to mention that the portions aren't exceptionally big, so don't be surprised if you don't feel stuffed after appetisers, sushi and a main course with noodles or rice.
With Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Thai restaurants galore, Cairo has no shortage of Asian cuisine to choose from. However, there was one eastern country yet to be represented: the Philippines. Thankfully, that gap has been filled by Pinoy (which means ’of Filipino origin’ in the native language).
The entrance to the venue, with its iron-barred window and door, looked like an office, remarked a friend. When we stepped inside, we discovered it was more like someone’s dining room. Decked out in IKEA furniture - a new standard for Cairo’s restaurants - the seating featured a couple of tables for two and one long communal arrangement. The fluorescent hospital-like lighting didn’t help the ambience, but the cute artificial flower arrangement on the wall did.
We seated ourselves near the flat-screen TV, a bit taken aback by the absence of a hostess. The owner, a Filipina, was sat to our left watching Filipino reality shows with a friend. The descriptions on the menu were enthusiastic and even included hashtags in some cases; we found this endearing, but would have appreciated more detail as to the contents of our meals as well as a spiciness indicator.
Ravenous, we quickly ordered two Siopao - dumplings filled with pulled chicken in a sweet, tangy sauce similar to chutney (15LE). Unfortunately, there were only two options for beverages other than soft drinks, and only the Salabt (ginger tea) was available (17LE).
The Siopao was a little too thick for a dumpling and bit bland, but warmed our tummies nicely as we waited on our main courses - Adobong Manok, a chicken marinated in vinegar, soy sauce and garlic (47LE) and Adobong Manok Sa Gata (58LE), which is the same dish with a coconut milk twist. Apparently, this is the unofficial national dish in the Philippines. We had wanted to try the Bicol Express, a spicy stew, but were told it was unavailable as were a few other (probably due to the country’s current shortage of imported goods).
The meals were pleasingly flavourful and well-portioned, but we made sure not to finish it all so as to leave room for dessert - Ube Halaya, which is a purple yam paste, sweetened with jam and condensed milk (24LE). Despite its bright purple colouring and vegetable contents, the dessert was actually quite delectable with its mousse-like texture and sweetness.
Our introduction to Filipino food (and television) was most certainly memorable. Pinoy stands apart from other Asian restaurants in that the food tastes more like authentic home cooking. Hopefully next time more dishes will be available and as tasty as the ones we tried.