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Sheikh Zayed, Cairo, Egypt.
Olive & Oil: Run-of-the-Mill Lebanese Restaurant at Arkan Mall
Cairo's restaurants scene has been sprouting more and more diverse cuisines; but we're all creatures of habit and when it comes to Lebanese food, we all have our favourites. Whether it's the smell of grilled meat, or filling up on a fiesta of appetisers, Lebanese cuisine always gets our juices flowing.
Located in Arkan Mall, Olive & Oil is a modest Lebanese family restaurant where you go to eat until you can eat no more.
While the spacious indoor area takes on a bold style using olive walls and bulky purple couches, the outdoor area is very basic, scattered with metallic chairs and tables that fails to reflect the restaurant's overall relaxed vibe.
We started our meal with stuffed vine leaves and pomegranate sauce (24LE), Halloumi Manakeesh (30LE) and Spicy Potatoes (4oLE). While the vines leaves were standard in flavour, the pomegranate sauce was a sweet and tasty addition. As an appetiser, the portion was ideal.
While the Manakeesh were quite large in portion, taking on a pizza-like shape, in flavour they were quite disappointing, seemingly over salted and lacking cheese. In fairness, however, the bread itself was soft and freshly baked.
The stand out of our appetisers, were the spicy potatoes; sliced into small cubes, taking a golden fried colour and sporting a dash with of Oriental herbs and spices, we couldn't help but order more.
Moving on to our mains, we opted for a classic Lebanese chicken fattah (52LE) and spicy grilled shish tawook (58LE).
With the usual combination of yoghurt, chicken, garlic, toasted bread and a dash of herbs, we had high hopes – this is, after all, one of the most popular Lebanese dishes. Unfortunately, however, it ended up being rather mundane; the chicken tasted defrosted and the expected carnival of flavours was just lacking.
The traditional shish tawook platter, served with brown rice, grilled vegetables and fried cheese sticks, was exceptional. Prepared in a sweet and spicy marinade, the chicken was tender, juicy and sporting a nice herby kick, it was complimented perfectly by the side of cinnamon brown rice.
While Olive and Oil's menu certainly offers a wide variety of Lebanese dishes and a family-friendly atmosphere, there's very little to make it standout amongst its competitors, especially given the wavering consistency.
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.