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New Cairo, Cairo, Egypt.
T.G.I Friday's: American Diner Chain Dissapoints in New Cairo's Americana Plaza
Sometimes, all you want is a quick, safe meal from a well-known restaurant to get you through the day. You decide that adventurous visits to newly opened eateries offering any kind of exquisite dishes can wait for another day and give the venturesome foodie inside of you the day off. Thus, we headed to the New Cairo branch of T.G.I. Friday's, only to have our hopes for a reliable meal blighted.
Located on the ground floor of New Cairo's Americana Plaza, Friday's offers both indoor and outdoor seating areas. With the outdoor seating seeming a a tad dead, we headed indoors where we were greeted by the extremely cheerful staff who led us to our table in the designated non-smoking area. The place had the traditionally mainstream American Diner design, with round booths, tables and walls plastered with posters.
Upon being seated, our waiter laid out our menus and rambled endlessly about the specials. We hoped to get a minute alone with our menus, but our waiter kept on asking if we were ready to order any appetisers or drinks.
After finally understanding that we first wanted to skim through the menu, our waiter kindly retreated. The menu offered the usual heavy, fat-laden dishes that we all love-to-hate and hate-to-love. Pastas, steaks, burgers, sandwiches, tacos, quesadillas, fajitas; you name it.
Our food arrived quite quickly and we couldn't wait to dig into our dishes. Upon tasting all three of our dishes, we concluded that there was one serious problem with them all: an almost ridiculous lack in seasoning and flavour. The Grilled Chicken Cacciatore (57.99LE), consisting of a grilled chicken breast topped with tomato sauce and mushrooms accompanied by basil pasta, was absolutely flavourless with the chicken tasting disappointingly bland and the pasta being a bit soggy. The Garlic Chicken Pasta (49.99LE) tasted a bit more flavourful yet still lacked the distinctive garlic seasoning we longed for. The final dish, the infamous Friday's Chicken Fingers (49.99LE), also lacked flavour. The French fries, however, that came with it were quite delicious, crisp and fresh.
The big portions made the dishes all the worse - how much can one really eat when the mot important component is missing? The friendly and prompt service is much appreciated but the watered-down approach traditionally employed with fast-food is coming undone at places like T.G.I Friday's and its peers.
The latest addition to Cairo'’s dining culture describes itself as homemade, fresh and American. The fact that the venue claims to specialise in American cuisine brings to mind popular chains like Chili's and TGI Fridays, neither of which are particularly celebrated for their homemade freshness. So it is this impression– reinforced by the faux-brick walled interior - which a potential patron must get over. This reviewer’s recommendation: get over it now.
Blackstone Bistro is quite large, occupying two floors of the building immediately behind the Sofitel Maadi. Awash in soothing beiges and browns, it becomes immediately clear that the interior design took up quite a sizeable chunk of the start-up budget. Wooden chairs and tables are immaculately and simply set with light beige napkins and spotless cutlery, while the walls are adorned with Egyptian photographs, alternated with iconic images of Americana.
After placing our drinks order, we were given a few minutes to peruse the extensive menu. This is one area that does not inspire confidence – at fifteen pages long; one can’t help but feel a little lost. Items that catch the eye include the grilled rib eye, Seared Ahi tuna steak with Wasabi oil and the Jamaican jerk burger. We opted for the classic burger, grilled rib eye and a starter of French onion soup. Dessert orders were also placed: maple rice pudding, warm apple crumble and crème brûlée.
The first inkling that there was substance to all the style was the complimentary bread basket. This bread was astounding – La Gourmandise good – and freshly baked on the premises by the executive chef himself every morning. Not ten minutes later, the French onion soup (19LE) arrived, and it was the best that we’ve had in recent memory. Peppery sweet, deep dark and rich; it hit all the right notes. Granted, the cheese used was a mozzarella and not the classic Gruyere; but it was still deeply satisfying.
Perfectly timed, the burger (45LE) and rib eye (both ordered medium) arrived. The burger comes with a side of Blackstone fries, which is a combination of deep-fried potato, sweet potato and beet frites. The resulting grades of colour are both appetising, as is the palette of flavours. However, the burger was not as special as the fries, but there is no denying that it is arguably one of the better burgers available in Cairo.
The US beef rib eye steak (115LE) delivered robust beefy flavour, accompanied by the wonderfully crunchy and floury potato wedges. All in all, the dish was a bit too rich, and definitely could use a side of a sharp tangy sauce to cut through it all.
Barely enough room was left to enjoy the dessert selections; since the
portions are American-sized. The house-recommended maple rice pudding (26LE) escaped
mediocrity solely through the addition of caramelised walnuts, which were a
delight to eat and reminiscent of caramel popcorn. The apple crumble had good
intentions, but barely elevated itself above coffee-shop fare. The revelation
was in the crème brûlée (35LE), a decidedly un-American and not your typical homemade
dessert, yet it possessed such creaminess and lucidity of flavour; even a full
belly could not stop us from devouring it.
A three-course meal for one person will reach around 208LE.
At the time of this review, the restaurant was half-full with boisterous groups of diners, all drinking and eating merrily. And though food snobs may claim the restaurant’s atmosphere is soulless; we think it’s the atmosphere of a great neighbourhood restaurant.