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New Cairo, Cairo, Egypt.
Pastamania: Simple Italian Dishes at Downtown Katameya Mall Restaurant
Cairo's dining scene is, by no stretch of the imagination, lacking whatsoever when it comes to the number of venues offering Italian cuisine – how many serve authentic versions of it is another story altogether. Peculiarly, Pastamania is actually a Singaporean restaurant chain and has existed quite inconspicuously in New Cairo's Downtown Katameya Mall.
The restaurant doesn't exactly stand out from the outside due to its overall basic appearance. On the inside, however, the place does feel quite cosy and relaxing; we couldn't shake off the feeling that it's one of those family-friendly venues. Our waiter, upon seating us on the spot, laid down the menus before us and offered his assistance in helping us pick a dish.
The menu covers all the Italian basics; familiar appetisers, pasta variations, pizza, Panini sandwiches and a few dessert options. It's simple and straightforward menu that largely avoids using overly pretentious names and complicating things.
Perhaps the most authentic items include the Bruschetta (12LE), Aglio Olio (20LE), Beef Lasagne (45LE) and the Mushroom and Spinach Gorgonzola (35LE). We placed our order, making a few alterations to the dishes, and our waiter kindly obliged to promise our food's arrival in a few minutes.
Fortunately, the food did arrive a few minutes later, taking a tiny bit longer than expected, but it did, however, arrive looking sizzling and fresh. The Pesto (penne) Pasta (40LE) came in an ample amount and the distinctive garlic taste in the sauce would have been quite delightful had the dish not lacked more toasted pine nuts; subsequently, it left the garlic to dominate the sauce. The Pollo Al Forno (73LE), however, was lip-smackingingly good; the chicken breast was grilled to perfection and the side of vegetables that came with it were well-seasoned and surprisingly bursting with flavour.
All in all, Pastamania proved to be quite a charming, if basic, eatery that would amply satisfy a mild craving for some Italian cuisine. Sure, they don't delve much into more complicated Italian dishes, but the efficient service and tasty dishes they do offer definitely make up for that.
Located right opposite to the synagogue on Adly Street, we paid a visit to Eish & Malh (literal for Bread and Salt); an unconventional but somehow familiar Downtown diner that has garnered a reputation stood for its urban atmosphere and its tasty Italian delicacies.
Eish & Malh is a bistro that with a modern, simple concept and aesthetic; white chairs, round wooden tables and an American kitchenette on the right hand side, equipped with a coffee machine, glasses and whatnot, paint the picture.
As urbanised as it is, the black and white vintage photographs of Downtown act as a reminder that you’re still in one of the oldest districts in the city. The bistro’s upper floor is furnished with comfortable red and grey chairs and sofas, a cosier setting which still wasn’t equipped to receive guests yet at the time of our visit. Even though we liked the overall mood of the bistro, we couldn't help but feel that the lighting should've been brighter to better highlight the ambiance.
Eish w Malh’s menu is a single, double-sided page detailing sophisticated Italian dishes including Tagliatelle Al Ragu (39LE) – homemade tagliatelle pasta cooked in meat sauce – and Branzino Al Forno (95LE) – sea bass baked with butter and served with vegetables – in addition to some luscious appetisers including Mixed Bruscetta (18LE).
While we were initially opting for a Grilled Halloomi appetiser (27LE) and a Risotto Fruitte de Mare (65LE) as one of our main dishes, we changed our entire plan as soon as the waiter uttered the house’s specials for the night.
Drooling over the specials, we opted for a Tuna Arancini (45LE) – rice, tuna chunks and mozzarella cheese rolled into bread crumbs and deep fried – and Mushroom Cream soup (25LE) from the menu as appetisers; and as our main dishes, we ordered a Fungi pizza (35LE) from the menu, alongside a Salmon Spinachi (95LE) – another house specialty. Thirty minutes later, our appetisers arrived, fresh, hot and completely worth the wait.
Cooked with chicken broth and cream and infused with a generous amount of fresh mushrooms, the cream mushroom soup had a rich, thick texture, was fresh and quite flavourful. Even though it didn’t disappoint, it paled in comparison to our fried balls of tuna aracini, which were crispy on the outside, tender on the inside and served with a marinara sauce which gave it the right kick of flavour it needed.
With mushrooms and a subtle amount of basil and oregano, our fungi pizza, was flavourful enough, though perhaps it needed more time in the oven as the crust wasn’t as crispy as we would’ve hoped.
Our salmon spinachi was, without a doubt, our favourite dish of the night. Smothered in creamy spinach sauce with a spike of dill, the salmon was tender and juicy with an incredibly succulent creamy sauce and had just the right kick of lemon which didn’t overpower the strong salmon flavour.
With barely any room left for dessert, we couldn’t possibly leave Eish & Malh without trying out a dessert. Between vanilla ice cream served with chocolate sauce and salty pretzel chunks and tiramisu (25LE) – another of the restaurant’s specialities – we picked the latter. Served in a glass, the velvety tiramisu boasted a strong creamy coffee flavour; a delightful end of a very special dinne .
All in all, if you're looking for a fancy or a cosy diner, Eish & Malh – with its crowded mishmash of Downtowners and expat customers – is not your restaurant; but if you're looking for a simple bistro in the heart of the city, with perfectly crafted Italian selections that are fresh, reasonably priced and taste absolutely delicious, don't think twice before heading there.