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Maadi, Cairo, Egypt.
Sakura Sushi: Maadi's Oldest Japanese Restaurant
Japanese cuisine in Egypt is probably one of the most misunderstood. There's so much more to it than just sushi, but with the grouping of all Asian cuisines into single restaurants that serve Thai, Korean, Japanese and Chinese, it becomes increasingly more difficult to make a distinction.
Sakura Sushi is one of Maadi's older restaurants. On our original visit in 2010, at the height of the sushi fad in Cairo, we had a great experience, so we decided we'd stop by the very modestly sized restaurant on Road 231 - just next to Stavolta - and see how an old favourite at Japanese cuisine has dealt with the last four years.
The interior decor hasn't changed much from the kitschy family diner feel, but the staff is still as friendly as ever, seating us promptly and offering any required assistance with the menu.
Offering an interesting selection of soups, salads and appetisers, the menu also features several delicious main courses such as Chicken Katsu and Salmon Teriyaki, alongside rice, noodles and the sushi menu.
To get an all around sense, we opted for the Hana Combo (130LE) a 24-piece sushi combo featuring 10 sushi rolls, 8 California rolls, and 6 Maki rolls of your choice, as well as a Beef Teriyaki (60LE) main course and an order of Fried Rice with Vegetables (10LE).
Serving time was relatively prompt and the food certainly looked delicious upon arrival. From the Hana Combo, what stood out the most were the Crispy California Rolls featuring shrimp tempura, crab and a delicious teriyaki sauce, as well as the Philadelphia Rolls, featuring Salmon and cream cheese. While the sushi was certainly tasty, and of decent size, they all seemed to fall apart in the soy sauce or halfway to your mouth.
The Teriyaki Beef, is one of the best renditions of teriyaki sauce we've had to date. The beef itself was a little more chewy than desirable, but the biggest problem with the dish was the small portion for 60LE. The Fried Rice, aside from being an excellent complement to the beef, is possibly the best fried rice we've had anywhere, and could potentially save any main course.
To be honest, we expected a little more from Sakura, the generally underwhelming atmosphere was usually made up for to us by excellent food and service, which they still have but need to tweak slightly.
Izakaya has officially ruined sushi for us. Having tried their delicious, palate-confusing, tantalising Peruvian-Japanese dishes – especially their maki rolls – we’ve concluded that we’ve been living a lie our whole lives and all other sushi we’ve ever had pales in comparison.
Located in Sheikh Zayed on the ground floor of Gezira Plaza Mall, next to Arkan Mall – which means no private parking and lots of kids sitting on cars outside – Izakaya is an upscale dining venue offering exquisite Japanese-Peruvian fusion food. With the concept being a huge hit in New York, London and Dubai, the brand’s owners made the brave endeavour to try it out on Cairene diners – and judging by the crowded restaurant, it looks like it’s been a success.
Dim lighting and jungle wallpaper mixed with hanging sheets of metal and wood is obviously the designers’ take on Peruvian, and it works well, save for the lighting, which was so dim we were all squinting and pulling out our mobile phones to read the menus.
We started by ordering the tiraditos, which is Peruvian-influenced sashimi seared in lime with flavours. The miso (80LE) was basically salmon sashimi with miso, lemon and onions, while the nitai (130LE) had a more interesting and challenging combination of tuna, chili and coconut milk. The classic, which is apparently one of their biggest hits, consisted of seabass, leche de tigre and passionfruit, but it paled in comparison to our orders of maki, which arrived before the tiraditos and ruined the rest of the meal.
One bite of the ceviche maki roll (95LE) sent this reviewer into a state of shock and euphoria for its genius mix of seabass, quinoa, prawns, avocado and leche de tigre. The flavouring and spices were so subtle that we couldn’t figure out what was going on in our mouths, but we couldn’t talk either. Everyone at the table agreed; this was the best maki we’d ever eaten.
Our dinner party also sampled the karage roll (100LE): crab, calamari, avocado and fried quinoa, and the soy edamame (35LE) to munch on in-between meals.
The biggest mistake was ordering mains: we were already quite stuffed after the starters, and the large portions of our main courses left us gasping for breath and our palates confused after too much butter. The salmon teriyaki (140LE) was a pleasant and safe dish although a little too sweet and heavy on the teriyaki, served in two bite sized halves of one salmon steak with some asparagus and mashed potatoes.
The Batayaki (185LE) was a rich, sweet-scented seafood mixed plate of fish, shrimp and what tasted like scallops served with mushrooms and onions butter, possibly white wine, coriander and parsley. It would have been a pleasant meal on its own if we hadn’t had those life-changing maki rolls.
We’d heard about Izakaya’s cocktails and even though we’d been warned the meal would add up to a hefty price, we still went for the Berry Berry (125LE), a cocktail of two different types of berries, gin, elderflower and lots of fizz and ice, while the Black Mamba (125LE) was a fantastic pick-me-up of coffee with rum and lemon. Barely able to digest our food, the table ordered a slice of lemongrass cheese (55LE) to share, though we honestly didn’t taste any lemongrass; more like passionfruit or mango.
For a table of five, we paid 2600LE, including 13% taxes and service of over 500LE. Despite the hefty price, we’d love to come back if only for the maki menu alone. In terms of a dining experience, we were a bit confused by Izakaya’s dress code of casual evening, only to find diners in jeans and sneakers. And the music was unbearably loud: there seems to be a trend in upscale restaurants these days where they crank up the volume at 10PM, turning the venue into a nightclub; except no one’s dancing, and no one’s talking either. We’d recommend Izakaya for a special date or occasion, and it’s definitely worth trying if you’re an experimental eater up for a tantalising, taste buds-gone-wild experience.