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Maadi, Cairo, Egypt.
Hadramout El Horreya: Small Yemeni Restaurant in Maadi
There's a copycat phenomena in Egypt when it comes to restaurants. Where the origin comes from is unknown, but for some absurd reason, half the shawerma vendors in Egypt are called Abu Mazen, and the other half are called Abu-insert random male name here.
Shawerma isn't the only type of food that suffers from this phenomenon, Mandi, the Yemeni equivalent of Fatta, made from chicken or lamb suspended in a special kind of oven and served with rice, is originally from the Yemeni city of Hadramout, and so it has been doomed for the rest of existence that any restaurant ever to serve Mandi in Egypt will call itself Hadramout-even though Mandi is also common in Sana'a, but whatever.
In Maadi, one of the many replicas is called Hadramout El Horreya, located near El Horreya Square. The menus in these restaurants are identical, there are chicken, lamb and ties options and they can be cooked either with the Mandi method-steaming the meat and rice with spices, nuts, and fruits- or the regular grilled method called Mazbi.
The restaurants themselves are usually either take-out or offer a very unimpressive dine-in experience. This was no exception; the small venue is decorated with unsettling pink wallpaper.
We opted for a Half Mandi Chicken (27LE) and Kabsa with Meat (52LE). Serving time was rather slow, but seeing as how it's slow cooked food, we weren't bothered. The seasoning usually gives Chicken Mandi a pinkish hue, so if you're trying Mandi for the first time, don't be alarmed. The problem wasn't the colour but rather the flavour, or lack thereof.
The tasty yellow basmati rice lacked any dried fruit or nuts, which was disappointing, but it was served with a spicy mixture of tomatoes, pepper and onions (think pico de gallo put in a blender) that gives the rice a whole new dimension of flavour.
The Meat Kabsa was a different story, made with flavorsome lamb meat that when cooked slowly takes away the chewiness of lamb that most find unappealing. The meat ended up tender and bursting with flavour, while the basmati rice with the kabsa featured raisins and the same spicy tomato mixture.
All in all, the experience was decent food wise, but unimpressive dining wise. The staff is friendly but no amount of good service can make up for an unpleasant venue. The prices, on the other hand, are very affordable which makes a decent meal of real food a reality in a region of Cairo that focuses more on exotic and quirky cuisines. They also offer to cook lamb, turkey and ties for you, as is customary with all the other Hadramouts.
When Zamalek institution, La Bodega, closed down at the beginning of 2014, it left a hole in many a heart. While a beachside iteration has since popped up on the North Coast during Sahel Season, its closure has certainly left a gap that not even its replacement, the phenomenal U Bistro, has been able to quite replace in the same way.
But remnants still remain in the form of sister venue, Aperitivo, located on the same floor of the same building. It’s by no means similar in appearance or, one could argue, atmosphere, but La Bodega regulars have adopted it as a replacement and the spirit is very much cut from the same cloth. For those not familiar with Aperitivo, the bar and restaurant maintains a classic element in its décor and design (think wood and glass cabinets displaying various piece of crockery and ornaments) while also using various more modern pieces (the chandeliers are very cool).
Divided into two sections – the bar and the restaurant proper – there isn’t a lot that will jump out at you in its appearance; but that’s the best way to be for a venue of this standing – demure and unpretentious.
There’s been something of a revolution happening at Aperitivo as of late, including the launch of a new menu; one that walks the line between high-end culinary delicacy and the kind of wholesomeness you get with bistro food.
The concise but varied menu covers soups, salads, meat and poultry dishes, as well as pastas and seafood, which is where we began our evening.
We rarely give up the opportunity to try a dish with scallops in it – not only because it’s a rare commodity in Cairo, but because it’s also often mishandled, which felt like the case with Aperitivo’s seared scallop starter (155LE). While it was a creative and enticing dish, the scallops were slightly overcooked, the accompanying black truffle was too little, though the spiced apple puree that also accompanies the dish gave a pleasant sweetness to every bite despite tasting more like a beetroot puree. Meanwhile, four sticks of asparagus were cooked and seasoned perfectly, while a faint balsamic reduction did little to elevate the rest of the ingredients.
Among the menu’s salads, we were seduced by the camembert salad, which brought together generous chunks of deep-fried camembert cheese together with mixed greens, roasted pears, sundried tomatoes and walnuts. The greens were fresh, the sundried tomatoes added a sweet acidity to thick, pungent cheese and the walnuts gave the whole dish an earthy touch. However, the pears were undetectable, which is a real shame as it could have been the ingredient that brought everything together.
While various mains are included in the new menu, we decided to test the kitchen’s mettle with meats. Despite being served with far too much uncooked fat, a medium-cooked sirloin steak (150LE) was full of flavour and served in a very big portion, alongside some perfectly made oven baked vegetables. Our second dish, the roast veal fillet, was also of a noticeably good quality and served in a large portion, though it was unevenly cooked, meaning some pieces were a little tough and others had a perfect pink interior.
Unfortunately, there was not much else to talk about with the mains, despite the menu promising more; the veal dish, for example, should come with roast pumpkin ad soft polenta, but both were missing from the plate, as was the roasted garlic on the steak dish.
This, actually, defined our meal; what we were served was well-made, but with so much missing from both mains – as well as the missing pear from the salad – severely dwindling what promised to be a fine evening of fine dining. Would we go again? Absolutely – the new menu reads fantastically; but maybe the kitchen needs a little more time to perfect it.