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Zamalek, Cairo, Egypt.
Antique Khana: Traditional French Bistro in Zamalek
The increasing number of noise-polluting, sidewalk-encroaching cafes and restaurants in Zamalek has been an issue for some time. The island that was once known to be home to the capitals wealthy is n over run with loiterers and the bored.
There are few places in Zamalek that completely shield you from the hustle and bustle of the streets, though Antique Khana on Brazil Street does just that. Located on the first floor of the building opposite Mobinil, the bistro – which also functions as something of an art-space – has a distinctly nostalgic vibe to it.
As you step in, you're met by a drinks counter that sits under a brass and stained glass dome. Across from the counter are four seating areas, each of which carries up to four people. The tables are made from white marble and the chairs of dark brown wood. To the left of the counter is an old piano with bookmark (15LE) displayed on top of it for sale.
The second and bigger dining hall features lighter coloured walls and a bigger number of tables. There are antiques on sale here, too, including a porcelain vase (3000LE), a collection of paintings (500LE/piece) and an old radio (300LE).
We seated ourselves at a table and were not greeted by a waiter. In fact it took fifteen minutes before one eventually placed menus on our table. We opted for a Caesar Salad (32.95LE) Chicken Antique (75.95LE) and a Steak Fillet (99.95LE). We were not asked how well we wanted our steak cooked.
After a long wait, we were served the Caesar Salad; the lettuce tasted fairly fresh, the dressing was just enough and it was all topped with two well cooked and marinated chicken breasts. The chicken contributed greatly to the general flavour of the salad, but the fact that there was no parmesan, but instead black olives, took away frm what could have been a perfect Caesar Salad.
The Steak Fillet, served with sides of mashed potatoes and sautéed vegetables, definitely looked the part. As with most French restaurants, the portion is smaller than usual, and while the steak was well overcooked, the fillet was drenched in its gravy and pepper sauce which made it much more bearable.
The Chicken Antique dish consisted of chicken breasts stuffed with pesto sauce, cheese and slices of carrots. The chicken breasts were thick and cooked consistently without becoming dry and the pesto sauce was delicious without the basil becoming too sour, but there was a distinct lack of cheese.
The mashed potatoes were creamy and of a tasty consistency, and tasted even better when mixed with the gravy from the main courses. The sautéed vegetables, while well cooked, just didn't wow us in the flavour department.
Though the service – or lack thereof – has us a little miffed, the manager very graciously, without us raising the issue, apologised with an on-the-house Crème Brûlée. Funnily, it was the highlight of the meal; it was delicious in flavour and the satisfying hard layer of caramel was executed almost perfectly.
Overall, Antique Khana's food isn't quite as grand as the restaurant's aesthetics demand. Don't get us wrong; it's a charmingly unique venue that swallows you into its world of nostalgia, but several small , but crucial, missteps took the shine off of an otherwise pleasingly subtle dining experience that you'll keep coming back to for more.
Crepes aren’t unheard of in Cairo, quality crepes are though. So, we decided to visit one of few venues that specialize in crepes; Creperie Des Arts. Sporting an unchanged cabin look, the restaurant is very intimate and relaxed featuring off-white walls decorated with Mediterranean paintings and ornaments, while the doors, windows and shelves are all coloured turquoise and feature stained glass.
With an easy on-the-eyes venue and pleasant staff, it was time to focus on the food. The menu features sweet and savoury crepes, but also peculiarly offers main courses, salads, pastas and sandwiches.
We opted for a Normandy Salad (27.5LE) and a Hollywood Crepe (31.5LE), as well as a Beef Fillet (73.5LE) and a Banana Soho (26.5LE).
The Normandy Salad was served first and brought together sliced chicken breast, mushrooms, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, boiled eggs and a honey mustard dressing. The portion was ample and works out to be good value-for-money. The vegetables were fresh and crisp, with all the flavours combining very nicely, especially the chicken which was also generous in amount.
The Hollywood Crepe was quite the creation; chicken, walnuts, béchamel sauce and gruyere cheese. In theory, it sounds delicious, but unfortunately, we found that the béchamel overpowered the dish completely, with the taste of the cheese all but absent. In addition, the walnuts were relatively scarce and th flavour of the chicken inconsistent.
The Beef Fillet, ordered medium with a side of French fries and green beans, was uneven. The fillet itself tasted decent, but was served medium well, which isn’t a disaster, except when you combine it with the average soggy fries and tasteless green beans that weren’t topped with so much as a pinch of salt.
The Banana Soho sweet crepe, which was stuffed with chocolate sauce and bananas, and topped with vanilla ice cream, was the best dish of the night – this despite the fact that the kitchen was out of the promised whipped cream and the chocolate sauce being disappointingly flat. But when combined with the melting vanilla ice cream and generous portion of bananas, it all came together.
Why Creperie Des Arts chooses to serve these items is understandable; the reason there’s so few crepe specialists in Cairo is because it just isn’t a sustainable business in Cairo. We left feeling a little let down; it isn’t what it once was and the Maadi eatery’s non-crepes items are rather uninspiring.