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Zamalek, Cairo, Egypt.
Crave: Original Branch of One of Cairo's Favourite Restaurants Still Standing Strong
It's always interesting re-reviewing Cairo's restaurants; consistency is a game that few eateries around Egypt's capital juggle effectively, but it's something that the Zamalek branch of Crave has seemingly managed to maintain.
Founded back in 2004, Crave has become a staple of the local dining scene and has expanded to Maadi, Tivoli Dome, Arkan Mall and City View since its inception. In that time, the casual atmosphere of the restaurant has remained unchanged; there are separate areas for smoking and non-smoking, as well as a comfy couch area, all to the backdrop of a demure and velvety decor and cutlery used as quirky decoration.
Having been around for over a decade, Crave can lay claim to having several signature dishes over the years, including the Zombie Burger and the Chocolate Fondant among others, but regulars often forget how extensive the menus really is, covering sandwiches, burgers, pastas, salads and more. Upon our arrival, a friendly waiter gracefully opened the door for us and another led us to our table before placing menus and filling our glasses with water with a pleasantly casual ease.
From the appetizers section, we opted for Spinach Mushrooms (37.95LE). For our mains, we opted for Veal Parmesan (84.95LE) and Chicken MCM (64.95LE) and for dessert, an order of Mini Cheese Cake (32.95LE).
Our first nibble of the meal came in the form of an appetiser that was every bit as rich and full of flavour as the menu suggested. Arriving around fifteen minutes after placing our order, the Spinach Mushrooms (37.95LE) was quite delightful. Floating in a creamy spinach sauce, the mushrooms were stuffed with spinach and ricotta cheese and served with Crave's special seasoned and buttered bread.
Things only got better with the mains. The Veal Parmesan (84.95LE), covered in tempura and fried to a perfect crisp, was both tasty and generous in portion, though the dish's side of spaghetti with tomato sauce was, unfortunately, far too greasy.
Our second main was the Chicken MCM (64.95LE); a fried chicken breast topped with mushrooms, onions and melted mozzarella cheese. While it was well seasoned and cooked, the chicken was cut too think – an unusual gripe, maybe, but it was so think, in fact, that it was unevenly cooked. Despite that, the side of fettuccine Alfredo, was much better, boasting noticeably fresh mushrooms and a sauce that was creamy without being too heavy.
Then came many Cairenes' favourite part of a meal – dessert. Opting for the mini cheesecake (32.95LE), we can confirm that they are every bit as small as they appear in the menu – maybe even smaller. The three cheesecakes came with strawberry syrup, caramel and chocolate and each could easily fit in a tablespoon. While it was satisfying in terms of flavour, they were all incredibly sweet, maybe too sweet for some.
Despite the niggling flaws during the time of our visit, Crave's strongest characteristic is that it is suitable for either a casual bite or a more formal full-blown meal; the whole experience is laidback, unhurried and unpretentious – all keys to its continuing success.
Over the last year or so, new restaurants in Cairo have been introducing more and more exotic cuisines to the dining scene, be it Mongolian or even Peruvian with a Japanese twist, leaving classic favourites like Italian and Asian last week’s news. However, recently opened restaurant, Akli, has gone against the tide and specialises in not only one cuisine, but six, across everything from soups to desserts.
Located off Meccas Street in Dokki, Akli is divided into two zones; the ground floor, which has a exposed glass-wall baking room and shawerma station that wasn’t working at the time of our visit, is made for take-out orders, while the top floor is for dining-in. Besides the unfinished ceiling – which doesn’t seem like it will be finished because the AC duct has already been installed - the interior of the restaurant is on the classic side, with olive green, traditional panelled walls behind ruby buttoned couches. The setup of its tables is also pretty basic, but it actually has a cheerful view of a mini garden. If we were to compare it to another restaurant, Akli has the same spirit of everyone’s favourite, Bon Appetit.
Now let’s talk about the food. Our first flight was to Italy with Spicy Arancini Di Manzo (25LE). Starting from the spot-on creamy texture and the scrumptious golden brown crust, to the melted mozzarella cheese and minced beef, which was bursting with Italian herbs flavours, those four fried Italian rice balls were rather tasty.
Our second stop was at our beloved country with Sojouk (42LE). Lying on a bed of chopped parsley in true 90’s style, the grilled sausage was seasoned well, but it was a bit tough and dry. Overall, though, the appetiser seemed incomplete and needed some kind of a sauce or a dip with it.
Moving to the mains, we opted for the Greek Shrimp Saganaki (120LE). Made of perfectly cooked jumbo shrimp in tomato sauce and topped with feta cheese, the dish was a good one, but it wasn’t Saganaki. There was too little cheese to the flavour and the tomato sauce didn’t have any Greek flavours and tasted like Egyptian vegetable stew. One the other hand, the side of lemon rice added a good zesty flavour to the dish.
We also tried Adana Kebab (89LE) from the Turkish side of the menu. Two pieces of kofta laying on Lebanese bread and served with tahini dip and basmati rice topped with nuts, the dish didn’t capture anything particularly Turkish. Although the kofta was seasoned well and the rice was light and fluffy, the dish was overpriced – it’s almost exactly the same as Shawarmaister’s Kofta Halabi Platter which costs 45LE.
We finished our meal with the French Nougat Glace (27LE) for dessert; a rectangular slice of flawless vanilla ice cream filled with mini bits of pistachio and dried fruits. It was served with sour cherry syrup with a very sticky consistency, but the dessert as a whole was light and well executed.
There’s something about what Akli is trying to do that you can’t help but appreciate – but it’s not an easy job to perfect six different cuisines in one kitchen. The ambiance of the restaurant will take you back in time when you used to dine in a sporting club with the family and the food was, overall, good but there’s nothing remarkable about it.