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Giza, Cairo, Egypt.
Tagine: Above-Par Sohour, Sub-Par Atmosphere
For the entire month of Ramadan, La Gourmandise at the First Mall sheds its French–inspired menu to cash in on the Ramadan dining craze. Couches are brought in, lanterns adorn the rafters, and the central catwalk is now fashioned into an exclusive circular seating area for larger parties. Instead of a restaurant, Tagine is a Ramadan night lounge, à la Sequoia and El Shagara, but with less atmosphere and much better food.
Open after fetar, Tagine positions itself as a sohour venue. The service is exactly what you would expect from La Gourmandise; although it did seem at times that the staff were flustered with having to care for a full house. When put to the test, though, every single staff member delivered smiles, information and food on time.
So what is a jaded diner to do? Ordering one of everything for a party of two is both ruinous and ill-advised, since the prices are chic-expensive. Familiar sohour fare is on offer– oriental salads and dips of course (20LE to 25LE)– along with main dishes (65LE to 90LE) that are not suited for sohour, but worthy of sharing nonetheless. The lamb and apricot tagine was especially intriguing, and is served with yellow basmati rice. Sadly, the apricots were completely lost in the translation; the robust lamb flavour badly needed the sweet tanginess of the apricots as a foil.
There is a limited selection of sandwiches, and we opted for the mesakhana sandwich, which is like chicken shawerma, but not. The addition of thyme and parsley are the only differences between the two; and it arrived looking and tasting sub-par compared to the other dishes on our table. This reviewer is notorious for avoiding any liver dishes, but the chicken livers were absolutely divine, as was the labnah with mint, and the cheese and tomato salad. The tehina, a ubiquitous offering at most dinner tables, was also wonderfully flavoured, but its consistency was far too watery for it to be enjoyed with our table’s basket of freshly baked bread.
As jaded as one can be, it was undeniable that the food and service were top-notch; the only caveats being the existence of a 75LE-minimum charge and the absence of a meaningful atmosphere, despite the live oriental band playing not ten meters from where we sat. At the end of the day, La Gourmandise – sorry, Tagine – suffers from its location at the centre of a mall, no matter how upscale the mall may be.
Going out for fetar in Ramadan might not be everyone’s cup of tea – including yours truly. You see, there’s nothing quite like mama’s homemade food and Cairene restaurants tend not to offer much variety in their selected set menus and buffets – you either like them or you don’t.
But there are restaurants and kheimas which offer an exceptionally unique fetar experiences and make breaking the fast outside the house worth the hassle; one of these is La Gourmandise, located at Four Seasons First Residence hotel in Giza.
Occupying the ground floor of Four Seasons Nile Plaza’s First Mall, La Gourmandise boasts a casual-chic atmosphere with Oriental touches. The main dining area is embellished with dark pink fabrics hanging from the ceiling, Oriental lanterns on the tables and by the buffet and a quirky tree decorated with small golden copper lanterns at the restaurant’s entrance.
La Gourmandise’s fetar buffet (345LE++) is as eclectic as it is impressive, with dozens of well-organised stations between soup, molokheya, salad, grills, pasta amongst others.
The soup station fares with two choices between chicken cream soup and vegetables lamb soup, while the salad bar is a fiesta of colourful salads including taboula, fattoush, roca, hummus, labneh, potato, pickled veggies, as well as slightly more complicated items like tuna salad and salmon rolls.
We kicked things off with some fattoush, hummus and watermelon and beet salad from the salad bar. The fattoush was fresh, tangy with an overpowering onion kick, while the hummus was extremely smooth and creamy.
Our favourite was the watermelon and beetroot salad; a peculiar combination that worked thanks to a vinaigrette that added a sour, salty flavour to the watermelon, which cut the sweetness of the beetroot and complimented the overall taste.
There was also a fried food station where we tried some spinach and cheese sambousek which were both quite tasty and enveloped in incredibly fresh dough.
Then we headed to the grilled meat station where we opted for a mishmash of grills from lamb, chicken, kebab, kofta which were all masterfully executed.
Though a little chewy, the kebab was tasty, well-seasoned and had a smoky flavour. The quail, meanwhile, was grilled to perfection and tender to the bite, while the kofta was tasty with a subtle and pleasant sumac flavour. Seasoned with rosemary and boasting a tender herbal flavour, the chicken was another hit at the buffet.
We paired our grills with some brown rice with mixed nuts which had a remarkable cinnamon flavour, a welcomed sweetness and crunch from the sprinkled raisins and pistachios.
Our final stop at the grills station was the hawawshi, which was crunchy, perfectly seasoned and had a delicious spicy kick.
Just when we thought we were done with food, the chef responsible for the shawerma station casually placed some beef shawerma wrap into our plates which stood out with a smoky and lamb aftertaste complimented by small pieces of pickles.
With barely any room left for dessert, we found all sorts of Oriental desserts; from cream-infused atayef, mango konafa, balah el sham and freshly made lokmet el kadi, to a selection of Western desserts including gâteau soirée and crème brulée. But our eyes were fixated on one thing; Om Ali.
Sweet, juicy, moist and warm the Om Ali was perfect. The serving of crushed almonds and pistachios gave the whole ensemble a complimentary and delightful crunch, making for a perfect ending to an extremely satisfying fetar.
The fact that La Gourmandise is one of the most expensive options for fetar this year – one that reaches 442LE after taxes – goes without saying; but the perfectly executed food, the well-organised buffet and the excellent and amiable service demonstrates what top notch quality should be like and proves why we go there for fetar every year. If you’re looking for lavish fetar in the remaining Ramadan days, this is exactly where you should go.
Photo: Four Seasons First Residence/Facebook