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Maadi, Cairo, Egypt.
Abou El Sid: Maadi Branch of Egyptian Dining Giant Disappoints with Chaotic Ramadan Fetar
Abou El Sid has established itself amongst the greats when talking about authentic Egyptian cuisine in Cairo. With branches all over the city and beyond, we were excited to see what special fetar program they had to offer this Ramadan, so we headed on over to the Maadi branch with high hopes and empty stomachs.
We arrived thirty minutes before Fetar, as was required, even though we had placed our orders over the phone earlier that morning. The outdoor area was quiet and quaint in the light of the setting sun, with stern-faced waiters gathered around the door getting ready for what seemed to be a Battle Royale Fetar to end all fetars. But this quiet proved to be the calm before the storm; staff members wearing every colour uniform imaginable were running around in circles trying to get everything ready in the minutes before the call to prayer.
Right before Fetar, we were offered the restaurant's Ramadan drink selection and opted for karkade (Hibiscus) and amar el din (Apricot) (18LE each). The karkade was tart and refreshing – not too sweet like what many venues tend to offer. The amar el din, meanwhile, is an acquired taste at the best of times and lacked the classic apricot taste and sweetness.
As for the soup and appetisers, they all suffered one fatal flaw: they were cold. In the fetar rush, the show-runners at Abou El Sid neglected that, though setting down the starters a full ten minutes before fetar is time efficient, it isn't very enjoyable for the guests. The Chicken Orzo soup (22LE) tasted quite nice, but other than its temperature, its lack of chicken was disappointing. For appetisers, we had Lamb kofta (42LE), kobeba (36LE) and stuffed vine leaves (28LE) with baba ghanoug and cucumber yoghurt salad (15LE each). There isn't much to say about both the kofta and the kobeba – they were both cold, dry and overall unappetising. The Vine Leaves fared better – without being spectacular – especially when paired with the cucumber yoghurt which, like the baba ghanoug, tasted pleasantly homemade.
For our main course, we chose the Veal Chunk Tajin (68LE) and the Circassian Chicken (62LE). The tajin was delectable and perfectly cooked, with the rich and inviting veal served in a bed of equally delicious vermicelli. The Circassian Chicken was a different story, however. The classic walnut sauce was clumpy and hardly enough for the bed of bland rice that lied beneath it. Though the chicken itself was good, the dish as a whole was a letdown.
After we finished eating, we became uncomfortably aware of how loud and chaotic the surroundings were. With waiters shouting orders, big groups of people and electric fans that did more to irritate than to keep us cool, it was only the nostalgic sounds of Om Kalthoum and Abdel Halim Hafez that maintained any trace of atmosphere.
Pondering the idea of dessert, we were a bit confused as to who to ask for the menu – there seemed to be new faces and uniforms every couple of minutes. After asking for the menu three times, we discovered that, to get anything done, we had to ask the, assumed, Head Waiter, and after finally getting a hold of him, he took his sweet time with it.
We'd almost forgotten about dessert when they set down the Om Ali and Mohalabeya (25LE each). The Om Ali, though pleasantly warm, had no milk, which was quite unfortunate, because it actually tasted good. The Mohalabeya on the other hand, was heavenly with delicate vanilla flavours and roasted nuts sprinkled on top.
Overall, we were disappointed and left wishing for a do-over. The evening's execution had not gone as planned and the food and the overall atmosphere had suffered. From the chaos of service, to the mess-ups with the food, it was a poor reflection of a giant in the dining scene.
With plenty of new restaurants opening as fast as lightning and raising the bar for fine dining in Cairo, the interest in fast food venues is waning – even burger and pizza places are putting more focus on being gourmet. But, located on Zamalek’s busy 26th of July Street, roasted chicken specialist, Chick Shack, proves that the fast food concept is still popular in Cairo.
Not to be confused in any way with popular American chain, Shake Shack, the eatery’s name attracted some negative attention, but it all played into its publicity. The name is where the similarities end, though; Chick Shack stands out with a unique interior and playful vibe of its own. Some of its standout features include its ringed chandelier, an interesting choice of cold colours and a wall made of A-Treat soda boxes, not to mention the quirky staff uniforms made-up of buttoned-to-the-top shirts, grey trousers, suspenders and hats that Michael Jackson would have been proud of.
The menu is quite simple, with roasted chicken as the main attraction, though other items include Lasagna (34LE), Potato Wedges (8LE), or Tropical Salad (18LE) and can work as side dishes.
We started our meal with Shack Salad (28.50LE) as an appetiser, and as our mains, we went with Half Chicken Meal (55LE) and Chicken Cannelloni (27LE).
A mixture of grilled chicken, green apple cubes, corn, bell pepper, pomegranate and mayo dressing, the Shack Salad was an interesting concoction. We loved the tart taste from the green apple which worked well with the pomegranate and the sweet-corn, but the chicken itself was overcooked and very tough.
Now, let's move to what we actually came for: roasted chicken. Served with sautéed vegetables which had a remarkable garlicky flavour and possibly the best spicy basmati rice, which was cooked to perfection and bursting with Mexican spices, the roasted chicken was well-marinated and had a zesty flavour which popped in every single bite. However, the chicken itself was a little bit undercooked but definitely not raw, and even though it was very tasty, the skin wasn’t as crispy as we would've hoped.
We were worried about the ready-to-serve Chicken Cannelloni, but it was surprisingly tasty. Stuffed with chicken and peppers which had flavours similar to fajitas, the cannelloni was well-cooked and had a generous amount of cream parmesan cheese sauce. Sloppy presentation aside, the cannelloni made for a great vehicle for the chicken.
Overall, there was little to complain about at Chick Shack. The venue stands out as one of the healthier fast food places in Cairo; one that also boasts fantastic service, great staff and a friendly atmosphere. The only downside is that there are no desserts to speak of – but with the concept built on a ready-to-serve approach, maybe a soft serve ice cream machine would be a perfect fit. But that’s just us.