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Maadi, Cairo, Egypt.
Ne3na3: Great Look, Great Feel, Disappointing Food at Maadi Restaurant & Cafe
Apart from Zamalek, there are few places in Cairo that are as rich in food and drink as Maadi. Whether restaurant, café or bar, the area is home to some of the finest dining and nightlife experience in the city, which made Ne3na3 all the more underwhelming.
Located on the busy, vibrant Road 9, Ne3na3 – which translates to 'mint' – is a restaurant that claims to offer authentic Egyptian food – think classics, like grilled meats, tajines and other homely dishes. As with so many venues across Cairo, this is one place that straddles the line between café and restaurant a little awkwardly, that probably suits the look and feel of a café much more.
With a nice outdoorsy area painted in cool neon blue, yellow and green and an indoor non-smoking air-conditioned area decorated with blue shelves and colorful flower pots, Ne3na3's ambiance is quite cheerful, if a little derivative – the balady-chic trend hasn't evolved beyond quirky and kitschy takes on traditional aesthetics over the last few years.
As soon as we took our seats, and even before we fully explored the menu, we ordered a lemon-mint smoothie (22LE); now, usually we bemoan the excessive amount of sugar used in drinks of this kind across Cairo, but this one was the polar opposite and in fact was in desperate need of it – the lemon was incredibly bitter and overpowered the mint.
Disappointment aside, our enthusiasm peaked as we looked through the menu, eventually settling on a grilled quail platter (70LE). The dish comes in the form of two small quails, both of which were cooked well, but was lacking a bit of flair in the seasoning department, leaving it rather one-note – something that wasn't helped by the dish's sides. The brown rice was slightly undercooked, chalky and had far too many raisins, while the fries were close to raw.
Choosing from a variety of traditional desserts – including feteer meshaltet served with Nutella, rice pudding, mehalabeya – we went for a classic crème caramel (22LE) and were left disappointed once more. The dessert was full of air bubbles, suggesting that it wasn't given enough time to sit before being refrigerated. This subsequently made for a dessert that was inconsistent in taste and texture.
Overall, we were left split down the middle with Ne3na3; the atmosphere, décor and staff are delightful, when it came down to the restaurant's main product – the food – we were left disappointed by what were, at the end of the day, rather simple dishes and drinks.