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Dokki, Cairo, Egypt.
El Sid: Abou El Sid's 'Streatery' Offers On-the-Go Egyptian Classics
A pioneer in Egyptian cuisine in Cairo, one that satisfies your classic home-cooking cravings, Abou El Sid latest expansion comes in the form of the shortened, El Sid; a new concept from the popular chain serving Egyptian food to-go on Mohandiseen's busy Mossadak Street.
Unlike the dim-lit interior, classical furniture, wooden paravants and old photographs of Abou El Sid, El Sid rather has a playful retro approach to its aesthetic, with quirky Om Kolthoum and Abdel Halim Hafez statues, Farid El Atrash and Hend Rostom pillows, Misr Chocolate boxes and Sima Food products rounding off what is a fun look. The limited number of seats, the wall-attached tables and the uncharacteristic touches of red and yellow gave the atmosphere an overall casual and colourful mood befitting the 'express' concept.
El Sid's menu boasts typical street eats – think shawerma, foul, taameya and feteer – as well as classics from the Egyptian kitchen including sharkaseya and molokheya. Eager to try everything on the menu, we started our meal with Moumbar Bites (23LE) as an appetiser, and as our mains, we went with Floating Kobeba (38LE) and a Tante Fajita sandwich (18LE).
Starting with the appetiser, we loved the presentation of the moumbar – rice-stuffed intestines – which was cutted into small bites pieces and served in a cup, but not so much when it came to the flavours. Though the exterior was perfectly cooked, the rice was overcooked and dry and was unseasoned to a flat, bland taste.
The floating kobeba, on the other hand, fared better, boasting the perfect amount of minced beef which was bursting with amazing flavours from the spices. Unfortunately, the sharkaseya (Circassian sauce) brought the dish down; though Abou El Sid is famous for the walnut sauce, it was watery and, again, lacked the strong flavours thanks to a lack of seasoning.
Essentially an oriental chicken fajita served in soft French bread, Tante Fajita – which we mainly picked for its catchy name - had amazing flavours with well-seasoned small chicken pieces but the sandwich overall was quite dry; the chicken pieces were too small and so were unable to retain any moisture while the lack of any kind of sauce certainly didn't help.
We finished our meal with a mouth-watering Om Ali Feteer (33LE). Unlike traditional feteer, El Sid make their feteer like a burrito. Our order came as a beautifully flaky feteer wrap filled with all the components of Om Ali - from the nuts, to milk-soaked puff pastry – and we just loved the coconut kick we got in every bite. How could you go wrong with Om Ali and Feteer?
All in all, the service was what you'd expect from fast food chain and the prices were fair for the neat packaging and the quantities. However, El Sid doesn't carry the same weight of the original Abou El Sid; but although some of the items needed better execution in terms of flavour, the atmosphere, and the takeout concept for Egyptian homemade food in general, made our experience nonetheless enjoyable.
When Zamalek institution, La Bodega, closed down at the beginning of 2014, it left a hole in many a heart. While a beachside iteration has since popped up on the North Coast during Sahel Season, its closure has certainly left a gap that not even its replacement, the phenomenal U Bistro, has been able to quite replace in the same way.
But remnants still remain in the form of sister venue, Aperitivo, located on the same floor of the same building. It’s by no means similar in appearance or, one could argue, atmosphere, but La Bodega regulars have adopted it as a replacement and the spirit is very much cut from the same cloth. For those not familiar with Aperitivo, the bar and restaurant maintains a classic element in its décor and design (think wood and glass cabinets displaying various piece of crockery and ornaments) while also using various more modern pieces (the chandeliers are very cool).
Divided into two sections – the bar and the restaurant proper – there isn’t a lot that will jump out at you in its appearance; but that’s the best way to be for a venue of this standing – demure and unpretentious.
There’s been something of a revolution happening at Aperitivo as of late, including the launch of a new menu; one that walks the line between high-end culinary delicacy and the kind of wholesomeness you get with bistro food.
The concise but varied menu covers soups, salads, meat and poultry dishes, as well as pastas and seafood, which is where we began our evening.
We rarely give up the opportunity to try a dish with scallops in it – not only because it’s a rare commodity in Cairo, but because it’s also often mishandled, which felt like the case with Aperitivo’s seared scallop starter (155LE). While it was a creative and enticing dish, the scallops were slightly overcooked, the accompanying black truffle was too little, though the spiced apple puree that also accompanies the dish gave a pleasant sweetness to every bite despite tasting more like a beetroot puree. Meanwhile, four sticks of asparagus were cooked and seasoned perfectly, while a faint balsamic reduction did little to elevate the rest of the ingredients.
Among the menu’s salads, we were seduced by the camembert salad, which brought together generous chunks of deep-fried camembert cheese together with mixed greens, roasted pears, sundried tomatoes and walnuts. The greens were fresh, the sundried tomatoes added a sweet acidity to thick, pungent cheese and the walnuts gave the whole dish an earthy touch. However, the pears were undetectable, which is a real shame as it could have been the ingredient that brought everything together.
While various mains are included in the new menu, we decided to test the kitchen’s mettle with meats. Despite being served with far too much uncooked fat, a medium-cooked sirloin steak (150LE) was full of flavour and served in a very big portion, alongside some perfectly made oven baked vegetables. Our second dish, the roast veal fillet, was also of a noticeably good quality and served in a large portion, though it was unevenly cooked, meaning some pieces were a little tough and others had a perfect pink interior.
Unfortunately, there was not much else to talk about with the mains, despite the menu promising more; the veal dish, for example, should come with roast pumpkin ad soft polenta, but both were missing from the plate, as was the roasted garlic on the steak dish.
This, actually, defined our meal; what we were served was well-made, but with so much missing from both mains – as well as the missing pear from the salad – severely dwindling what promised to be a fine evening of fine dining. Would we go again? Absolutely – the new menu reads fantastically; but maybe the kitchen needs a little more time to perfect it.