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ZENTRO: Serene Asian Fetar in Maadi
Published On: 21/07/2014

With Ramadan almost over, are our appetite for Oriental cuisine is, too. And with so many set menus trying to put an Oriental twist on the restaurant's original cuisine, we thought we'd try something completely unrelated to the usual malarkey. Cairo 360 Editor's Choice Award-winning Asian restaurant, ZENTRO, is a personal favourite, so we were excited to find out that the Maadi restaurant was offering a Ramadan Set Menu (150LE) that consists of Pumpkin & Coconut soup, an appetiser tray of Money Bags, Spring Rolls and Fattoush, a main course of either Stir Fried Beef with Oyster Sauce or Honey Plum Chicken, and Steamed or Fried Rice with Vegetables. You can also order a la carte, should you prefer. The beautiful thing about ZENTRO is the serenity. The simplicity of the decor, the solid block colours and very stylish utensils and plates combined with the very relaxing down-tempo music come together perfectly to immerse you in your meal. Served first in a large white bowl, the Pumpkin & Coconut soup was tastefully sweet, generous in portion and a great start to the meal. Next came the appetisers in small cube containers lined in a long rectangular tray. The Money Bags were simply brilliant; delicious and hot, they remain our favourite of ZENTRO's appetisers. The Veggie Spring Rolls, unfortunately, paled in comparison. The Fattoush – note the 'Oriental twist' mentioned earlier – never really came together. As for the main courses, we opted for one of each, the Stir Fried Beef with Oyster Sauce and the Honey Plum Chicken. We had raved about the Honey Plum Chicken in an earlier review, and were curious to see how ZENTRO handled quality control in Ramadan. They passed with flying colours. The Honey Plum Chicken was the same fresh chicken cubes in the perfectly executed honey plum sauce with sesame. Combining both flavour and crunch in an immensely enjoyable experience, it overshadowed the Stir Fried Beef, which was very tasty and cooked to a perfect tender, but not as complex in flavour. The Rice, however, was a hit-and-miss. Two of our fried rice orders were great, combining fried vegetables, mushrooms, and eggs into a decent complimentary dish to the main course. But the other two orders had an unordinary pungent aroma of egg, which was very off putting. We expressed our aversion and the waiters swiftly replaced them. Overall, we were pleased with our meal and experience at ZENTRO, which seemed almost unscathed by the pressures of Ramadan. As a relative newcomer to Cairo's dining scene, ZENTRO seems to be really coming into its own.

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Sia: 1000 Forms of Fear
Published On: 20/07/2014

Singer-songwriter, Sia Furler, is by no means a household name. Fans of Zero 7 will be familiar with the thirty-eight year old Australian, having provided vocals on all three of the British duo's albums. Sia herself has previously released four solo albums between 1997 and 2010, with relative success. Her fifth and latest release, 1000 Forms of Fear, marks her return from a self-imposed sabbatical of sorts, during which she worked with some of the biggest popstars on the planet, including Rihanna, Katy Perry, Jennifer Lopez, Britney Spears, Beyonce and even Celine Dion – not as singer, but as writer.  Her return has been eagerly awaited by fans, while here work with pop royalty has introduced her unique brand of alternative-pop to a wider audience. The album kicks off with 'Chandelier', which is heavy on Rihanna influence; an r&b-tinted stadium pop opener.  Similar spirits carry 'Big Girls Cry' and 'Burn the Pages' and it's not till fourth track, 'Eye of the Needle', that fans will hear something familiar – a sweeping pseudo-ballad that sees Sia at her angsty best. 'Hostage' will also please fans, seeing Furler introduce her trademark bubbly milieu to an otherwise quirk-less album; it's playful, fun and catchy – characteristics that can also be found in varying degrees on 80's inspired track, 'Free the Animal', and, to a lesser extent, 'Elastic Heart', featuring hipster-r&b act, the Weekend, and LA DJ/producer, Diplo – a song that was featured on the soundtrack for 2013's The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.  Sombreness is never too far away on 1000 Forms of Fear, however, and 'Straight for a Knife' and 'Fair Game' sees Sia take on more gravity. The album ends in a striking crescendo of energy, with more of the same grand stadium pop. Unfortunately, 1000 Forms of Fear finds itself as victim of Sia's own doing. As a whole, the album's sound is somewhat derivative of the direction that pop has taken in recent times, particularly through female artists. Essentially, while she co-wrote some of the biggest songs of the last few years, the alternative pop trend that she helped to create from behind the scenes has passed her by as a vocalist. Despite this, 1000 Forms of Fear succeeds in two ways; it's her most accessible album to date, but long-time fans will spot the evolution of her music into darker, broodier waters.

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Andrea: Ramadan Fetar at Great Egyptian Classic
Published On: 20/07/2014

There are few restaurants in Cairo that holds as much of an eclectic history as the original Andrea. Located along the Marriotteya Canal that cuts across the mammoth Faisal and Haram Streets, the specialist grill has attracted tourists and locals alike for years, while also formerly being one of the top venue choices for event organisers. The area which the restaurant takes is more of a small compound, with a labarynth of an outdoor seating are taking up most of the space. Greenery surrounds said area and the seating and tables are rather basic and economical, though the whole atmosphere nods to that intangible 'Old Egypt' feel. A point of pride for the restaurant is the fact that their concise menu has never changed, offering a handful of starters and mains, along with mezzas and salads. Reservations at Andrea are mandatory during Ramadan and our part of five was advised to arrive at 6.20 – a good forty or so minutes before the call to prayer. This is to give you enough time to order and, to the staff's credit, our food was served right on time. Our waiter claimed there to be a total of ten different mezzas (9LE each) and salads (6.50LE each), so we ordered the basics. The two standouts were classic Oriental mezzas; the tomeya was suitably tangy and the baba gahnough was smooth and tasted fresh. Other dishes included a fairly straightforward plate of beetroot, a loaded serving of green salad and a flavourful tehina. From the starters, the sambousak (25LE) was outstanding. Stuffed with white cheese and mint, the dough itself had been fried to a perfect crisp. Other starters included well-cooked, if rather ordinary, chicken liver (30LE) and meatballs (30LE), which are misleadingly listed as kofta. Yes, the theory is the same – seasoned and spiced ground meat – the meatballs at Andrea are much more tender than the traditional kofta and sport a slightly hard shell. Unfortunately, they lacked the seasoning that gives kofta a kick. We also tried the chicken wings (20LE), which are of the 'drumstick variety' – easy to pull off the bone in one swift bite. Again, these were cooked perfectly with breadcrumb exterior, but lacked flavour. Andrea's real pull is thanks to their grills. Upon entrance to the restaurant, patrons will see a mass grilling with chickens lined on skewers as far as the eye can see, like some sort of hellish dystopian field, where chickens are grown and cooked. Half a chicken will set you back 35LE, while boneless chicken will set you back 45LE. As expected, the chicken is cooked perfectly and bursting with flavour. Poultry fans might also want to give the quail (45LE) a try – a whole bird is served on your plate, leaving you to roll up your sleeves and get messy. As pretentious as it may sound, the staff at Andrea understand and consider the status of Andrea as one of the most popular restaurants in Cairo. This translates into friendly and prompt service – a necessity in the busy month of Ramadan. Andrea might not hold the same kind of prestige as years gone by, but the quality of its food is as good as ever.

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Fuego: All You Can Eat Ramadan Fetar at Maadi Sushi Favourite
Published On: 20/07/2014

Something about all-you-can-eat offers and Ramadan just clicks. There's no worry about portions, and no worry about how much you will pay for it. One of our favourites when it comes to all you can eat is Fuego – and for good reason. Fuego is one of very few places that gives you a huge selection and excludes only two items from the offer, whereas its competitors will either severely limit your choices, or worse, pick them for you. So we called Fuego early in the day and reserved two All You Can Eat Sushi offers (180LE). We were told we could place our order and have it ready when we got there, so we dove into the extensive menu. The only items excluded are the Chef's Special Rolls and the Special Gunkans, so we opted for a variety regular, Special and Ura Maki Rolls including California rolls, Red Dragon rolls, Philadelphia rolls and Crispy rolls to name a few. Thankfully, during Ramadan, loitering teenagers around Maadi's Bandar Mall are minimal. At the restaurant, you'll find all the non-fried sushi ready on the table, along with a big bottle of water and a plate of dates to break your fast. The fried sushi is then served within 5 to 10 minutes. The presentation of the sushi is decent, but we've seen better. The cold sushi was both tasty and light, though, at the time of our visit, it didn;t taste completely fresh. Rolls like the Red Dragon Roll – marinated sea bass with lettuce, mango and wrapped in tuna – and Crispy Rolls – shrimp tempura with avocado and crispy rice – were particularly delicious thanks to the spicy sauce and teriyaki sauce, respectively. The fried rolls are what you go for if you want to get full. Orders like the Golden Bermuda – five pieces of salmon, shrimp and cream cheese wrapped in seaweed and sushi rice – are incredibly filling and satisfying. The Salmon Hot Uramaki was also fried and gave the salmon some opportunity to cook, which left us with a very delicious roll. Besides the great food, quick service and clean restaurant, Fuego's let downs are the cheesy pop music glaring out of the speakers and the confused décor, with its tacky carpets contrasted against more elegant dark wood walls and ceilings. While the music will remain annoying throughout the meal, you'll hardly notice the décor after you're immersed in a wonderful sushi.

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Al Dayaa: Shoddy Ramadan Fetar in Maadi
Published On: 20/07/2014

There's a plethora of options in Cairo for the fasting masses to dine out during Ramadan. Many offer buffets and set menus, while others prefer sticking to their usual dishes. For the first few days of Ramadan, people seem less willing to experiment with cuisines and prefer traditional food, and one that fits quite easily into that category is Lebanese cuisine. We had previously reviewed the Maadi branch of Al Dayaa and found their food to be quite tasty and the atmosphere pleasant. But Ramadan, along with impatient and fasting customers, changes the ball game completely. Restaurants can usually tackle this issue in a number of ways and Al Dayaa chose one that should, in theory, work well. You can call in and reserve a set Ramadan fetar menu for 130LE per person. The thing about a set menu is there's nothing you need to ask the customer after the phone call. The restaurant basically tells you what you're ordering, and they know what time the Maghreb prayer is called;so, in theory, all should go smoothly. We arrived ten minutes before the call to prayer and were shown us to our seats upstairs. There were six tables being served besides us, two of which had not yet arrived when we walked in. The Ramadan meal consists of different salads including hummus, fattoush, pickles, spinach manakeesh, batata harra and a plate of mix grills. By 7.30PM – half an hour after the call to prayer –we were only served the humus and salad. We asked for lentil soup and instead got lesan asfour, which was bland at best. We asked for hibiscus and instead got tamrhendi – they ran out. But it got worse; the two empty tables beside us were served their main courses well before the party itself got to the restaurant, and when they did, the waiters paid much more attention to them. Why? They were tourists. When we asked about why our food was so late, the waiters looked at us puzzled and asked us what we had ordered. It's a set menu. Everyone called in hours earlier to reserve. There should be zero confusion. So after a long wait, we were given two plates of mixed grill each containing a skewer of tangy kebab, a skewer of somehow bland shish tawook – chicken that's supposed to be marinated overnight – and two semi-decent skewers of kofta. You'll realise we talked very little about the food itself, which may or may not have been good, it's hard to tell when the service is that incompetent and they make you wait an extra hour. But this is exactly how memorable the food will be in light of a terrible experience. 

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Kahwet Leila: Sohour with a View at the Platform in Maadi
Published On: 17/07/2014

A decent meal in a good location with good weather is an unbeatable, if often unattainable, combination. Ramadan, however, moves the goalposts; the food of a traditional sohour is neither complicated nor difficult, making the whole experience dependant on many other factors. At Kahwet Leila in Maadi's the Platform, you get just that. The Lebanese restaurant serves a set sohour menu at 100LE per person; that package includes Ramadan drinks, manakeesh, eggs, foul and falafel, plus a selection of desserts. The great thing about the Platform is its breezy Nile-side location, paired with its chic aesthetics. Kahwet Leila also serve very decent shisha. Shami flat bread is served with thyme and olive oil for you to snack on until the food arrives. From the sohour menu selection we opted for a Mouajanat Cocktail, Eggs Mfarakeh, Foul with Homos, Foul with Vegetables, Labneh, Falafel and Osmanliyet Leila from the desserts. Frustrations flared almost immediately; the flat bread was cold. Seriously, small things like make a world of a difference. The Foul with Homos didn't particularly stand out –neither did the Foul with Vegetables – and after a few bites we realised why; they both had the artificial taste of a canned product. The Labneh, an excellent dish to cool your stomach after heavy and oily foods like foul, had more salty cheese than labneh, which unfortunately took away from the cooling effect. The Eggs Mfarakeh – scrambled eggs with cut up potato cubes – was equally as lacklustre ,but the Mouajanat Cocktail was the saving grace; around a dozen pieces of different dough and pastries, filled with either cheese, spinach or meat, all fresh, warm and delicious. The Falafel was also much better than the other dishes, made the Levantine way with homos instead of foul, and served hot and crispy. After a brief coffee break we proceeded to the dessert, which we believe may be the best thing on their menu. The Osmanliya – konafa topped with pistachio ice cream and syrup – was the definite hit of the night, and a definite must try for any sweett0othed Cairene. Despite the inconsistency of the quality of the food itself, Kahwet Leila's strengths in sohour lays primarily in its location – perfect for sohour with family or friends.

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Nola Cupcakes: Ramadan-Themed Sweet Treats
Published On: 16/07/2014

Once you reach the halfway point of Ramadan, you will very possibly become bored of traditional food and Eastern sweets. Following the trend that started with someone putting mangos into konafa, Nola Cupcakes has marked Ramadan 2014 with a series of specials. Utilising traditional Ramadan ingredients like dates, konafa, basbousa and more, we opted for a Salted Caramel Date (12LE), Red Velvet Basbousa (13LE), Karkade (13LE), Konafa Nutella (13LE), Konafa Mango (13LE) and a Blueberry cupcake with Ramadan-themed frosting (14LE). There's an immediate problem with Nola's; they are far too sweet and this is a recurring theme in almost all the cupcakes. The Salted Caramel Dates cupcake was a relative success; the dates are mixed into the cake itself, which created a nice textural contrast, but the icing was just a little much. The Red Velvet Basbousa was even more intense, but the flavours just didn't add up leaving you with an excess amount of sugar. The Karkade was the least impressive and the taste of hibiscus was undetectable in both the icing and the cake. The Konafa Nutella was the most surprising of all, because there wasn;t so much of a sugar onslaught.  The konafa, however, lacked any crisp and tasted a little stale. The Konafa Mango suffered similar problems, in addition to tasting of burnt butter.. The last cupcake was a standard blueberry muffin, only with a mountain of icing in different Ramadan themed shapes – ours was a prayer mat and beads. Unless you're a serious fan of icing, you may find yourself sliding most of it off, only to reach an average cupcake with very few blueberry pieces. Overall, this was probably not the best dessert we've had this year. It's probably not the best Nola have done either, but with the growing trend of westernising Oriental desserts, almost all confectionaries and bakeries are jumping on the bandwagon, and to that we say: stop. You can't even find a proper konafa with nuts or cream anymore!

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The Vegan Kitchen: Alternative Ramadan Fetar in Maadi
Published On: 15/07/2014

If you're a vegan in Egypt, chances are your grocery shopping and dining experience differ greatly to that of anyone else – primarily because there are very few outlets that even grasp what being a vegan is. Now couple that with Ramadan and you end up with the niche of a niche. We were definitely sceptical, but we called in ahead to make fetar reservations at the Vegan Kitchen and hoped for the best. Offering a set Ramadan menu, and the option to order off the regular menu, we tried both. The Ramadan Iftar Special (100LE) includes their Starter Platter, your choice of a main course, a dessert and a Ramadan Drink. We also ordered Guacamole (30LE), Raw Spring Rolls (25LE), Sweet Mushroom Salad (40LE), the Lentil and Mushroom Burger (40LE) and Eggplant Ravioli (35LE). Even though the power went out right before fetar, the staff were on top of their game, providing candles and all the food. The Guacamole dip, served with oat chips, was quite incredible, tasting extremely fresh with just enough zest for you to eat it with your fork after your run of chips. The Starter Platter, featuring three small oat tarts, with mixtures of spiced eggplant, tomatoes, cucumbers and tofu labneh were similarly tasty and left our taste buds intrigued. We were then served the huge Sweet Mushroom Salad, which includes arugula, lettuce, mushrooms, spring onions, walnuts and a deliciously sweet pomegranate-orange dressing. So far so good. Next came the Raw Spring Rolls and Eggplant Ravioli. The spring rolls, made of assorted veggies wrapped in rice paper, unfortunately didn't fare as well as the other starters, lacking seasoning or marinade. The different elements of the Eggplant Ravioli – made with tomato basil sauce – all melded together perfectly, somehow curving that distinct sharpness of eggplant, which we found rather refreshing. For the mains, we opted for one of the Vegan Kitchen's pizza, made with an oat crust and topped with tomato paste, tofu cheese, olives, mushrooms and onions. What was great about the pizza was the wonderful taste and smell of homemade dough. We were extremely sceptical on what would even be on  a vegan pizza, but once you realise that the essence of a pizza is the tomato sauce and not the cheese, you'll find the fresh ingredients really hold it together. The other main course, the Lentil and Mushroom Burger, divided our opinions. With buns made of lentils and strongly resembling raw katayef, and a ground mushroom and lentil patty, it was the uneven and often over-used spread of BBQ sauce that tainted the dish. Dessert was a small, but flavour-packed, mango-cashew tart. Wonderfully creamy and tasty, this seasonal dessert stood as the highlight of the meal. Even the most devout of carnivores has to hand it to the Vegan Kitchen; they handled themselves incredibly well especially with a power cut. No confusion on reservations, prompt, friendly service and tasty food. What more do you need?

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Zooba: Tame Ramadan Specials at Zamalek Favourite
Published On: 14/07/2014

Ramadan in Cairo has always revolved around the same customs; big family gatherings, late-night, post-sohour shisha, et al. When it comes to sohour, foul, eggs, and white cheese are an instinctive go-to – easy, filling, no nonsense. Despite ongoing objections at a perceived extortion with food that can be bought for a fraction of the price at any local eatery, Zooba has maintained a loyal following since its opening thanks to some of its creative takes on traditional Egyptian street food. This Ramadan is no different, with the quirky restaurant serving up some special sohour items. We opted for a Foul Ramadan Special sandwich (5LE), Egg and Barameely Cheese Hawawshy (10.50LE), Besara Hawawshy (9LE), and, for dessert, a jar of Mahalabeya with dates (12LE). The Foul Ramadan Special uses diced tomatoes, pickled onions and cumin and while there was nothing particularly distinctive about the sandwich – other than a few too many pickled onions – it ticked the box of being hearty and filling. The Egg Barameely Hawawshy, meanwhile, suffered similar problems. Essentially a sandwich, it was packed with eggs but was a little light on the cheese and overall under seasoned. Besara, a lesser enjoyed Middle Eastern dish, is traditionally used as a dip of sorts – which is the route of the problem for the Besara Hawawshy. The ground fava bean concoction as pretty one-dimensional in flavour and was crying out for some sort of textural contrast. As mentioned earlier, both the hawawshi options are rather misleading by name – but that may actually be a good thing. The bread tasted freshly baked and delicious, but had nothing in common with the greasy, charred characteristics of the traditional hawawshi. Served in a small jar, Zooba's Dates Mehalabeya was more impressive in packaging than in taste. While the Mehalabeya itself was creamy and surprisingly light, the taste was rather uneven in the sense that the taste of dates registered on the palate in varying degrees. The unevenness extended to the otherwise pleasant texture, too, with some spoonfuls being grainier than others. The kitchen at Zooba should be commended for its unrelenting drive in pushing the boundaries of Egyptian food, no matter how subtly. Unfortunately, this year's Ramadan specials are rather uninspiring.  

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Jambalaya: Spanish Restaurant's Ramadan Fetar in Zamalek
Published On: 13/07/2014

After a long day of fasting, it's natural to be craving your favourite foods. The problem with restaurants in Cairo during Ramadan is that the majority of them serve the same things – grills, mezzes, Oriental sweets, ad nauseam. But what if, just what if, we broke out of the monotony of hummus and rice and tried something different. We did exactly that and, low and behold, the world hasn't ended. At Zamalek restaurant, Jambalaya, you can order your food in advance, or show up about an hour before fetar and order from the restaurant. There was no set menu, just their usual food with some twists. We arrived at the restaurant an hour prior before the call to prayer and were greeted heartily by a waiter who showed us to our seats and left us with the menus. We had previously tried deciphering the online menu to no avail, so the friendly waiter came back and explained. There were Spanish dishes and international ones - for those who don't like surprises. We asked the waiter to recommend something. We opted for the Mushroom Cream soup with Broccoli (30LE) which was a great start. Although the mushroom slices were quite thin, they were fresh and plentiful in quantity. The broccoli is incorporated in the actual broth, giving a subtle flavouring to the soup. It was light and perfect in quantity to keep you eager for more food. From the appetisers, the waiter advised the Pimientos del Piquillo (30LE); slices of roasted bell peppers covered with melted Halloumi cheese. The flavours were in perfect harmony and our appetite was soaring. From the main courses, we opted for a Pollo Empanado (60LE); fried chicken breast topped with mozzarella cheese and fried potato cubes. While the breast was cut a little thin, it was tender and cooked well. The potato cubes were perfect, but not nearly enough of them were on the plate. As for the sides, we were served regular yellow rice with paprika instead of the mentioned paprika risotto, and coleslaw instead of roasted vegetables. We weren't pleased with this substitution, especially when we were not notified. The second main course, Pollo Con Salsa de Crema de Pimiento (68 LE), sounded delicious in theory; grilled chicken breasts stuffed with mushroom and spinach and covered in paprika sauce. Unfortunately, the chicken was over cooked, the mushrooms were missing and the paprika sauce was tasteless. We opted for a Spanish classic with dessert; Churros (68 LE). Fried dough with cinnamon, sugar and chocolate syrup sounds ridiculously heavy for a post-fetar dessert, but we were pleasantly surprised when we found it to be hot, light and delicious without being greasy. Service and hospitality at Jambalaya were both excellent. The tables were set and beverages and soups were available served promptly, and the dishes were served in the correct order with ample room in between. Unfortunately, the consistency of the food itself let down what, on paper, reads like an excellent meal.

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Cairo Weekend Guide: Last Weekend of Ramadan, Hayy Festival, Mawaweel & More!

Hello Cairo! The Eid holiday is so close that we can taste it and it's your last chance to try the Top Ramadan Tents and Top Hotel Restaurants. If you're feeling more experimental, you can also check out the top five Must-Try Ramadan Menus. While we're sure that many will be hightailing out of the c