Cairo Reviews

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TBS - The Bakery Shop: Fresh Brunch at Sheikh Zayed's Arkan Plaza
Published On: 16/12/2014

Brunch: the wonderful, yet slightly obscure to this region, concept of a meal that fits between breakfast and lunch. It's the perfect meal for lazy, laid back days and TBS, perhaps one of Egypt's finest bakery chains, seems to be the perfect place to feed our mid-day rumbling bellies. The branch at Sheikh Zayed's Arkan Plaza presents TBS's signature modern design of basic off-white and wooden brown colour scheme complimented by immaculate glass windows that allow the light to ever so brightly seep into the adequately sized bakery. The minute we walked in, our nostrils were gleefully attacked by the delicious scent of fresh baking and our eyes went straight to the fridges and displays boasting a wide array of edible eye-candy. Our server greeted us and waited patiently while we tried to make up our minds on what to order. With regards to what TBS has to offer, its menu is composed of many sweet and savoury croissant variations (7.75LE to 11.25LE/piece), alongside different types of baguettes, toast, tarts (9LE-12LE/piece), Danishes (9LE), muffins (7LE-9.50LE), cronuts (9.50LE), cookies, mini pizzas and donuts (8LE.25-10.50LE). TBS has also very recently launched some new pastry items including Raspberry and Blueberry tarts (12LE), the vegetable (10LE) and chicken (13.75LE tarts), as well as sun-dried tomato, spicy feta and mint feta puffs (8.25LE). You can also customize your own sandwich, by picking your own baguette and fillings. Of course, you can also enjoy a freshly-squeezed juice or some coffee with your treats. As you can see, the options are plentiful. After taking slightly too long to figure out what to choose, the server swiftly boxed and packaged everything neatly. The first bite we took was of the Multi Cereal Croissant (8.25LE), which tasted light, decadent and better than any white croissant we've ever had - healthy options can actually taste good, after all. After that, we dug our teeth into the Rix Milano (9.25LE), which is basically a dough-wrapped sausage, and it tasted just as fresh as the former. The Mini Pizza (7LE) was also quite delicious, though tasted very similar to the Rix Milano. The Almond Croissant (8LE) was quite delightful, sweet and topped with slivered Almonds, but needed a tad more filling, as did the Pain Au Chocolat (9.25LE). TBS seems to have successfully retained its quality whereever it has gone, with everything tasting exceptionally fresh. Moreover, the servers were, as always, welcoming and efficient and the place was spotless and neat, giving us all the more reason to come back.

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Poker Night: Gruesome Cop Thriller
Published On: 15/12/2014

Boasting a decent cast and kicking-off with an engaging set-up, Poker Nights is a brash thriller that gets bogged down by its own ambition. Written a directed by Greg Francis – known mostly for his work on TV – the film tries to pull off too many story threads that end up getting tangled into one big, puzzling knot. Set in Warsaw, Indiana, the hero of the piece is Jeter (Mirchoff); a young rookie cop who's constantly looking to prove himself amongst his more experienced senior peers and gets a chance to do so when he is invited to a weekly poker game – like some kind of rite of passage. There, shady detective, Calabrese (Perlman), and veteran officers, Bernard (Esposito), Davis (Large), Cunningham (Eldard) and Maxwell (Welliver), share grizzly war stories – as well as a few tricks of the trade – intended to 'educate' Jeter.  After leaving, the youngster is randomly attacked and taken hostage by a masked stranger, who tortures him, while also holding his girlfriend, Amy (Sage), hostage elsewhere. As ridiculous as the plot may sound, Poker Nights does have its moments – the fusion of crime, horror and dark comedy makes for a novel watch. However, the overall execution – or lack thereof – is what tips the scales to absurdity. The use flash-back and a non-linear plot – a Tarantino trademark better left to the experts – ends up taking all of the mystery and intrigue out of the equation, leaving behind a flat and unexciting tale of torture.   Minus the overacting and the unnecessary theatrics, the veteran cast is well-suited for their tough-cop roles and manage to do provide a certain degree of vigour to what are familiar character-types.  That is except for Mirchoff, who's most famous, possibly, for his role as a clueless but hunky jock in MTV high-school comedy series, Awkward, as well as a run on Desperate Housewives. The twenty-five year-old Canadian sticks out like a sore thumb in the gritty backdrop of the film and, in coming across as a little arrogant, gives little reason for audiences to root for him. Bloody and, on occasion, excruciatingly tedious, Poker Night seems to have been conceived in a twisted and unbalanced mind – the good kind – but fallen into equally twisted and unbalanced hands – the bad kind.

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Nefertari: All-Natural Body Care Chain's Latest Branch in Mohandiseen
Published On: 15/12/2014

Shopping in Cairo is beset with traps and misguided information – none more so than when it comes to health and beauty products. Even with international brands, the label of '100% natural' is very often inaccurate. Despite the influx of said international brands, one local enterprise continues to, against all odds, trump them: Nefertari. The chain continues to grow both in popularity and branches, the latest of which is in Mohandiseen. The venue is quite spacious – bigger than its Zamalek and Dokki shops, for example – and the items are laid out in such a way that you can browse very comfortably. At the time of our visit, we were immediately attracted to a box that held three organic Egyptian cotton white towels with Pharaonic motifs (79LE) and another with two bars of soap and a small towel with an eye of Horus design (54LE) – both suitable for simple, unfussy gifts. Of the larger collections was a basket with several products, all with the same scent at 245LE. The second collection of items that tempted us were cotton products, starting with plain cream-coloured towels that come in three sizes at 10LE, 40LE, and 104LE respectively. We also spotted more intricately made towels, like a replica of the 40LE medium towel but with crochet edges (65.50LE), and another with a depiction of Queen Nefertari for 22LE. The collection also offers bathrobes and cotton slippers. The soap collection comes in a diverse range of shapes and scents, with one of our favourites being a lavender and olive oil one. While the square-shapes and murky browns aren't the most attractive in appearance, the collection of four rosemary and olive oil scented soaps were actually quite enticing. One bar of soap costs 25LE and is relatively large. When it comes to the beauty products, the diversity is even bigger; they have everything from facemasks (39LE) to bath salts from Safaga (unscented 30LE, floral scented 35LE) and even lip balm (30LE) – though aid lip balm is a little too greasy to the touch. One thing that shoppers often forget is that Nefertari also stocks organic food like brown sugar (15LE), coconut oil (36LE), rose water and mint oil (16LE). There is still a certain barrier that local brands have to overcome – the poor reputation that has come to stand over them like a dark cloud has unfairly seeped across to brands like Nefertari. But if the Mohandiseen branch proves anything, it's that Nefaertari can hold its own against the increasing number of international brands – it's affordable, too.

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Makani: Enduring Deli & Sushi Chain in New Cairo's Downtown Katameya Mall
Published On: 14/12/2014

Although it's rarely mentioned among dining stalwarts, Makani is by no means a new kid on the Cairo dining block. Well-established in the market and having survived the introduction of a new menu not so long ago, we visited one of the chain's newer branches in New Cairo's Downtown Katameya Mall. The new venue offers both indoor and outdoor seating, with the interior decorated with colourful tiles laid out against a light brown colour scheme. Being greeted instantly by a waiter, we requested an outdoor table and were seated on the spot. During the time of our visit, the place was mildly crowded but did not feel constricting, much to our relief. The deli section offers all kinds of regular, uninventive dishes and safe options including soups 24LE-28LE, salads 35LE-52LE, sandwiches 24LE-47 LE and a few of pasta options, alongside some dessert delicacies. The sushi section, on the other hand, offers a well-rounded array of Sashimi options alongside all kinds of fried rolls, Nigiri, Chirashi and Hand Rolls. Our waiter came by as soon as we called for him and took down our order of a few simple appetiser-appropriate dishes; the Chicken Caesar Salad (45LE), the Vegetable Spring Rolls (19LE) and the Shrimp Spring Rolls (28LE). He then called for the shisha waiter to take down that part of the order. For the shisha, we went for Strawberry Cream (45LE) Our shisha arrived after a few minutes prior to the food, but thankfully neither took too long. The Strawberry Cream was a little too sweet for our taste, making a little sickly when smoked at regular pace. The Spring Rolls, which looked quite nice and crisp, tasted just as sumptuous, without being too oily; they were also quite adequately stuffed. The salad, while certainly tasty and light, was unspectacular, though noticeably fresh. Service-wise, everything was quite orderly and timely, with a waiter always around to take down any orders and the shisha coal being constantly maintained. It wasn't until we asked for the check, however, that things took a turn for the worse - we had to ask for our check three times before it arrived at our table, each time the staff posturing as if it wasn't asked for. All in all, we found Makani a lovely hangout spot, with a serene air, pleasing dishes, and adequate service. There's nothing to distinguish this branch from others, but it makes good use of its space and location.  

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Before I Go to Sleep: Shallow Thriller Fails to Capitalise on Novel Premise
Published On: 14/12/2014

Rowan Joffe's latest psychological thriller – based on S.J Watson's nail-biting 2011 page-turner – is, sadly, anything but thrilling. Poorly-constructed and emotionally shallow, Before I Go to Sleep starts off with an absorbing premise, but fails sustain the intrigue needed to do its source material justice. Having suffered a terrible car accident ten years ago, Christine Lucas (Kidman) wakes up every morning not knowing who or where she is. As a result of a severe head injury, the forty year-old suffers from a form of post-traumatic amnesia, which erases her most recent memories every night she goes to sleep. Unable to recognise her own husband, Ben (Firth), she wakes up every morning in fear while her long-suffering partner sits on the edge of the bed patiently explaining – through a collage of pictures taped to the bathroom wall – who he is and who they are to one another. Psychiatrist, Dr. Nash (Strong), calls her every morning, encouraging her to keep a video-diary. Convincing her to join an experimental treatment designed to jog her memory, Christine's understanding of her life is put into doubt when she begins to unravel the real truth about her past and the fact that not everyone in her life is who they say they are. Set somewhere in the UK – the exact location of which is never specified or visually depicted –Before I Go to Sleep starts off relatively strong and, for what it's worth, Rowan Joffe manages to create a genuine sense of mystery surrounding his fragile protagonist from the film's very first scene. However, the story quickly begins to lose its edge – and focus – when Christine starts digging deeper into her past, quickly falling into clichéd thriller territory. That's made all the worse with a few too many inconsistencies and far-fetched scenarios, all coming together to render it shallow and uninvolving. It's a darn shame, because the three main actors are all capable of delivering outstanding performances and both Kidman and Firth are convincing enough for the most part, though even they as characters seem detached to what should have been a complex and taxing plot. Many have pointed to Christopher Nolan's groundbreaking thriller, Memento, and even Adam Sandler comedy, 50 First Dates, as two films that, despite being at opposite ends of the spectrum, deal with similar plot devices in much more decisive ways. Before I Go to Sleep has neither the intelligence of the former nor the comic relief of the latter and, in the end, really just has nothing.

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El Dokan: 'Balady-Chic' Fountain-Side Restaurant & Cafe in Cairo Festival City
Published On: 12/12/2014

When it comes mall dining, there's a strange phenomenon that continues to grow across the occasionally bemusing Cairo dining scene. Why so many restaurants try to present a fine-dining, full-out food experience in busy and bustling shopping complex is a mystery. The more successful ones are the ones that allow you to grab a quick, uncomplicated bite - which is exactly what we had in mind when we approached El Dokan in New Cairo. Located right by the dancing fountain in Cairo Festival City Mall, El Dokan's seating is exclusively outdoor, but still quite comfy and cosy. We were greeted by a waiter at the entrance and seated right away. At the time of our visit, the place was bustling with customers, yet in no way felt too crowded, thanks to a sensibly spaced layout. Our waiter laid out our menus in front of us and we began scanning what turned out to be rather typical balady-chic options. From a variety of Foul platters (9.50LE-26LE), to various Falafel (8.5LE-11LE), egg creations and jazzed-up cheese options, including some delicious sounding grilled halloumi cheese (35LE), El Dokan offers the usual basics but manages to spice them up a bit by offering variations of them. For more main course suited dishes, El Dokan offers an array of feteer, Mana'eesh (37LE-50LE), Shawerma, Koshary (20LE) and Hawashi (25LE), amongst some other Egyptian cuisine-inspired options. We placed our order and had our drinks – green tea (16LE) and regular tea (13LE) – arrive before our food.  Said food, however, arrived a few minutes later and we couldn't wait to dig in. The tomeya (20 LE) came in a generous helping accompanied by a balady bread basket and tasted scrumptious enough to be eaten  straight off the plate with a fork. The Labneh with Zaatar (20LE) was also light, creamy and definitely delicious. The Chicken Shawerma platter (4 LE) featured thin, unrolled Syrian bread layered beneath chicken chunk, and was cooked and seasoned well, but arriving a bit cold. The Beef Shawerma Sandwich (40LE) was also quite delightful, but had the same issue of not being hot. Once we informed our waiter of the problem, however, he apologised on the spot and offered to reheat our dishes, which took little to no time and saved us some disappointment. All in all, El Dokan is a pleasant and charming hangout spot, which is partly owed to its prime location by the dancing fountain. The food initially arriving cold was a definite pet peeve, but our waiter managed to save the day by efficiently handling the issue. Though many will point to the fact that the whole balady-chic approach has been exhausted, the fact of the matter is that it's not going away anytime soon and at least El Dokan does it well.

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Laggies: Light & Wispy Coming-of-Age Drama
Published On: 11/12/2014

Laggies – taken from the word "Lag" – is the latest directorial effort from indie-filmmaker, Lynn Shelton; a charming though somewhat directionless coming-of-age-drama told through the eyes of an adult who refuses to grow up. Scripted by first-time screenwriter, Andrea Seigel, Laggies is set in Seattle and is centred on Megan (Knightley); a twenty-eight year old who still hasn't figured out what she wants out of life. While her friends are busy pursuing careers and having babies, Megan – despite an advanced college degree – would rather spend her days hopping between tedious jobs and spend time with her long-term boyfriend, Anthony (Webber). Her world is soon plunged into chaos when Megan is confronted with two bombshells in one day, causing her to essentially freak out withdraw and take some time out to clear her head. She soon comes across sixteen-year old Annika (Moretz) and the pair soon bond, before Megan quickly moves in with the teenager and her sceptical, single divorce-lawyer dad, Craig (Rockwell). Closing herself off from the rest of the adult world, Megan realises that the rebellious child inside of her will need to grow up and build up the courage to face adulthood and all of the responsibilities that come along with it. Laggies is extremely light on its feet and Lynn Shelton keeps things relatively bright and breezy the whole way through. Simply shot, the story is humble and relatively unassuming in its explorations of friendships and adulthood. However, although it makes for a pretty easy and an undemanding watch, it lacks complexity and depth; something that fails to create a hook for audiences to engage. Nonetheless, the success of the film lies with the characters and the charismatic performances of both Knightley and Moretz whose onscreen chemistry carries the occasionally wispy plot. Knightley is affable as a ditzy adult whose quirky ways make it almost impossible to condemn her, while Rockwell adds comic-relief into the mix. On the whole, Laggies isn't a film that will wow on the big screen; like many indie productions, its appeal is in its subtle charm.  Ultimately, it doesn't build on its feathery premise, but it's the charming performances of its cast that cover up its imperfections.

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Al Karmeh: Light Lebanese Food in Maadi
Published On: 11/12/2014

When in the mood for a light, easy-on-stomach late-night snack, there isn't much outside of fast-food across the Cairo dining scene. – well, that's what we thought. We stumbled on Al Karmeh in Maadi on Road 231. The lights were bright around the modestly-sized venues and the restaurant uses the same red and white colours as in its logo. With an elevated-from-street-level wooden patio outside, the venue is perfect for a quick and quick snack. As we walked in, the waiter behind the cashier greeted us and offered us menus. The restaurant offers light Lebanese cuisine - think manakeesh, alongside most of the traditional Lebanese salads including fattoush, tabouleh, humus, and spiced potatoes. We opted for a Kofta Karmeh (44LE) alongside a Zaatar with Cheese (14LE), Labneh (19LE) and Homemade Fries (10LE). Service time was relatively short, but we realised shortly afterwards why that was. Offering the options of Saj or Oven Baked for all the manakeesh, we asked for ours toasted but received them cold. The Kofta Karmeh, meanwhile, was served face up in a pizza box; the dough had no discernible crunch to it, and the meat didn't really stand out in flavour, due mostly to a lack of seasoning. It was simply meat, cheese and dough with none of the subtle Levantine flair one expects of Lebanese cuisine. The Labneh, served in wrapped saj bread that, again, wasn't toasted, also contained diced cucumbers and tomatoes, which was a nice touch, but was sorely lacking thyme and olive oil. With the Zaatar and Cheese, the ratio was off, so unless you really like the tangy flavour of zaatar, you may find this mankousha a little much. Again, had it beentoasted , it would've made a world of a difference. The homemade Fries were the surprising highlight of the whole meal. Retaining some crunch but still very fleshy, they made for a good side. The problem with this type of cuisine now is that it's no longer a novelty. Not only is Shami food now available in any and every part of Cairo, you also have choices and price ranges. With all around average food, it's hard to see how a restaurant like Al Karmeh will compete, especially when there are three other Lebanese restaurants within walking distance of it.

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Penguins of Madagascar: Fast-Paced Animation Spin-Off
Published On: 10/12/2014

Following the reasonable success in all of the Madagascar films, the loveable penguins that were given a TV spin-off return to the silver screen with Penguins of Madagascar. Co-directed by Eric Darnell and Simon J. Smith, the story follows closely after the events of Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted, with our four heroes breaking into Fort Knox in search of a vending machine holding their favourite Cheesy Dibbles snack. Before they can reach their Holy Grail, they are kidnapped and confronted by Dave (voiced by Malkovich) – an octopus with an agenda. The story goes on to see the penguins embroiled in a much bigger fight which takes them across the world. Completely unrelated to the TV series spinoff, The Penguins of Madagascar, the film puts the four side-kick penguins in the hot seat.  Aimed at a younger audience, the jokes and the frenzy antics – especially throughout the first half of the film – are aplenty and will keep the kiddies amused; the adults, on the other hand, might not find as much to indulge in, though a few celebrity references will incite a few chuckles. The penguin-cast, so to speak, step up to the leading roles and give depth to the characters. It's a strange thing to say of animated penguins, but it makes a difference. Meanwhile, Malkovich – in his first-ever animated role – is absolutely brilliant as the evil Octopus, as is rising British star, Benedict Cumberbatch, as the wolf leader of the North Wind rescue team that appear as a major part of the film. With all things considered, Penguins of Madagascar is a funny and an entertaining addition from the folks over at the DreamWorks Studios; goofy, though occasionally witty, it's the good-natured humour that keeps things ticking through the often overwhelmingly frantic pace.

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Picasso Art Gallery: 'The Interplay of Marble, Stone &  Glass' by Ketty Abdel Malek
Published On: 10/12/2014

Art, in the broadest sense of the word, is a tricky thing. The finished product rarely communicates the process that produced it – none more so than with mosaic-work. It's not just a matter of sticking things next to other things; the influence of architecture means that between preliminary sketches and picking colours, to breaking up your medium and finally piecing it backing together, it's an art-form that is every bit as complex as it is fantastical. Despite its intricacy, it remains one of the oldest art forms and one that is still largely popular in art and architecture today. Egyptian artist, Ketty Abdel Malek, is one such practitioner of mosaic-work.  Having French Literature before moving into inking and sculpture, she eventually found her way to world of mosaics, which she studied in Rafina, Greece. She excelled in her pursuit in the art-form by freely using different types and colours of stones on a single canvas, unhindered by traditional schools of thought. Currently a member of the British Association for Modern Mosaic and the International Association for Contemporary Mosaics, she has been featured in numerous international galleries the last of which was the Museum of Contemporary Art in Macedonia. Her current exhibition, The Interplay of Marble, Stone and Glass, at Picasso Art Gallery, is split into two; the first contained a large number of medium-sized mosaics, tied together by a bright and almost cheerful colour palette. The works involve classical themes, but approached in a more contemporary sense. An example of this is a mosaic of the Virgin Mary carrying the baby Jesus, where the artist depicts the characters with Oriental facial features. Another piece that attracted our attention was a 100x70 piece titled Aton. Pharaonic reference aside, the portrait depicts the sun over the river Nile, using a mixture of dark blue tiles mixed with hot coloured tiles to depict the sun and life flowing from it. Abdel Malek hasn't only proved she is one of the big names in contemporary mosaic-work, she also exhibited classical pieces as well, including one very special piece titled Segada; translating to 'carpet' or 'rug', it's traditional in the sense of its motifs and symmetry. Though seemingly much simpler in conception than the other pieces, the intricacy and detail is no less. The second section contains collages made with very different mediums. The portraits are abstract in nature, but one can create harmony between the different shapes made from pieces of the same medium. One in particular stood out, with the use of black ink and splashes of brown paint combined with shreds of paper. This technique is employed several times through the exhibition and, although abstract than the mosaics, it still manages to be simple, lively and visually engaging.

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BMW 2-Series Active Tourer: Revolutionising the MPV

The first ever MPV from BMW, the all-new 2-Series Active Tourer, is – in no uncertain terms – a game-changer.  Combining style and functionality, the German car manufacturer has revolutionised the traditional concept of a car for the family – because it's so much more. The 2-Series Active Tou