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O.Liv.O: Charming Pizzeria & Bar in Zamalek
Published On: 20/10/2014

Certain types of food are often – and almost systematically – corrupted in kitchens across Cairo restaurants, with that seemingly simple thing called a pizza suffering more than most. The eternal, and often unfruitful, quest for authentic pizza in Cairo has seen a rise in restaurants claiming to offer the real deal, with the latest being O.Liv.O in Zamalek – which also doubles up as a bar. Located at the New President Hotel on Taha Hussein Street, the restaurant is almost hidden but for a sign above a white door to the left of the entry to neighbouring watering hole and sister venue, Bar D'O. There are no windows to peak through – the windows that do exist are frosted and obscured by greenery outside – and it adds to what is a pleasantly secluded dining experience. If O.Liv.O is going for authenticity, it's not reflected in the interior – and it needn't be. Instead, O.Liv.O. is a pastiche of different visual quirks. Andalusian-style tiling coats the bar behind which the brick-oven is placed and various pieces of contemporary art hang from the walls; the music at the time of our visit, meanwhile, swayed between Spanish and jazz covers – it was a little too loud for the hushed colours and lighting, too. Seating across the small space is divided between long high-tables for larger groups, with a couple of smaller tables able to accommodate groups of four or less, giving the place the feel of a bar more than a restaurant – the influence of Bar D'O is evident. Aiming to recreate the classic Neapolitan style of pizza, what comes out of O.Liv.O's brick-oven certainly looks the part. Unfortunately, at the time of our visit, the pizza was riddled with small imperfections, the most affective of which was the sauce; although pleasingly plentiful, it was too salty.  This was a particular problem with the pizza bufala (75LE); despite being topped generously with arugula  (of the big-leafed, local variety) and cherry tomatoes, the saline sauce dominated the otherwise rich mozzarella – maybe an extra pinch of sugar during the sauce cooking process would have helped to neutralise it a little. The same comments can be applied to the bresaola pizza (85LE), too. The imported bresaola – a cured beef – was draped in generous strips across the pizza alongside cherry tomatoes, arugula and (a little) basil. Though the combination of flavours is excellent on paper, the bresaola itself was lacked its subtle sweet and musty tang. To the kitchen's credit, though, the base is well made and surprisingly light. Bar-wise, we're told that Bar D'O's popular cocktails will slowly but surely make their way over and the evening called for a pitcher 'Nigeria' (210LE); white wine, white rum and pineapple juice, with plenty of sliced fruit, a la sangria – but, confusingly, it's not a Nigerian Chapman, which is our Nigerian brethren's version of sangria. Call it what you will, once again the influence of Bar D'O is evident; after a brief moment of confusion and a staff team huddle behind the bar, the pitcher was quickly made, delivered to our table and then very quickly devoured. Heavy on the rum and wine, it was a refreshing and lighter alternative to red wine-based sangria. Of the concise dessert options, the lemon sorbet with limoncello (50LE) is the most intriguing. Unfortunately, however, it bore little resemblance to sorbet and was more like crystallised ice cream. Served in a tall Martini glass, the portion is small but suitably sized and its saving grace was that it was full of flavour; truth be told, it was eaten up all the same. O.Liv.O is a welcome addition to Cairo and has certainly succeeded in riling up Cairo diners. The pizza is by no means offensive, and actually makes for a decent bar snack, but behind the posturing, the pizza ends up almost as a side-note to what was an overall novel venue.

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A Walk Among the Tombstones: Neeson Stars in Brutal Spy-Thriller
Published On: 20/10/2014

Liam Neeson's 'special set of skills' are once again put to good use in Scott Frank's latest neo-noir thriller, A Walk Among the Tombstones; a dark and a gritty spy-thriller that takes a rather a brutal approach to the notions of revenge and redemption. Set in 1991, the story – adapted from the pages of Lawrence Block's popular series of novels of the same name – centres on Matt Scudder (Neeson); an ex-cop turned unlicensed investigator, whose love for booze has forced him to retire early and join an alcoholic anonymous support group. During one of their regular meetings, Scudder is approached by fellow alcoholic, Peter Kristo (Holbrook), who informs him that his drug-trafficking brother, Kenny Kristo (Stevens), requires his services. After being summoned to Kenny's lavish home, it's revealed that Kenny's wife was kidnapped and, despite paying the hefty ransom, was killed and returned to him in pieces. Scudder befriends a homeless but seemingly intelligent boy, TJ (Bradley), while conducting research and, despite his young age, becomes a close friend and an informal assistant.  The road to revenge soon leads them to creepy cemetery groundskeeper, James Loogan (Olafsson), and Scudder, whose past still haunts him, soon learns that there's more at play than just a kidnapping. Directed and adapted to the screen by Scott Frank, A Walk Among the Tombstones doesn't exactly fall in line with Liam Neeson's recent filmography and those expecting more of the bravado in Taken, might be a little disappointed. This is a slow-burning picture which requires a certain amount of stomach – thanks to its graphic violence – and staying power due to its longwinded and lengthy plot. The cinematography paints the New York setting in tones of grey which contributes to an engaging overall sinister tone. Neeson carries the story like a true Hollywood pro as the enigmatic lead and he comes across as unbending, kind and utterly ruthless all at the same time. Unfortunately, the villains – played by Harbour and Thompson – are a little cartoonish, while Olafsson's character deserved a little bit more screen-time. Taking everything into account, A Walk Among the Tombstones is a solid film that owes most, if not all, of its charisma, so to speak, to Mr Neeson. 

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The Best of Me: Overly Sentimental Nicholas Sparks Adaptation
Published On: 19/10/2014

Love him or hate him, one thing is for certain; Nicholas Sparks always delivers. What exactly it is he delivers is another story altogether and the critics will have a field day taking shots at the latest film to be adapted from the American writer's pages, The Best of Me; a sappy and an overly sentimental drama that plays with the notion of fate and destiny in the most ridiculous of ways.    Jumping head-first into what has become an extremely tired formula, The Best of Me is centred on Dawson Cole (Marsden); a rugged Louisiana oil rigger who, after learning of the death of a close friend – and surrogate father - Tuck Hostetler (McRanney), is summoned to return home to fulfil his friend's last dying wishes. Dawson, who is still recovering from a near-death experience, is surprised to learn that Amanda Collier (Monoghan) – his teenage sweetheart whom he's been pining for the last couple of decades – has also been asked to tend to Tuck's last requests.  Stumped and completely thrown by this chance encounter, the pair soon head off together to Tuck's old lake house, an enchanting home that he once built for his late wife, to pack up what is left of his things and spread his ashes. Naturally, it doesn't take long before the sparks begin to fly and memories begin flooding back; will the long-lost lovers find their way back into each other's arms or will fate have something else in store for them?   One of the film's biggest problems – and distractions – is its questionable casting.  Marsden and Monoghan share very little chemistry and fail to come across as a couple madly in love while the younger versions of their characters – played by Bracey and Liberato respectively – shared little-to-no physical resemblance to their older-selves. Granted, any film demands a certain degree of suspension of disbelief, but how about we get some help with that one in a while?     Ineptly adapted by J. Millis Goodloe and Will Fetters, the story – in true Nicholas Sparks fashion – runs in two simultaneous timelines and, while the cinematography is pretty decent – plenty of sun-kissed scenes to keep the romantics in the audience content – there are just too many clichés and too much insufferable dialogue. All things considered, The Best of Me is ironically, one of the worst Nicholas Spark's adaptations to date; it's corny in the sloppiest of ways and seems a little too desperate please. 

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Buffalo Burger: Lip-Smacking Burgers with a View in Maadi
Published On: 19/10/2014

What can beat a plush fast food experience? One with a picturesque view, of course! We can never ever say no to burgers, and when presented with the opportunity of healthier burger options, we're definitely game. Located in Maadi's Nile-side food complex, the Platform, Buffalo Burger offers both outdoor and limited indoor seating options, but who would want to forego the beautiful sight of the Nile and sit indoors, right? Upon arrival, we could tell the place was filled to its brim with customers and so we knew what was coming; our waiter sat us down indoors until an outdoor table was available. Once seated, we were presented with both the Buffalo Burger and FIG Lounge, its sister restaurant chain, menus. We, however, were only determined to sink our teeth into burgers. The beef burger patties come in three sizes: 150g, 200g and 250g. Chicken burgers and "Lighter" burgers are also offered with all kinds of toppings. Of the beef, the Hawaii Waikiki seemed the most intriguing. Its ingredients included Swiss cheese, Buffalo sauce and pineapple rings (28LE-37LE depending on its size).  The Animal Chicken burger (28LE) also sounded delicious boasting a grilled chicken breast drenched in cheese, onion rings and a mixture of sauces. Add 10LE-12LE and you can make your burgers into either medium or large combos. We opted for some of the lighter options, which had their calories listed on the menu - to put our consciences to rest. The 200g Baby Boomers burger  (32LE)  caught our eye first, as well as the Skinny Chicken burger (28LE). Having made healthier choices with our burgers, we decided to order them as combos so we can enjoy some crisp fries. Our waiter swiftly took or order and just a measly twenty minutes later, our food was steaming hot on our table waiting to be devoured. The Baby Boomers was delicious; with fresh multi-grain buns holding together the grilled beef patty, it was topped with mushrooms and light mayonnaise. The Skinny Chicken, a simple plain grilled chicken breast topped with cheddar cheese, wasn't as spectacular and lacked cohesion in flavour and was a little dry. The fries, however, were the true surprise; a perfect combination of French fries, chips, and onion rings of which none were greasy or soggy. They were, however, quite sparse and we yearned for more. To wrap up, Buffalo Burger is a win-win spot, offering both delicious food for all tastes and an awesome view. The place, however, was incredibly crowded at the time of our visit, making us think we should probably order our food from the comfort of our couches at home to avoid all the unnecessary hustle and bustle.

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The Prince: Devestatingly Dull Action Flick
Published On: 17/10/2014

Directed by Brian A Miller – see House of the Rising Sun and Caught in the Crossfire – testosterone-heavy action film, The Prince, is centered on Paul (Patric); an Alabama mechanic and former crime-boss who becomes increasingly concerned when he doesn't hear from his college student daughter, Beth (Mantegna), for some time. When he calls her and someone else answers, alarm bells start to ring for the worried father and he travels to Louisiana in search of her. Beth's best friend, Angela (Lowndes), reveals that Beth has actually dropped out of college and suggests to Paul that a newly-found drug addiction may have something to do with her disappearance.  Putting his military background to use, Paul is soon led to a local gangster known as 'The Pharmacy' (50 Cent) who isn't exactly welcoming of Paul's questions. Turning to friends Sam (Cusack) and Frank (Schaech) for some much needed help, Paul soon comes across a shady criminal named Omar (Willis) and it becomes clear that the two have crossed paths before as Paul's underworld past comes back to haunt him. Penned by Andre Fabrizio and Jeremy Passmore, The Prince – playing with yet another Taken-like scenario – fails to add anything new or novel to what has quickly become a popular and lucrative Hollywood action template. Even with two seasoned acting names attached in Bruce Willis and John Cusack, the films plods along on a steady and predictable path of clichés and underwhelming plot developments.   The action-saturated Willis attempts to tap into his darker side as the psychopathic Omar and delivers a few creepy moments, while Cusack is watchable in that typical Cusack-way. Unfortunately, though maybe predictably, Patric - as the seemingly invincible hero – is overshadowed by his two more famous co-stars. The real villain of the piece, however, is Curtis '50 Cent' Jackson, whose move into the world of acting continues to be one of stiff, lifeless performances and what can only be described as cruel and unusual audience torture. There's a decent amount of action in The Prince, but its remarkably formulaic conception and execution makes it devastatingly dull.

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Kahve: Cozy Cafe in Sheikh Zayed
Published On: 16/10/2014

At first glance, some Cairo cafes seem to have it all; good atmosphere, design, location and overall outlook. Then, when you actually decide to give them a go, you end up with unprecedented disappointment. Located in a quiet street in the Sheikh Zayed, Kahve grabs attention with its Turkish name and seemingly chilled atmosphere. The place is adequately-sized, with both outdoor and indoor seating available, and despite being full at the time of our visit, it still retained a relaxing ambiance; perfect for reading a book by yourself, or going on a casual date. We asked a waiter if there were any tables available and he, right away, began arranging one for us. Our menus were laid in front of us and we began our search for something to order. The menu's not huge in terms of variety, but it'll do in a pinch. Kahve offers hot beverages (15.50LE-21LE), mostly coffee-based, of which the Nutella Turkish Coffee (16.50LE) was the most striking. Some cold shakes, cocktails and smoothies were also offered (19LE-29.75LE). As for food, we spotted some savoury items including basic sandwiches, croissants with fillings (11.50LE), pizza and crepes (25.75LE). Some desserts are also offered, including chocolate fondant (29.75LE), waffles (15.75 LE), tarts, muffins, cookies and donuts. The final item on the menu was the shisha, of course, which comes in all sorts of flavours and varieties (20LE-30LE). The true beginning of the end came with us placing our order.  Our waiter, quite surprisingly, did not recognise several items on the menu. He then proceeded to deny our request for Salami pizza claiming that the only pizza toppings available were Hotdog, mushrooms and cheese. Quite baffled, and slightly annoyed, we opted for a Hotdog Pizza and a Cheese Lover's Pizza (27.75LE each), green tea, water and the Chocolate Lover's dessert (30LE). A whopping forty-five minutes later, our table was just as empty as it had been when we first arrived.  Our pizzas and Chocolate Lovers dessert only arrived after we had asked for them three times, and our green tea and water came after we had to remind the waiter that we had, in fact, asked for them two times.  The pizzas were quite small in size, thin, crisp and laden with cheese; totally delicious, but not particularly filling. The same, however, cannot be said for the dessert, as it lacked an adequate amount of ice cream and chocolate sauce, had none of the nuts it claimed to have on the menu, and the brownie itself tasted quite stale. All in all, it's a shame Kahve, with its lovely setting, fell so badly in the service department. Sure the pizzas were scrumptious, but they sure weren't worth the wait.  The Chocolate Lovers dessert was a total disaster and our waiter completely forgetting our order was quite a nuisance.

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Prosperos: Simple, Yet Ultimately Unexceptional, Restaurant & Cafe in Maadi
Published On: 15/10/2014

Amongst the many restaurants in Maadi, many have come and gone, trying in vain to stand out with all manner of experimental cuisine. There are some restaurants, however, whose longevity and popularity ore owed to keeping things simple and unfussy when it comes to the food. Tucked away on a quiet road in Maadi, lies a flashy two-storey venue by the name of Prosperos. Yellow and red neon signs aside, the tiled walkway into the restaurant from the garden is decorated with stylish vases, ornaments and ball lights. The outdoor area has become home to football screenings with simpler tables and chairs setup to face flat screens. As you step inside, a friendly waiter greets you and shows you to a free table. The indoor area is more stylish, with comfortable cushioned chairs and a white-versus-stone colour scheme. The menu doesn't feature anything exceptional, with the restaurant offering standard international dishes such as steaks, pizzas, sandwiches, salads and desserts, as well as Tex-Mex items. We opted for a Prosperos for All (44.95); an appetiser platter featuring spring rolls, fried mozzarella, onion rings and chicken wings, to get a sense of how well they handle their frying. From the main courses, we opted for a Fillet Tex-Mex (74.95LE) and a Grilled Chicken with Fresh Mushroom (49.95LE). Our food appetiser platter arrived about twenty minutes later accompanied by ranch and marinara sauce. The food was adequately drained of oil after leaving the pan and didn't seem overly greasy, but nothing stood out exceptionally in terms of flavour. The main courses arrived shortly after. The Fillet Tex-Mex was ordered medium, and it arrived just slightly overcooked. The mushroom based sauce had a bit of a peppery kick to it and it, all in all, kept the meat tender to an extent. The sides of corn on the cob with butter and seasoned sautéed vegetables were pretty decent as well; cooked and seasoned nicely The Grilled Chicken with Fresh Mushroom was similarly tasty and generous in portion. The seasoned mushrooms were delicious and the chicken was nice and tender. The creamy mashed potatoes were topped with a deep gravy, while the aforementioned sautéed vegetables completed the dish. With some room left for dessert we decided to give the Strawberry Cheesecake (19.95LE) a whirl. The cream cheese layer rested on a thick biscuit crust and was topped with tasty strawberries.While it was by no means a classic New York cheescake, it was a decent attempt in the contect of Cairo dining nonetheless. While the food itself was satisfying but ultimately forgettable, the restaurant as a whole provides a comfortable dining experience and would be an ideal spot for a casual family lunch, with reasonable prices and decent value for money.

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FitNuts: Healthy Delivery-Only Nut Butters in Cairo
Published On: 14/10/2014

Fit Cairenes won't let the health craze die anytime soon, we can assure you, and the market for guilt-free snacks is ever expanding in the city.  FitNuts is one of the latest brands offering healthy treats and their new take on (pe)nut butters. We've always known nothing but the conventional nut butters sold at supermarkets and so the concept of all-natural, just plain crushed nuts intrigued us into ringing them up to inquire about their selection and prices. FitNuts offers seven different types of nut butters, each for a set price per jar, including Peanut Butter (2 LE), Almond (35LE), Hazelnut (35LE), Cinnamon Raisin Almond (40LE), Cinnamon Raisin Peanut (40LE), Chocolate Peanut (40LE) and Chocolate Hazelnut (50LE). We asked them what the butters are sweetened with and, much to our surprise and delight, the answer was nothing. Excited by the prospect of indulging in some tasty goodies without having to worry too much about consuming lots of sugar, we placed our order right away. FitNuts offers a delivery service that delivers the order, previously made over Whatsapp, right to your doorstep for an additional 10LE, or you can just pick it up from their headquarters in Dokki. Upon receiving our order just a couple of days after placing it, we couldn't wait to experiment with the butters. They were packaged in medium-sized jars, decorated with colourful stickers which, fortunately, stated all their nutritional information. The Peanut Butter tasted totally different than the store-bought ones we're used to, but in a good way; you could actually taste the strong raw flavour of peanuts without it being camouflaged by added oils and sugar. The Almond butter was decadent yet somehow light, probably due to the usually more subtle flavour Almonds carry in comparison to other nuts. The true star of the bunch, however, was definitely the Chocolate Hazelnut Butter, which we're considering our official guilt-free dessert from now on. It's made with chocolate whey protein powder, which definitely adds to its nutritional benefits, and it tastes almost too good for something that healthy. All in all, we are definitely willing to swear off our unhealthy ways if a healthy diet contains treats that are as delicious as FitNuts' butters. Sure they're not as sweet in taste as the the usual, but the strong taste of the nuts themselves and the health benefits the butters carry make up for the lack of sweetness. The service they offer is also quite stellar, with our order being ready on time and their all-around prompt and informative replies to our inquiries.

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AUC Bookstore: Extensively Stocked Bookshop in Downtown Cairo
Published On: 14/10/2014

By far, probably the most prestigious, stylish and well-stocked English language bookshop in Cairo is located inside the Downtown campus of the American University in Cairo;  the exquisite two-storey English bookstore is open to anyone, not just students and faculty members. Just provide some ID at the entrance and the security guard will direct you through the university grounds to the  shop.  Though heavily guarded and shielded from view from the outside, the university grounds feature an enchanting green garden that is incredibly tranquil and carefully tended to by the gardeners. The quiet, green area is dotted with  wooden seating, so you can sit and relax in a place of beauty and peace.  Inside the building, the silence is everywhere, and that must be respected by all visiting. The book prices are on the expensive side, however; Rhonda Byrne's The Secret, for example, costs 100LE, while a beautiful and large hardback copy of the Qur'an (in English) costs 330LE. Though a range of different books can be found, a strong emphasis is placed on subjects corresponding to fields of study at AUC.  Some of the clearly labelled sections within this immaculately organised vicinity include: Learning Arabic, Poetry and Drama and Classics, which contain books by William Shakespeare, Ernest Hemingway and Charles Dickens. A tiny area also focuses on colourful children's books which are very beautifully bound and carefully presented; there are some wonderful pop-up books, too, which would make wonderful gifts.  Another area has a small selection of stationary with journals, notebooks and sketchbooks; one A4 sketchbook costs 40LE and one, A5 leather bound journal costs 100LE. Should you wish to take a moment to browse through some books, there are a couple of wooden chairs and tables available in the far side of the book shop and there will always be somebody available should you have any queries or concerns.

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Pomodorino: Quiet Courtyard Restaurant in Maadi
Published On: 13/10/2014

Among the plethora of restaurants in Cairo that carry the 'international cuisine' label, few stray outside what has become a tried and tested formula. One such case is combining decent food of decent portions with a comfortable outdoor courtyard - maybe even add a flat screen and some shisha. Of this school is Pomodorino; a villa-sized restaurant opposite Fuddruckers in Maadi. Past the wooden gate is a courtyard occupied by wooden tables with glass tops and orange cushioned chairs. The walls are lined with plant pots and there are a few fans as well for a hot summer's day. Additionally, there's an air conditioned indoor area as well. We were greeted at the gate by a pleasant waiter who asked about our seating preference; the weather's been good recently so we chose to sit outside. The waiter moved swiftly and placed menus on our table, told us his name and asked if we needed anything right away. When we asked for a minute, he gladly retreated. We browsed the stereotypically extensive menu that featured all options from breakfast to desserts and drinks. We opted for a Venecian Salad (42.95LE) and a Pomodorino Beef Fillet (74.95LE). During our wait we realised the venue was relatively quiet and populated by a mature crowd. If you're not a fan of younger, louder venues, a breezy and quiet breakfast or lunch here should be right up your alley. We imagine it's nothing like that during the screening of football matches, though, so keep that in mind. Our food arrived within about thirty minutes. The Venecian Salad, which should feature grilled chicken, lettuce, pine nuts, raisins, avocado slices and 'orange sauce', in addition to garlic bread slice, was quite the let down. First, the ingredients sound delicious, but in the bowl none of the flavours mixed well. The pine was scarce, no raisins were seen, you could barely find avocadoes and, to our great disappointment, the orange sauce wasn't orange the fruit but rather orange the colour - that being the colour of Thousand Island dressing. The namesake main course, the Pomodorino Beef Fillet, was ordered medium. We prefer medium rare, but we use medium as a middle ground if we're unsure if the chef knows what he's doing. It was served well-done, of course. The fillet was floating in mushroom gravy which is probably why it retained a tenderness, though it was still far too chewy. The sides of French fries and sautéed vegetables were forgettable. All in all, this kind of restaurant relies on its set-up and location more than its food to keep it afloat. While the food wasn't terrible, it could certainly be better, but for many, it's more about a nice place to hang out and have a snack and a shisha rather than a full meal.

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Horreya Garden: Quiet & Serene Sanctuary in Zamalek

Visitors and locals have always lamented the lack of green areas in Cairo and, though there are a few, they're uncommon enough that we have all given up hope of easy, accessible public parks and gardens. However, Zamalek's Horrey Garden, stands as one of the most underappreciated and even unknown. T