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Kalla: Furniture & Home Accessories Shop in Sheikh Zayed
Published On: 22/04/2014

With spring and summer calling, there's no better time to deck out your garden in some brand new gear. For those who appreciate a charming furnished home with a modern, chic touch, fashionable shop Kalla has just opened its newest venue in Sheikh Zayed's Americana Plaza.  Providing a variety of contemporary indoor and outdoor furniture, the home fashion store has almost everything you can think of. Kalla offers the ideal necessities for those ready to furnish a new home; from sofas, coffee tables, side tables, bedroom and bathroom knickknacks, as well as decorative accessories, table tops, wall pieces, candleholders and ornamental lamps. While the venue seems neatly organised and widely spaced out to sustain comfort while browsing, the products were rather placed randomly around the shop making it difficult to spot certain product. Most of the items were colourfully suitable for the spring season; not too extravagant in colour and rather chic, using earthy colours – thin natural greys, creamy whites and delicate blues and greens, pleasantly mixed with attractive seasonal colours. A few living room couches were available at the time of our visit; a modern cream-coffee coloured L-shaped sofa (9990LE) stood out and decorated with a couple of colourfully patterned cushions ranging 175LE-185LE and a couple of plain ones ranging 55LE-65LE. Placed next to the sofa was a dark wooden side table (2900LE) with a crafted wicker lamp (750LE) placed on top of it. The products where all fitting in taste making the whole area ideally set together. A few beanbags were scattered around the shop; some were plain in design, yet striking with a solid colour (490LE) while others were embellished with flashy bright patchwork (550LE). A whole section is dedicated to bed and bath furnishings, complete with a collection of soft basic towels ranging 25LE-90LE, an overpriced colourful patchwork bedspread (1350LE) and glass-made bathroom necessities ranging from 145LE-250LE stood out. A variety of dinning and table accessories were also available.  We spotted a selection of glass cups ranging 25LE-35LE in different shapes and sizes, silver serving dishes at a rather steep 485LE-950LE, silver tea trays for 138LE-166LE and a collection of newfangled candlesticks. Kalla in Sheikh Zayed definitely presents a wide-range of tasteful home accessories; varying in style and colour, their products are ideal for everyday home necessities and basic home decor. 

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Gawharet El Fan: Musical Instruments in the Heart of Downtown Cairo
Published On: 22/04/2014

 Known to almost all musicians in Egypt, Gawharet El Fan lies on Mohamed Aly Street – the epicentre of buying musical instrument for over 120 years. While it has expanded to several branches, we chose to go to the original store, and we would recommend you do too, for several reasons; first, the storage, manufacturing and workshops that belong to the company are all there, so what you don't find inside the store they can get from storage within minutes. Second, this is where you'll find the biggest selection of percussive instruments, drums and their accessories anywhere in Egypt. Third and final, if you don't find what you're looking for in the store, you're still in Mohamed Aly, so you can walk to the next shop and look there. Mohamed Aly Street boasts the biggest instrument market in all of Egypt, and it's where you'll find the cheapest prices too, so don't be afraid to haggle, especially if you're buying large quantities Gawharet El Fan boasts that it was the first store to sell more than one type of instrument and, for most part, you can indeed find almost any instrument you're looking for. In the string family, you can find acoustic, electric and bass guitars, lutes, violins and cellos. Moving to percussive you can find keyboards, xylophones and many different types of drums be it Indian or African. You can find also find drum kits and cymbals, woodwind instruments and brass. Additionally, you'll also find sound equipment like speakers, amplifiers, mixers and microphones. A Cort acoustic or semi-acoustic guitar costs 400LE-1000LE and even lower-grade brands like Fitness or Suzuki will set you backs 300LE-500LE, while electric guitars range between 1000LE and 2000LE. Mapex drum kits cost around 3600LE – not including cymbals – however Gawharet El Fan owns distributing rights to Sabian Cymbals; a much higher-end company with models like the SBR costing 1200 LE and B8 Pro models costing 2400 LE. Violins, meanwhile, here come in all sizes with prices ranging 200LE-2000LE. We found the weakest section to be the keyboard section which was made up of unknown Chinese brands with prices ranging 500LE-1000LE; they may not sound completely terrible, but there's no guarantee on their life expectancy. Even the Yamaha pieces looked like lower grade models compared to the stock at the Yamaha dealership in Heliopolis. You can call ahead and check if what you're looking for is available before you go. The people who work at the store are very polite and will whole heartedly help you. All in all, whether you end up buying your instrument from here or not, this is definitely the first stop you should make.

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The Pirate Fairy: Colorful Fairy Prequel to Peter Pan
Published On: 19/04/2014

Tinker Bell, who made her first appearance in 1953's animated picture Peter Pan, returns in the fifth installation of her popular Tinker Bell franchise, The Pirate Fairy; an infectious and thoroughly charming story of friendship and sisterhood. Directed by Peggy Holmes, The Pirate Fairy follows the adventures of Tinker Bell – a.k.a Tink – (voiced by Whitman) and her five fairy friends; the Garden Fairy, Rosetta (Hilty), water fairy, Silvermist (Liu), light fairy, Iridessa (Raven-Seymone), wind fairy, Vidia (Adlon) and finally, animal fairy, Fawn (Bartys). The girls live in Pixie Hollow; a magical fairy community where everyone has been given a duty based on the talent revealed to them at birth. Life is seemingly peaceful for the five friends but trouble soon comes knocking when Zarina (Hendricks), the new fairy in charge of the production of fairy dust, decides to perform a forbidden experiment with the rare Blue Dixie Dust – an important ingredient used to make the fairy's gold-blue dust powder – resulting in a near-catastrophe at the lab. Relieved  of her position as the Dust Keeper, Zarina flees Pixie Hollow, only to return a year later for the Dixie Dust.  It's now up to Tink and her friends to pursue Zarina, who they soon learn has become the captain of a pirate ship, and convince her to return to where she truly belongs; in Pixie Hollow. However, Zarina's new friend, James (Hiddleston), a pretend-cabin boy has other plans for the fairies and the fate of Pixie Hollow altogether. Serving as a prequel to Peter Pan's 2002's Return to Never Land, The Pirate Fairy will please fans of the franchise, who will be happy to see their favourite fairy – and her devoted group of followers – return with their peace-loving ways. It's a simple story with just enough colour and vibrancy to keep things moving along. Although its animations and overall technical quality is nowhere near the likes of Pixar productions, for example, the story is strong enough to compensate for its drawbacks. Whitman, who has been with the franchise since the beginning, returns as Tinker Bell and once again shines as the determined and lovable leader of the fairies.  However, it's Hendricks – popular for her role as Joan Harris of the TV's Mad Men – who steals the show as the feisty and the often misunderstood Zarina who manages to get herself mixed up with the wrong crowd. Similarly, Hiddleston – better known for his portrayal of Thor's evil brother, Loki – is superb and deliciously devious as cabin boy James whose destiny as Captain Hook is yet to be fulfilled. Ultimately, The Pirate Fairy is a story about friendship and understanding.  It may not be as big or majestic as Disney's last outing, Frozen, but it's still engaging enough to stand on its own feet.

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The Master Chef: Self-Proclaimed Family-Style Restaurant in Mohandiseen
Published On: 16/04/2014

We all have our favourite restaurants in Cairo, but nothing gets us quite as excited as stumbling on the lesser known eateries. Mohandiseen has many a narrow road to get lost through and we happened upon the Master Chef by complete coincidence. The exterior is simple but pretty, with glass facades and a staircase up to the restaurant surrounded with plant pots. The interior, like the exterior, is simple, using a white and black colour themed and red glass tables with, unfortunately, uncomfortable chairs. Though the aesthetics are in no way offensive, the restaurant's boasts of being a family-style restaurant isn't reflected in the decor. We walked into the restaurant to find it completely empty with the exception of an elderly woman sitting whom we later found out was the owner. After a few minutes, and a couple of looks from under her glasses, she got up from behind the counter and called someone whose attire implied he was the chef. He handed us a menu full of breakfast options ranging between Foul and Falafel sandwiches (2.50LE) all manner of crepes (15 LE) and salads (20 LE). We say 'implied' because of his utter surprise at seeing customers and being asked about the 'dish of the day', as well us having to point at the menu to make our orders. Needless to say, we expected it all to go downhill from there. This was made all the worse when we took our first sip of mango juice (10LE) and realised it was of the packaged, supermarket variety. For main courses we opted for Sweet and Sour Chicken (35 LE) and Pepper Sauce Fillet (45 LE) and Chicken Cream Soup (12 LE). To our surprise, however, the chicken cream soup (12LE) was delicious, rich and creamy with a hearty serving of chicken and mushrooms. Moving onto the mains, sweet and sour chicken (35LE) was also full of flavour thanks, though there was a distinct overdose of onions. The dish came with homemade fries, which were fresh and crispy, and sautéed vegetables which were cooked perfectly; neither mushy and overcooked nor crunchy and raw. We also tried the pepper sauce fillet (45LE); while cut of meat was excellent, the preparation betrayed such a beautiful piece of beef. The meat was overly seasoned and marinated, while the pepper sauce had so much cinnamon that it became spicy, ultimately overpowering the taste of the meat. The dish was served with a white sauce pasta, which was creamy with a subtle hint of basil. Don't expect the chef to ask about the type of pasta you want; just be thankful you got to choose the sauce. The dessert menu was rather bland and generic, offering items such as jelly (10 LE) and crème caramel (12 LE). The owner recommended we try a new dessert called the Master Cake (15 LE); a layer of crème caramel over a chocolate sponge cake. While it was flavourful and fresh, it was it was just far too sweet. There's two ways to look at the Master Chef; you can either deem their food as wholesome and filling, or just rather unoriginal. 

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TA-KU: Beat Sketches Vol. 1
Published On: 16/04/2014

Judging a beat-maker's album is a little unconventional. It's harder to judge composition and technical aspects of musicianship, especially when sampling and computers are involved. But as music has evolved and changed throughout history, so have the means to critique them. Beat Sketches Vol. 1 is a collection of one-shot singles and other specifically written songs made by Australian producer, TA-KU, in homage to the late Jun Seba – better known by his stage name, Nujabes. TA-KU draws heavy inspiration from Nujabes' style, blending together hip-hop beats, full and round kick drums combined with crisp snares and claps, with sampled elements of jazz to create an ambient and chilled-out vibe that is carried very nicely throughout the album. One of the biggest challenges in this type music is making sure all elements of the tracks sit well within the mix. This is, of course, bearing in mind that these elements are, more often than not, compiled through sampling vinyl records which creates a stark difference in sound between it and the digitally created sounds made by the artist. At the same time no producer wants to lose the vintage sound of a vinyl record in his samples. With all that said, TA-KU does an exceptional job of making everything sound his own. The art of sampling can easily be seen by an outsider as stealing someone else's composition, but the true skill behind it isn't extracting segments of audio off a record, but rather manipulating that extract until it becomes your own. With ten tracks off the album, each individual track leads you very smoothly into the next. Never losing the broken, triplet-infused hip-hop beats that give the songs their movement, but at the same time, never jeopardising the soulful strings, brass, pianos and jazzy bass lines. Fans of the late hip hop legends J Dilla and Nujabes will love this album. Both being huge inspirations to TA-KU, you can really feel the elements of their approach to instrumental hip-hop come to life throughout Beat Sketches Vol. 1.

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Mandala: Unique Knick-Knack & Accessories Shop in Zamalek
Published On: 15/04/2014

With diverse, specialist stores expanding rapidly around the city, shopping in Cairo has taken on a new dimension, where brand names and the latest fads aren't always the sole deciding factor in spending your hard earned cash. Located in the heart of Zamalek, Mandala offers a variety of colourful and ethnic garments and accessories, bringing different parts of the world closer to Cairo's bustling streets.  Walking in, the strong smell of incense and the soothing background music combined with the decor made of wall hangings and patterned carpets, statues and carved wooden shelves gives off a peaceful and artistic vibe. While the first floor displays a variety of handmade handbags, scarves, attractive harem pants, colourful pouches and special garments for men and women, the second floor is set out as a relaxing seating area, with comfortable floor mats, florid cushions and low-rise wooden tables, for people to socialise in an at-ease setting. While the store is conveniently organised, the large display of vibrant garments is a little overwhelming. Displayed on a top shelf, a wide range of fun decorative scarves (66LE) were knotted and placed inside several wicker baskets. A few hand-made fabric bags (160LE) were scattered around the shop;  while they were not rich in design, their simplicity and material made them seem rather handy and easy to carry around.   The Indian Harem pants (185LE) and Skirt Wraps (325LE) were the most popular items on display, carrying natural colours such as blue, green and brick-red. Some had uncluttered patterns, while others were more striking in their artwork, embellished with vivid colours and sparkly beaded designs. A diverse collection of handcrafted accessories are also on offer; a few stiff sandals (225LE), a range of fun every-day pouches (95LE), as well as leather bound note books (230LE) and a small wicker basket with a variety of hand-made earrings and anklets (20LE). A whole section set next to the cashier counter was dedicated to oils, teas and remedies including a collection of strong-smelling herbal soap (35LE), over priced aroma oil (170LE) and varieties of flavoured green tea (70LE). Overall, Mandala offers more of a lifestyle experience than just a shopping one. Combining a soothing and cosy atmosphere with unique items, you'll surely come back here for an escape from the crowded stores and malls, even if just looking for a unique gift.

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Rio 2: Vibrant But Disappointing Sequel
Published On: 15/04/2014

The follow up to Carlos Saldanha's vibrant animated feature, Rio – a film that grossed over half a billion dollars at the box office  - finds the Brazilian-born filmmaker returning to the pulsating streets of Rio Di Janeiro, before setting off into the wilderness of the Amazon. Picking up some time after the end of the first film, Rio 2 finds the Blue Macaws, Blu (voiced by Eisenberg) and Jewel (Hathaway), happily married and living a carefree life while raising their three hatchlings, Carla (Crow), Bia (Stenberg) and Tiago (Gagnon), at the Blue Bird Sanctuary. However, their children's overly-domesticated habits begin to worry Jewel, who is fearful that her children are slowly losing touch with nature and what it means to be a bird. So, when she hears that there may be a flock of Blue Macaws living in the Amazon rainforest, the family decides to fly across for a vacation and a bit of an investigation. Once there, not only does the family discover that there is more of their kind in the world, but that the flock is led by none other than Jewel's long-lost father, Eduardo (Garcia). Jewel soon finds herself toying with the prospect of moving her family there for good, while Blu – who now must prove himself to Jewel's apathetic and unconvinced father – isn't too sure whether he's ready to give up his life in Rio. Meanwhile, Blu's lifelong nemesis, Nigel the Cockatoo (Clement), who is no longer able to fly, follows the family to the rainforest in search of revenge. Eisenberg and Hathaway return to reprise their roles as the lovable Blu and Jewel and, although their shared chemistry can still be felt throughout, it seems that their second outing is not as charming as their first.  Clement is hilarious as the grouchy Nigel, while all of the supporting characters, excluding Chenoweth's hysterical performance as Gabi – a poisonous frog hopelessly in love with Nigel – aren't given much of the spotlight, apart from indulging in a few impromptu sing-offs, including yet another cringe worthy rendition of Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive. Just like the original, Rio 2 dazzles with its vibrant and bubbly tone; the opening scenes of the New Year's Eve celebration on the bustling streets of Rio Di Janeiro are breathtaking and Saldanha, succeeds in adapting the alluring and captivating magic of Brazil. The story, unfortunately, is not as engaging the second time around and Saldanha seems to have sent the story on a downward spiral the minute he decided to step out of Rio and move his flock of birds into the back woods of the Amazon rainforest. There are still plenty of thrills and spills, but had it not been for the infectious Brazilian music and a handful of interesting characters, this would have been a complete washout.

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Saj & Shawerma: Syrian Shawerma in Zamalek
Published On: 15/04/2014

The Cairo restaurant scene has welcomed more and more diverse cuisines over the years, but that very simple thing called shawerma has enjoyed a popular presence throughout – thanks, partly, to the consistent series of Syrian restaurants opening up. You don't even need an entire restaurant to serve shawerma; sometimes, just a corner. Saj & Shawerma is one such example. Originally operating from the corner of a shutdown café, it is now independently run and managed by a family of Syrians. With the options of either eating in your car or simply leaning on one, there's not a whole lot to judge aesthetically and, thus, the primary concern becomes the food. We were met with warm greetings from one of the waiters; but when asked if we could have copies of the menu, we were told that they ran out – something that became bit of a recurring theme throughout the night. We took our time browsing the bigger menu hung up on the wall next to us. Meat shawerma comes in small (13LE) and large (15LE), while, strangely, a small chicken is 10LE and a large is 18LE. Also on offer are kobeba sandwiches (9LE) and Syrian falafel sandwiches (6LE,) all served in traditional Saj bread. You can also get individual pieces of kobeba for 3LE a piece. We were particularly keen to try the Syrian falafel and kobeba, but, yet again, we were told they ran out. Instead, we opted for the basic chicken and meat shawerma sandwiches. Shockingly, the sandwiches took a whopping forty-five minutes to appear; a fact made all the more surprising when considering that, at the time of our visit, we were the restaurant's only customers. The ridiculous waiting time was partially made up for by the meat shawerma, which was one of the best we've sampled in a long time. The Saj bread tasted fresh and didn't feel soggy, the meat was cooked perfectly and the addition of tomatoes, parsley and tehina made for a flawless combination. The chicken shawerma, sadly, was the exact opposite. Lathered in more toumeya and pickled cucumbers than your senses can handle, you could hardly taste the chicken. We like to give the benefit of the doubt with food, but with most of the menu's more interesting options unavailable and the mind-bogglingly long waiting time, it's difficult not to feel a little exasperated. The only saving graces were the incredibly friendly staff and that delicious meat shawerma.  

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Osteria: Reasonably Priced International Menu in Heliopolis
Published On: 15/04/2014

Located on a narrow, hidden road in Sheraton, Heliopolis, Osteria might not be the easiest restaurant to find, especially if you're not from the area. After getting lost and calling the restaurant for directions, we eventually found our way and were greeted warmly by the waiters who walked us to our seats and passed us our menus. We found a wide range of options to choose from including salads (26LE-38LE) appetisers (16-53LE) steak (58LE-80LE) seafood (40LE-90LE) chicken (40LE-62LE) and fajitas (46LE-74LE). In true Egyptian chain restaurant style, all main courses are served with two sides of your choosing; sautéed vegetables, French fries or pasta. We opted for Chicken Cordon Bleu with French fries and penne pasta with white sauce (47 LE) and Country Fried Shrimp, but were delivered the devastating news that the kitchen was out of shrimp and calamari. Instead, we chose a 220g beef fillet with mushroom sauce, sautéed vegetables and penne pasta with white sauce (58 LE).  We also opted for an Osteria Appetiser Sampler (40LE) which was made up of four spicy chicken strips, mozzarella sticks, onion rings and Doritos covered in herbs and mozzarella cheese. The appetiser sampler comes with three different dips and was served hot and, remarkable, within five minutes of ordering it. Equally as impressive, the main courses took around twenty-five minutes to emerge from the kitchen. Unfortunately, however, the Cordon Bleu was dry and a far cry from the moist chicken cutlet one would expect. In addition, there was a distinct, almost baffling, lack of cheese and the promised smoke beef. Being the positive Petes we are, we were able to at least enjoy the well made and seasoned fries. Already disappointed by the aforementioned shortage of shrimp and calamari, the meal's saving grace came via the substitute dish of beef fillet. Well cooked and at the very reasonable price of 58LE, it was enjoyable without being spectacular -  a slab of beef and no more. Our check came out to 160 LE which is very reasonable for a dinner for two. The service was both great and quick and the waiters always had a smile on – shame about the execution of the food.

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Oculus: Scary but Forgettable Horror Flick
Published On: 14/04/2014

Expanding from his 2006 short film, Oculus: Chapter 3- The Man with a Plan, director Mike Flanagan – along with help from writer Jeff Howard – approaches the subject of the supernatural with a considerable amount of imagination and manages to deliver some scares in the relatively unnerving ghostly thriller, Oculus. The story follows the troubled lives of Tim (Thwaites) and Kaylie Russell (Gillan); a pair of siblings who witnessed the brutal death of their parents over a decade ago. Tim is convicted of the murders and is sent into protective custody and a psychiatric hospital, while Kaylie remains in a pit of despair without her family. Years later, Tim is released on his twenty-first birthday and is now looking to rebuild his life and move away from his turbulent past. However, Kaylie has become convinced her brother was innocent and that something unnatural is at play. Kaylie, who works at an auction house, has recently come across the very same oversized, 400 year-old mirror that she believes is responsible for their parents' deaths. Moving back to their old house and installing surveillance equipment, Kaylie and Tim hope to record evidence of the supernatural being. A Blumhouse Productions creation – the same people who brought you Paranormal Activity – Oculus, as luck would have it, steers clear of the increasingly overdone found-footage approach, despite what its trailer might suggest. Instead, director Mike Flanagan seems inspired by the horror films of the 70's and 80's, like recent flicks, The Conjuring and Sinister, and paints the mood of the film with a slow-burning tone of dread and an ominous fear of the unknown. The film transitions between the past and present wonderfully, all while keeping you on the edge of your seat. Gillan, the Scottish-born actress known for her role in TV's Doctor Who, proves to be a relatively solid lead and manages to paint Kaylie with an equal blend of self-determination and fear, while Thwaites' doe-eyed qualities comes across as a little too sappy. Sadly, Oculus is not without faults. The film is never fully realised as a story and although it provides its share of scare, it's all really rather forgettable.

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Cairo Weekend Guide: Caféx , Wasleens, Cairo Bites & More!

Hello Cairo! Another long weekend – hooray! It'd be easy to take a few days to hibernate , but there's far too much to do across the city. As per every Thursday, Cairo's bars and clubs are coming out all guns blazing; Baher Eid and Aly B take to the decks at Maadi's Tipsy Bar & Lounge, Minus T ret