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Pottery Café: Laid Back Branch of Popular Café in New Cairo’s Meeting Point
Published On: 24/01/2015

Egypt's endless collection of cafés seems to have a single identifier: excessive noise. While occcasions often call for the hustle and bustle of a Cairo cafe, one needs to hang out somewhere hushed and more relaxed every now and again for the sake of one's sanity. Located in one of New Cairo's Meeting Point, Pottery Cafe offers a small indoor seating area, as well as a less attractive, semi-indoor, tent-covered seating area.  Opting for the indoor seating area, we took our seats amongst the almost exclusively white interior, with the exception of a single, brightly coloured wall. The café was neither packed, nor noisy in any way during our visit, making for a generally tranquil ambiance. A waiter made his way to us a couple of minutes later, with menus in hand. For those not familiar with the popular chain, Pottery Café surprisingly offers an adequate selection of dishes, considering it does not label itself as a restaurant. From salads, pizzas, pastas, fajitas, steaks, sandwiches and burgers to basic desserts, one can definitely assemble a filling meal here. As for drinks, everything from frappes, smoothies, milkshakes and juices are offered. As soon as we made up our mind, our waiter came by and immediately jotted down our order, arriving back with it about 30 minutes later. Our margarita pizza (33LE) came with the requested toppings of black olives (10LE) and mushrooms (6LE) and was satisfactory yet unspectacular, as was the Quattro Formaggi pizza (42LE). Both were cooked well and without any disastrous faults, but simply lacked any flair or points of interest, so to speak. The Fettuccini Alfredo pasta (39LE) was, on the other hand, quite lip-smacking with the cream sauce having just the right consistency and the penne pasta being well-cooked. It did, however, lack a considerable amount of chicken cubes. In a nutshell, though branding itself as a café, Pottery Café does a sufficient job at offering an ample array of food options. Though the pizzas were, at best, average, the pasta was quite delectable. And, lest we forget, the café's general quietness is refreshing and its service to be on point.

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Taken 3: Action Trilogy Taken As Far As it Can Go
Published On: 22/01/2015

Sinking further and deeper into its very own rabbit-hole of absurdity, Taken 3 – the third and hopefully last chapter in Luc Besson's generally well-liked but unmistakably flawed Taken trilogy – has finally outstayed its welcome.  Abandoning logic and pretty much everything that connects its concluding statement to any of its predecessors, Taken 3 disappoints and not even Bryan Mills – and his special set of skills – can save it from its demise. Directed by Olivier Megaton, Taken 3 takes us to the sunny streets of Los Angeles where ex-government operative, Bryan Mills (Neeson), is adapting to his relatively quiet and uneventful single life. Realising that his daughter Kim (Grace) is no longer the little girl he wants her to be, Bryan continues to look for ways to become a part of her life, while his ex-wife, Lenore (Janssen) – who is experiencing marital problems with her husband, Stuart (Scott) – is trying to become a part of his once more. It doesn't take long before Bryan is swung into action when Lenore is found murdered in his very own apartment and, just like Harrison Ford in the Fugitive, Bryan is the suspect. Escaping from the hands of the law, our hero – with the help of some old friends –  sets off to carry out his own investigation, in the hopes of finding the person responsible before he's caught by Agent Dotzler (Whittaker). Apart from the title and the central characters, Taken 3 shares very little common thread or connective tissue with any of its previous instalments. The Euro-action grit introduced in the first movie is long gone and tension has been reduced to a simmer; a handful of dubious Eastern European, unforgiving plot holes and the over-zealous editing leave the film hollow of what made the previous films stand above the usual action spiel. Neeson, who allegedly did all his own fight sequences, is still his capable and charming self, however, the improbability of the situations he finds himself in – not to mention the laws of gravity he dares test – fall into typical Hollywood ridiculousness. The ever dependable Whittaker serves to be a wonderful addition to the film, though his talents, along with the story's initial potential and appeal, are shamelessly underused.  

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Maktoob Bookstore: Unassuming Used-Book Shop in Zamalek
Published On: 21/01/2015

In a city like Cairo, you never know what's around the corner and, quite often, the best experiences are the ones that happen out of chance. We took a wrong turn onto Yehia Mahmoud Street in Zamalek and stumbled upon a recently opened gem called Maktoob Bookstore. With simple decor, it's noticeably different to some of the more popular bookshops in Cairo, in the sense that the art of writing doesn't feel like a manufactured product here. The brown walls and many paintings were the first things to attract our attention when we walked in. To the right are a resting area and a small board for advertisements, while to the left is where you find the Arabic books. Through a hallway occupied by children and pre-teen books you reach the backroom that houses all the English books. The collections themselves are not large in any one genre, but the idea is that most of the copies are used, which adds a certain value to them to the avid reader. Novels make up most of the English section, like old editions of Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea costing 25LE or the newer edition costing 80LE. Other authors included Agatha Christie, whose collection cost 30LE per book, while in the newer contemporary writers we found Danielle Steel books to also cost 30LE. Other books on offer include self help and development books, and autobiographies include Bill Clinton's My Life which cost 119LE. The Arabic section is similarly split between classics like Yousef Edris and Yousef El Sebai, and contemporary writers like Ahmed Mourad and Yousef Zidan. Son'allah Ibrahim's El 'Emama w Al Koba'a costs 19LE while Naguib Mahfouz's Awlad Haretna costs 45LE. Additionally, there are international novels translated in Arabic, the most interesting of which was a very old edition of Anton Chekhov's Three Sisters – translated from Russian – and cost just 2.50LE. Like any other bookstore there's also a stationary section, but it's very small by comparison. What sets Maktoob apart, however, is that they allow loaning books on a monthly subscription. A personal subscription costs 180LE and will allow you to take out ten books – two books at a time maximum – and a 30LE gift voucher. The family subscription, costing 350LE, allows you twenty books – five at a time – and a 75LE gift voucher. This can all be done through their website. While many discerning Cairenes value all things new and shiny, there's an intangible charm that makes Maktoob's existence as both a bookshop and a library, of sorts, rather unique.

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Rigoletto: Classic Egyptian Ice Cream Chain Opens Shabby New Branch in Maadi
Published On: 21/01/2015

When it comes to confectionaries and buying sweets in Egypt, people rarely stray from what they've tried and tested. Every time your parents visit someone and bring konafa, basboosa or gateau, we can guarantee it's always from the same vendor - Egyptians are a habitual people. Egypt's oldest ice cream vendor, Rigoletto, is no different. Having been around since the late 1980s, Rigoletto is known for not just the ice cream, but for cakes and other goodies as well. With a new branch on Road 233 in Maadi, we thought we would go check it out. Now, if you have never tried Rigoletto before, this particular venue will not entice you to. Extremely underwhelming, the venue consists of white walls, a cake fridge and an ice cream fridge. There is no décor and there's no ambiance. Now, most vendors could never pull that off, but when you have an extremely well known brand, nobody really cares about what the store looks like, so long as the sweets are still good. So without further fuss we opted for a slice of Cheesecake (14LE) and two scoops of Vanilla Croquant Ice Cream (16LE). The full size cheesecakes cost either 80LE or 100LE depending on the size, while the ice cream can also come in 150ml boxes (10LE) or 1L boxes (55LE). Our server swiftly prepared our orders offering to top the cheesecake with strawberry syrup for an additional 5LE. We agreed and took our desserts to the car, because there's nowhere to sit. The Cheesecake was very delicious and had an interesting consistency that worked particularly well with the crust. The syrup might be too sweet for some, especially since the taste of cream cheese isn't very striking, so it isn't for the faint hearted. The Vanilla Croquant Ice Cream was a pleasure as well. Topped with caramel and hazelnuts, the blend of flavors and textures gives a new dimension to the creamy ice cream. While the brand name carries a reputation and a loyalty, resting on your laurels is a dangerous game to play; there's so much competition these days that this new branch of Rigoletto may find that, despite, their consistent quality, the trendier brands might trump them in the long run.

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The Woman in Black 2: Cliched & Unnecessary Horror Sequel
Published On: 20/01/2015

James Watkins' 2012's The Woman in Black –  led by one Daniel Radcliffe – was named one of the best British horror films of the past twenty years, so it comes as no surprise that a sequel, The Woman in Black 2 – a dreary follow-up which unfortunately fails to re-capture the mood and tone of the original – was quickly set to follow. Directed by Tom Harper, The Woman in Black 2 is set forty-years after the events of its predecessor and plays out against the backdrop of WWII, as a number of orphaned children are evacuated to the countryside for safety. Schoolteachers, Eve Parkins (Fox) and Jean Hogg (McCrory), are put in charge of helping to evacuate eight orphans out of the city and are tasked to take them to the abandoned Eel Marsh House, where they're expected to set up camp until things back in the city settle down. Amongst the group of foundlings, is Edward (Pendergast); a young and a seemingly troubled boy who, after witnessing the death of his parents, has become temporarily mute and only communicates through notes and drawings.  It doesn't take long before Eve – someone who has taken a special liking to Edward – begins noticing that something is off and that the young boy is being troubled by an evil presence (a.k.a The Woman in Black). Like so many horror sequels, The Woman in Black 2 is nothing but a futile and a poorly constructed cash-grab. While the misty aesthetics manage to add a bit of the creepiness to the overall proceedings, the story – which has already been assessed and probed from all angles in the original – doesn't really know where to go, let alone sustain the interest of the audience who will almost certainly see the jump-scares coming from a mile away. Taking every single horror cliché and failing to provide and infuse any real depth or meaning to the character's individual arcs, the performance, as a result, were equally ineffective. The drama is non-existent and the frights are cheap and relatively short-lived, ultimately, branding the film completely redundant.

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The Backyard: Mean Burgers at Hidden Maadi Hangout
Published On: 20/01/2015

Along the ever-changing Road 9, restaurants and cafes come and go so fast it's difficult to keep up – and it's even harder to predict which will flourish. With a multitude of age ranges coming through, some venues struggle to serve everyone, while others excel at having a single target market. Walking through a small hallway next to Wok and Walk reveals the aptly named Backyard; a Brooklyn-esque open area with graffiti painted walls, artificial grass and a very young crowd. The music is pretty loud and not quite fit for a quiet relaxing meal. We found ourselves seats on the wooden tables and chairs resembling garden furniture and, when a waiter saw us, he proceeded to place menus on our table.  The menu is built on a selection of appetisers, burgers and fries options and we tried the Bacon (51.50LE) and Guacamole (47LE) burgers with Curly Fries (18LE) and Chilli Fries Con Carne (23LE) as well as their signature Backyard Burger (59LE). Additionally, we opted for a Camembert Bites (20LE) appetiser. The Backyard also offers breakfast options and there's a pastries section in a separate building across from the kitchen which has an interesting selection of cakes, macaroons and other sweet delicacies. The Camembert Bites were served first with a perfectly crunchy exterior and a delicious garlic aioli dip. Shortly afterwards came the fries and burgers. Although we weren't asked how we would like the burgers cooked, the Bacon – which features a tasty 160g patty topped with fresh lettuce, tomatoes and very tasty beef bacon – was served at a very comfortable medium. The Guacamole, on the other hand, was slightly undercooked, leaving the patty slightly more pink than desirable. The tasty guacamole and nacho chip toppings made for interesting textures and the overall taste was definitely pleasant. The Backyard Burger, a monstrosity of beef, bacon, mushrooms on a donut - that's right a donut - was particularly tasty but extremely messy because the donut isn't as big as a bun. The savoury flavors combined with the sweet donut might seem much to some - but the overall result was very filling. The Chili Fries, while not so generous in serving, were topped with a lot of cheese and a tasty, albeit not spicy, chilli, though it certainly beats most of the other chilli fries we've tried around Cairo. The Curly Fries, while a classic, just weren't as interesting after trying the chilli fries. All in all the food is delicious, but the loud music and younger crowd might make it favourable for some, but not for others. Though the Backyard presents little novelty in terms of concept, the overall sum of the parts ensure that, with Maadi's steady stream of youngsters with disposable income, it'll will be around for some time.

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Ruby Tuesday: American Diner Chain Still Holding its Own in Citystars
Published On: 19/01/2015

We always have a number of restaurants at the back of our heads that we know we can always rely on for a tasty, non-fussy meal and Ruby Tuesday happens to be one of them. Not feeling up for any eclectic dishes and wanting a taste of the familiar, we headed over to Ruby Tuesday to see if they're still at the top of their game. With dim lighting and dark wood panelling, the place is anything but tacky; the décor is simple and steers clear from any cliché American-diner references. The choice of background music playing, however, begged to differ with the bubble-gum pop hits of the 2005-2010 era playing non-stop during our whole visit. Our waiter greeted us outside and led us straight to a table in the requested non-smoking section, coming back a couple of minutes later with our menus. The menu offered more or less the same options it always has alongside new, rather interesting additions including: the Hickory Barbecue Chicken (65 LE), Hickory Barbeque Salmon (105LE), New Orleans Jambalaya (80LE) and the Black Fire New York Strip Steak (130LE), amongst others. We called on the waiter, who instantly came and took our order. Our soft drinks arrived in a matter of seconds and our food arrived about 20 minutes later. Our Double Combo Fajita (75 LE), comprised of grilled chicken and beef strips atop grilled vegetables, came with sides of spicy rice, tortilla bread, sour cream, cheese and salsa dip. The fajita arrived sizzling and both the chicken and the meat strips were cooked to perfection. The Parmesan Chicken Pasta (65LE) comprised of penne pasta topped with fried chicken strips and Swiss cheese drizzled in creamy parmesan sauce was, as its description suggests, sumptuous but oh-so-heavy. We found the mixture of cheese and creamy sauce to be a bit too hefty for our taste. The service at the eatery, we must say, was on point, with the waiter coming by towards the end of the meal to check that everything was alright. In a nutshell, Ruby Tuesday is still going strong, thanks to its alert, efficient waiters and its occasional new additions to the menu. The fajita was everything we had hoped for, but the same cannot be said for the pasta- it is definitely not for the faint of heart.

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Death Grips: Fashion Week
Published On: 19/01/2015

If ever there were a group worthy of research and study, one could make a good case for the Sacramento-based hip-hop phenomenon that is Death Grips. Mysterious, subversive and straight up confusing are some of the words used to describe this trio and their enigmatic, animalistic front man, MC Ride. Despite an apparent break-up and the subsequent cancellation of their run of dates opening for Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden, Death Grips have apparently still been creatively active and the sudden unannounced release of their instrumental album Fashion Week - which you can download for free from their official website - is a testament to that fact. The most immediate characteristic that will jump out to anyone familiar with their back catalogue is the absence of MC Ride, aka Stefan Burnett's barked, violent vocals. This may make the album slightly more accessible than previous releases like Exmilitary, The Money Store, and No Love Deep Web, but this is a double edged sword. Although it allows the production of former Hella drummer, Zach Hill, and Andy Morin, aka Flatlander, more space to breath, one can't help but feel that some of Ride's patented form of vocal violence wouldn't go amiss on tracks like the first 'Runway N' (yes, there are three tracks called 'Runway N'), where some of the unique production is a little too repetitive. However, the swirling electronic mess of tracks that is 'Runway's D,E,A,T, and H' flows together beautifully, culminating the melodic, siren-like synth line of 'Runway H' in what may be one of the best five-track runs you'll hear. That isn't to say that Death Grips' in-your-face aggression isn't present; tracks like the first 'Runway E' showcase the cacophonous and thumping drumming style that has made Zach Hill a mainstay on the modern noise rock scene. So, the brutality is there, but in a sparser, more metered fashion. The removal of Ride's vocals allows the group to experiment more with electronic melodies, textures, and sounds. It's something of an experiment, the results of which show a more mature, varied and accessible sound, whilst still retaining that patented Death Grips style. One can't help but feel that this is an album with a purpose beyond just being another Death Grips album. Rumours are flying around, suggesting that this is the promised soundtrack for Zach Hill's planned directorial film debut, whereas others believe that this release is, in fact, meant to be a soundtrack for a runway show at New York Fashion Week in February. The real purpose remains a mystery and, as is par for the course with Death Grips, we probably won't know until it happens. Probably the most unique release in Death Grip's catalogue to date, it is also the most mysterious, the strangest and in some ways, the most evolved. Although sacrificing Ride's vocals may seem like sacrilege to some of the more boneheaded of Death Grips' fanbase, this album shows that the genius of the group lies not only within the vocal delivery, but also the production. A couple of overly long tracks are the only blemishes on what is otherwise one of the cleverest, most exciting and most terrifying releases in a long time.

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Corner Eleven: Nice Atmosphere, Disappointing Food at Mohandiseen Restaurant & Cafe
Published On: 18/01/2015

Restaurants and cafes continue to pop up on Cairo's streets at an unprecedented pace; competition is fierce as each new venue tries to out-do the others with gimmicks, hooks and new ideas. One of the newest to open in Mohandiseen is Corner Eleven Restaurant & Café. Upon arrival, we were welcomed and swiftly shown to our table on the spacious upper floor. The décor is simple, almost indistinct at times, but various quirky touches and an overall sense of casual sophistication come together nicely and keep things interesting. We were blown away by the vast menu offering an array of options; from savoury crepes and pizzas to pastas, burgers and succulent-sounding main dishes. From the appetisers we opted for the Tex Mex Fries (31LE) and Classic Dip Nachos (36LE), before going for the Steak Sub Sandwich (37LE), the BBQ Chilli Burger (40LE), Pizza Margarita (35LE) and Chicken Paupiettes with a side of broccoli gratin and mashed potatoes (63LE). First, we were served a warm bread basket accompanied by three pleasant dips: olive tapenade, pico de gallo, and a ketchup-mayo dip. The Tex Mex Fries arrived first, topped with minced beef, jalapeno peppers and cheese; unfortunately, the fries lacked any crunch, leaving the dish a bit limp, albeit tasty. The Nachos were nowhere to be found. Our mains arrived thirty minutes later, with the Steak Sub in desperate need of some seasoning and more mozzarella. The burger fared better as a char-grilled slightly thin patty topped with BBQ chilli sauce tucked in a fresh bun. The pizza, meanwhile, suffered from a similar lack of seasoning – maybe some oregano or basil. We hoped the Chicken Paupiettes would salvage the experience, but unfortunately that wasn't the case. The chicken rolls were stuffed with olives, a dash of mozzarella and pastrami. The chicken was overcooked, leaving the main element of the dish extremely dry despite the generous serving of mushroom sauce made. The broccoli gratin, meanwhile, was merely some broccoli sautéed in butter, while the mashed potatoes were probably the best part of the meal; creamy and topped with a rather enjoyable sauce. We then had to point out to our waiter that the Nachos were forgotten. Served twenty minutes later, the chips were stale and all the components tasted noticeably un-fresh. As small as the imperfections in the food might have been, a little seasoning really does go along way and attention to detail – which was lacking – can be the difference. Compared to other similar venues, the prices at Corner Eleven are pretty reasonable; but for a place that has extolled the quality, variety and taste of its food, and subsequently lauded for that in various advertorials, the food met none of the expectations. One thing that the restaurant-cafe does have in its favour is its generally amiable atmosphere and it's difficult not to be tempted to dip into their hefty collection of board games.  

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Zo Asian Restaurant: Asian Restaurant's Hit-and-Miss Cairo Festival City Branch
Published On: 18/01/2015

Our love for the eclectic flavours of the Asian cuisine is limitless. With a combination of bold, spicy, sweet and sour ingredients, Asian dishes are ones we always look forward to. Hoping to refresh our taste buds, we headed to Zo's second branch in the New Cairo's Cairo Festival City Mall. Situated in the fountain area, amidst a handful of other restaurants, Zo is almost unrecognisable due to the lack of any bright sign signalling its presence, unlike it's Zamalek branch on 26th of July Street. It is, however, sharing the venue with another well-established chain-Makani. The venue is neither spacious nor constricting, with modestly-sized indoor and outdoor seating areas. We chose to sit outdoors, given the fact that our waiter offered us a table with its own heater. Zo's menu, which was instantly laid before us alongside the Makani menu, offers Asian dishes from China, Thailand and Korea. From spring rolls, soups, noodles, fried rice, curry, chicken-based, beef-based, as well as seafood dishes, the menu has an abundance of savoury items to choose from. The dessert section is, however, is quite limited with only cinnamon-smothered sweet potatoes (22LE) and ice cream-topped fried bananas (28LE) on offer. Our server swiftly came by to take our orders and was, both pleasant and helpful, aiding us in picking our desired dishes from the confusing choices offered in the menu. We ended up opting for the Crispy Bags (18.50LE), Sweet & Sour Chicken (480LE), Spicy & Sour Chicken (48 LE), Fried Rice with Chicken (22 LE) and Chinese Beef Noodles (40LE). a good thirty-five minutes later,  the Crispy Bags arrived and definitely looked the part. Consisting of mixed vegetable and tiny chicken chunks enveloped in crispy pastry accompanied by a sweet Thai chilli dip, it was an exquisite start to the meal. The main courses, all without an exception, came in rather smaller-than-expected portions. Fried chicken chunks on a bed of mixed vegetables drenched in a deliciously sweet and sour sauce pretty much sums up the Sweet & Sour Chicken, which we thought was bursting with flavour and cooked to perfection. The Spicy & Sour Chicken, served on the same bed of mixed vegetables, didn't fare as well, tasting just a bit too spicy for our liking. The Fried Rice was probably the most disappointing part of the night, tasting bland and lacking an ample amount of chicken. The Chinese Beef Noodles, on the other hand, had a generous portion of beef chunks and mushrooms interweaved within well-spiced noodles, making it the highlight of our main courses. Overall, Zo is the kind of hit-or-miss restaurant which simultaneously offers either mouth-watering dishes that you savour every bite of, or tremendously disappointing ones. Both, however, will come in rather small portions. Notably, the service, was quite stellar, disregarding the semi-long wait we had to endure for the food's arrival.

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Cairo Weekend Guide: Live Music, New Party Series & New Art

Hello Cairo! A three-day weekend beckons and the gods have gifted us with warmer weather. If ever there was a time to shake off the inevitable temptation of weekend idleness, it's now. Although, staying in bed and watching something on a laptop is also pretty sweet, actually. Whatever the case, ther