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Grand Kunafa: Classic Egyptian & Lebanese Desserts in Mohandiseen
Published On: 19/08/2014

Discovering the true essence of life in Cairo involves dipping and diving into the most unlikely of places; looking beyond the garish and the gaudy; finding something completely unexpected. This is often the case with the city's dining scene, across the thousands upon thousands of restaurants, cafes and bakeries. The shops and restaurants change so often it's impossible to keep up and there's something around every corner and in every alleyway. On our most recent tour to Mohandiseen, we came across a small store with a big sign that said 'Grand Kunafa' – almost as a proclamation of sorts. There are two small tables outside, but we recommend you take your food to go because Syria Street isn't the quietest place. Neither is it the most comfortable – in fact, it just isn't the most pedestrian friendly. As the name suggests, the shop specialises in konafa and other classic Oriental sweets – even selling them by the portion. Our first experience was with the smallest size offered was the Konafa with Cheese (20LE). Readily put-together and kept on a metal plate in a fridge, the Konafa goes onto a coal grill for 20 minutes upon ordering. Although this sounds like a lot of time for a simple serving of konafa, our patience was rewarded. The konafa was hot, golden and crispy, covering a thick layer of ricotta cheese. The cheese melted and pulled like a pizza, and the best thing about it was that it wasn't overly greasy. Afterwards, we ordered a small Nabulsiya Extra with Cream and Pistachio (15LE). Divided into four layers, two layers of finely ground konafa has a layer of cream and it's all topped with a pistachio paste. While the Nabulsiya wasn't as good as the coal grilled konafa, we can't deny we enjoyed the taste of the pistachio coupled with the syrup typically used on Oriental sweets. Our last order was a Hareesa with Almonds and Cashews (10LE) which, unfortunately, lacked any flavour at all; flavour that was almost entirely dominated by the nuts. Grand Kunafa isn't the most refined-looking place selling Oriental sweets and desserts. More than most, Cairenes are creatures of habit – especially when it comes to food. Will Grand Kunafa blow your mind? Probably not; but it's easily reachable location makes it a good back-up.

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Akasya: Serene Breakfast Spot in Maadi
Published On: 19/08/2014

Known for its greenery and quiet, Maadi is host to a number of restaurants and cafes offering breakfast options for fans of the sunny outdoors. Among these is Akasya; a restaurant that takes up the space that was once occupied by Euro Deli on Road 232. Retaining much of the same décor and outdoor area that made Euro Deli so popular, breakfast was in order. Visiting early in the morning makes the August sun more bearable, and the staff are noticeably more attentive when there are less people there. We took our seats garden-side, and dove into a menu that's comprised of a number of breakfast options including crepes, omelettes, bagels and sandwiches. They also offer pizza, pasta and chicken, beef and shrimp main courses if you'd rather come by for lunch or dinner. We opted for Cheese Sambousak (20LE) from the appetisers, Spinach with Cheese Crepe (34LE) and a Roast Beef with Cheddar Baguette (26LE). Serving time can be rather long, though this time around, we'd say it was average. Given that the restaurant wasn't crowded, and our orders were fairly simple to make, they should've been served faster. Eventually, four pieces of Cheese Sambousak arrived on a bed of lettuce at our table; the dough was nice and crunchy, but the cheese was rather bland and was in dire need of some kind of seasoning. The Spinach and Cheese Crepe arrived next; essentially a blob of cheese and oozing with spinach and cream cheese – and not in the good way. The ratio of filling to crepe was extremely off, you could hardly taste any crepe through the ridiculous amount of cheese and the sheer amount of oil spilling out. We hoped the Roast Beef sandwich could salvage the breakfast, but we were wrong. The decently-sized, toasted baguette contained lettuce, mayo, melted cheddar cheese and thick slices of roast beef. While we certainly appreciate the use of real roast beef and not the processed and packaged supermarket kind, it had no flavour whatsoever. The sandwich tasted like cheese, mayo, stale lettuce and a large, very chewy object resembling meat but tasting nothing like it thanks, once again, to a severe lack of seasoning. While the food was disappointing, the cheque was pretty inexpensive and the atmosphere was great. Akasya's outdoor area is perfect for people who work on the go or like to have business meetings outside the office, but maybe try the omelettes instead?

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Guardians of the Galaxy: New, Quirky Addition to the Marvel Universe
Published On: 18/08/2014

Emerging from a lesser-known comic-book line, James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy – Marvel's tenth, and possibly quirkiest, offering – proves to be a risk well taken. Set entirely in the galactic immensity of outer space, Guardians of the Galaxy follows the story of Peter Quill (Pratt); a twenty-six-year-old Earthling who was abducted as a young boy and raised by The Ravegers –  an alien gang of thieves led by the notorious, Yondu (Rooker). Far away from home, Peter – a.k.a Star Lord – now roams the cosmos and soon comes across a special orb; a silver infinity stone that holds an incredible amount of power.  Unfortunately, he's not the only interested party and he is soon confronted by Korath (Hounsou); the right-hand man of one of the most villainous terrorists in the galaxy, Ronan (Pace), who wants to use the orb to overthrow a rival civilization run by Nova Prime (Close). Intrigued by the high interest in his new discovery, Peter turns his back on Yondu, who sends assassin, Gamora (Saldana), to retrieve the orb. He also soon attracts the attention of bounty hunters, Rocket (voiced by Cooper) – a sly raccoon warrior – and his best pal, talking tree-like human, Groot (voiced by Diesel). After causing a public disturbance, Peter and his pursuers are soon put in prison and form a temporary bond, along with muscular inmate, Draz (Bautista), in order to break out and prevent the precious stone from falling into the wrong hands. Written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman, Guardians of the Galaxy is refreshingly off-beat, steadfast and full of character. Visually, Gunn paints his intergalactic backdrop with plenty of colour, however some of the CGI tends to feel a little overcooked and the action-scenes – although pretty entertaining– feel a little unrefined. Pratt – whose character and performance has already drawn comparisons to Harrison Ford's Indiana Jones – proves to be a solid and extremely likable lead, while Saldana uses her trademark femme fatale penchant to great use . However, it's Cooper as the chatty and cheeky raccoon, Rocket, and Diesel as the human-tree, Groot, that steal the show, adding a whimsy rarely seen in modern comic-book film adaptations. Without household comic-book names to inject a bit of weight into proceedings, this is a film that could have found itself in the annals of failed comic-book adaptations, alongside Marvel flops such as Daredevil, Elektra and Ghost Rider. But, armed with a funky 70's soundtrack, likable characters, a witty temperament and thrilling action, Guardians of the Galaxy has arrived at the perfect time for Marvel, who – despite huge box office earnings with Captain America, The Avengers et al – were in dire need of a fresh canvas.

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IKEA Restaurant: Wholesome Scandinavian Dishes at Cairo Festival City's Biggest Attraction
Published On: 18/08/2014

People have raved about IKEA's Restaurant for years. With the Swedish home furnishing giant having landed in Cairo at the end of last year, you can be sure they brought along their restaurant which occupies an entire floor at their venue in Cairo Festival City. IKEA's food market is known for offering Swedish (or Scandinavian) food and groceries including meatballs and salmon. The meatballs in gravy with mashed potatoes might be their most famous dish so we decided to stop by since we were in the area. Relatively easy to get to from the inside, we took a set of escalators up to the restaurant which is spaced out like a cafeteria. The concept is interesting; customers take a tray and are served what they want from the buffet. When you're done, you pay at the cashier. Later you can deposit you're tray in allocated areas. The idea takes from the same corporate attributes that IKEA employ to reduce end user cost. So we proceeded to the buffet and opted for the 15 piece portion of Meatballs with Mashed Potatoes and gravy (35LE) and Herbed Grilled Chicken with Basmati Rice (39LE). We also tested out the Salmon Cake (12LE) and that's what we dug into first. Basically, it's a ball of mashed potatoes stuffed with cooked salmon and covered in a layer of fried breading. The cake is hot on the inside and has a nice mix of textures between the tender salmon, creamy potatoes and slight crunch of breading. While the meat balls were tasty, especially with the gravy, we couldn't help but feel they were a little stale. It might the fact that we knew they were frozen and sent over from Sweden. The mashed potatoes were creamy and similarly complimented nicely by the gravy. The Grilled Chicken, made with rosemary in the marinade, had a strong herby aroma and, along with its sauce, created a good harmony with the Basmati Rice, which has a herby flavour of its own. All in all, a pleasant experience that definitely beats having to go hungry while shopping. Would we ever go there specifically for the restaurant? Unlikely; it's too far out and there's all of Cairo Festival City behind you with countless other restaurants. But for what it is - a decent and relatively cheap meal - it definitely works.

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Red Mango: US Frozen Yoghurt Chain Comes to Citystars
Published On: 17/08/2014

Frozen yoghurt; the one refreshing, relatively healthy but madly over-priced snack we all have a love-hate relationship with. We're always up for an icy cup of this delicious treat and so when American franchise, Red Mango, came to town, we rushed to get a taste. Located in the Mosaique Dining Zone, the shop is somewhat secluded from Citystars' usual hustle and bustle. The whole design and colour scheme of the place is definitely different from the usual bright, multi-coloured ones other frozen yoghurt stores have. The seating area's quite adequate, boasting a few tables, and the store was generally not crowded. Upon finding out that this was our first visit, the staff kindly informed us about all the items on the surprisingly big menu. Red Mango not only offers frozen yoghurt, but also fro-yo smoothies, parfaits, fresh fruit juices, organic coffees, frappes, and sweet and savoury waffles. Most items on the menu are low-fat and low in calories, making it perfect for health-conscious foodies. The staff didn't stop there; they also offered us samples of all frozen yoghurt flavours. Disappointingly, though, Red Mango only offers six  flavours in Egypt, despite it offering upwards of twenty different flavours in the US. The original flavour tasted predictably bland, and quite honestly unappealing. The Pomegranate, Strawberry and Green Apple flavours all tasted extremely similar and pretty dull for our taste buds. However, the Mango flavour was delightfully sweet and the strongest of the fruit flavours. We finally settled on a Vanilla Madagascar with four toppings (32LE); mangoes, cherries, granola and crushed almonds. Other topping choices include everything from cereal, walnuts, crushed Oreos, and M&Ms to refreshing kiwi, cherries, mangoes, watermelon and grapes. The Vanilla Madagascar flavour was a simple, yet rather luscious, concoction. Made with a mixture of vanilla yoghurt and cinnamon, which complimented each other greatly, it was a refreshing and delicious new flavour that we recommend you try. As for the toppings, the mangos were fresh and tasty, while the granola was toasted to a lovely crisp. The slivered almonds, however, were tasteless, but the real shocker was the un-pitted cherries, which left us with unwanted seeds in our mouths and aching teeth. All in all, the Red Mango presents an adequate frozen yoghurt experience - neither wow-ing nor hugely disappointing us. At best, it was average. This is mainly caused by the fact that only one flavour out of the six stood out. There's also the fact that for just a small cup of frozen dairy, you end up paying a lot.

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The Expendables 3: Mindless New Addition to Testosterone-Fuelled Action Series
Published On: 17/08/2014

Expanding further on its already wobbly and tedious premise, the third installment of the Sylvester Stallone-led testosterone-filled franchise is exactly what you would expect it to be; loud, senseless and utterly brainless. Directed by Patrick Hughes, The Expendables 3 opens with Barney Ross (Stallone) and his dependable crew of rowdy mercenaries, Lee Christmas (Statham), Gunner (Lundgren), Toll Road (Couture)  and Ceaser (Crews), rescuing and breaking Doctor Death – a.k.a "Doc" – (Snipes) out of prison. After a series of unnecessary explosions, the team decides to take a quick trip to Somalia and take part in a CIA-operated mission to eliminate a black market arms dealer from the scene. However, the mission proves tricky when the group is confronted by Stonebanks (Gibson); a backbiting businessman - and an ex-member of the crew - who holds personal ties with Barney. The team ends up taking a huge and an unexpected blow and, after almost losing one of his members, Barney promises to track down Stonebanks – with the help of CIA Agent Drummer (Ford) – and seek revenge. Wanting to keep his dear friends out of line of fire, Barney and recruitment specialist, Bonaparte (Grammer), begin putting together a much-younger team of mercenaries, which include the tech savvy, Thorn (Powell), no-nonsense tomboy, Luna (Rousey), weapons expert, Mars (Ortiz) and Smilee (Lutz). Not wanting to miss out on the action, Trench (Schwarzenegger) also joins the team. Their mission? Find Stonebanks and, if circumstances allow, bring him back alive. Let's be honest; the novelty of watching this peculiar but impressive assembly of 80's and 90's action superstars - all thrown together in one massive concoction of muscle, guns and testosterone – has worn off. While the first two films offered a bit more appeal – mainly thanks to the cast's obvious sense of self-awareness at their very own absurd existence - The Expendables 3 chooses to go in another direction. Taking itself a little too seriously this time, it seems like the boys are running on fumes; the witty one-liners have been replaced by one too many explosions,  the action scenes feel erratic, shaky and incoherent, the pacing is rather clumsy and the predictability levels have reached their all-time high. The addition of Gibson and Banderas is probably the best aspect of the entire film; Gibson shows what real acting looks like and Banderas – as the unemployed warrior looking for a kill – infuses the story with the much-needed energy. As for the rest, it's the same old story - old being the operative word – though there is still enough to keep fans happy.

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Scalini: Poor Food at a Great Location in Maadi
Published On: 17/08/2014

There's a constant back and forth with restaurants in Cairo; some choose a prime location, and others choose prime food. Rarely do you find both, especially when importing ingredients is not only expensive, but requires special licensing. The newest contender falls into the prime location category. Located on a corner spot in Maadi, Scalini boasts a comfortable outdoor seating area, decent shisha and a menu that is dominated by, but not exclusive to, Italian cuisine. The restaurant has nothing even remotely related to Italian décor, however; instead it usesa brown and beige colour scheme across tiling, plastic tables and chairs.  Already popular amongst football fans, the restaurant can get very crowded on match nights but is generally comfortable on a normal night. A waiter escorted us to an empty table and handed us menus that offered all the regular options of starters, salads and main courses, but also included breakfast and bakery items. We opted for a Mexican Salad (32.5LE), Beef Stroganoff (75.5LE) and a Steak & Cheese with Mushroom sandwich (33.5LE). While serving time was average, the sitting outside in the summer may prove to be a bit much. Keep that in mind if you're going in the day. The Mexican Salad arrived first, supposedly containing fried chicken, mixed cheese, corn, red beans, lettuce and bell peppers. What we received was cucumbers, tomatoes, olives and white cheese with fried chicken and a side of Thousand Island dressing. We're unsure if this was a mix-up in the kitchen or if they were missing some ingredients, but either way, the flavours didn't blend, and the salad wasn't very good. Next came the Beef Stroganoff main course and the Steak & Cheese sandwich. The Stroganoff comes with your choice of two sides; we opted for sautéed vegetables and mashed potatoes. We had previously never seen pickled cucumbers floating around this dish, but there's a first time for everything no? While the portion was big, the flavour just wasn't refined enough. The meat, along with the gravy, tasted bland at best. Even the sautéed vegetables had more flavour than the meat, while the mashed potatoes were nice and creamy. The Steak & Cheese sandwich was a disaster. The meat was bland, the mozzarella cheese was dry, there were hardly any mushrooms and, although the menu doesn't say so, there were plenty of olives and bell peppers. To top it all off, the sandwich was cold and just downright unappealing. All in all the experience was poor. While the staff was swift and friendly in seating us and taking our orders, and the venue itself is a decent atmosphere for drinks and a shisha, the food was a major disappointment.

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Hercules: Entertaining but Forgettable Action Flick
Published On: 14/08/2014

Loosely based on the graphic novel, Hercules: The Thracian War, this is the second film of 2014 to depict the legendary Greek warrior, after the rather disappointing The Legend of Hercules. Hercules, starring former WWE wrestler, Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson, in the titular role, offers enough action and bravado while to distract from the film's overdone and one-dimensional premise. Having earned the title of legend – for being the son of Zeus and the mortal Alcmene –Hercules (Johnson), along with his loyal band of warriors Autolycus (Sewell), Atalanta (Berdal), Amphiaraus (McShane), Tydeus (Hennie) and Lolaus (Ritchie) is now a cold-hearted mercenary that travels the country to dig for gold. Haunted and tormented by his turbulent past, Hercules looks for a way to retire and retreat from his life as a mercenary. Soon, he is approached by Ergenia (Ferguson); the daughter of Cotys (Hurt), the King of Thrace, with an offer to assist the King by training his army of farmers, and helping him defeat the threat of attack by the ruthless invader Rhesus (Santelmann). Hercules is happy to take on the challenge but as he delves deeper into battle, he realises that he cannot escape his past and if he is to prove that he is worthy of the title, he must first face his demons before he can ever reclaim his position as the legendary demigod. The one thing that Brett Ratner's Hercules gets right is the casting. Dwayne Johnson is the perfect choice for the role and thanks to his figure, infectious charm and overall presence, he manages to carry most of the film on his broad, muscular shoulders. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the supporting cast, whose impact and significance to the story is of little consequence. Hercules is filled with plenty of violent, sword-swinging action and the battle scenes are, for the most part, pretty brutal but equally interesting to look at.  As for the drama and the sentiment behind the story of a fallen hero, well, it's nonexistent. Ratner infuses plenty of humour and wit into the proceedings– a la Indiana Jones – as well as a few heavyweight moments that are meant to demythologise the renowned figure, which, unfortunately only serves make the film unfocused. Often bloody, occasionally silly, but admittedly entertaining, Johnson stands to be the only reason to see Hercules; an amusing but relatively forgettable story of the legendary warrior.

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Coldplay: Ghost Stories
Published On: 14/08/2014

"I think of you...I haven't slept"; the opening lyrics to Coldplay's sixth studio album Ghost Stories. The opening track, Always in My Head, leaves little to the imagination when it comes to Chris Martin's heartache. Released just two months after the band's lead singer split, or "consciously uncoupled", with his wife Gwyneth Paltrow, it is no coincidence that the album's bursting with such despair-filled lyrics. The album's cover adds an element of creativity to it. At first glance, you see two angel wings etched over a gloomy, star-filled sky. Take a second look at it after listening to the melancholic track-list and you find yourself seeing a heart equally broken into two.  Magic, the album's single, follows through with a humble yet achingly beautiful and consistent drum beat under Martin's smooth vocals making this tune calm and soothing to the mind. The same band that, almost 14 years ago, released the ever-loved 'Yellow' crooning that the "stars shine" for their beloved, now describe them as "a sky full of stars" in the second single of the album. 'A Sky Full of Stars' is a , peculiur, collaboration with Swedish DJ, Avicii, and is possibly the only track on the album that enticed us to move a few joints along with its hyper-electric tunes.  The equally gleeful music video features a rather happy Chris Martin casually strolling through streets, strumming his guitar and carrying his drum set on his back as passer-by's cheer him on. 'True Love' presents perhaps the most sob-worthy lyrics as Martin wilfully pleads "Just tell me you love me... if you don't, then lie to me" along the chilled-out, mellow background beat.  The same tone is set for pretty much most of the album with Another's Arms, Oceans and Midnight all hosting the same theme of a shattered love.  The songs' slow, relaxed melodies offer quite the paradox when compared to Mylo Xyloto, the band's fifth album's  feet-stomping, head-bobbing tunes; the likes of Paradise and Hurts Like Heaven. 'O', the final song on the sorrow-ridden album sent a chill down our spines as it sounded like a ballad straight out of a Bon Iver album. Martin's high-pitched yet soft extended wails quickly reminded us of an old favourite; Bon Iver's I Can't Make You Love Me. Ghost Stories, with its gothic tones and aching lyrics definitely, at times, made us flinch. The album's chilled out vibe, however, make it quite perfect for listening to whilst calmingly lying on the beach, taking a lonesome walk or simply being in the mood for something a little more mellow.

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Freshi Ice Sticks: Refreshing Frozen Treats in Citystars
Published On: 13/08/2014

Conveniently located all over malls in Cairo, chances are, you've passed by a Freshi kiosk whilst tearing your way through the summer sales at your nearest shopping complex. Being die-hard shopaholics and lovers of a good bargain ourselves, we've seen them everywhere. The striking red kiosk is hard to miss with its and bright yellow logo and huge array of colourful popsicles that can easily be seen from a distance. After a long day on your feet going from store to store, this ice-cold treat was very welcome. We stopped by and inquired about the flavours of the popsicles which all, much to our delight, cost only 12LE. The vendor was extremely friendly, funny and happy to tell us about all the flavours they offer – which were plentiful. From the sinfully chocolatey Nutella to light fruit cocktails and absolutely sugar-free, diet-friendly yoghurt, Strawberry and Chocolate flavours, a diet is no excuse here. They also offer more creative options like Cheesecake, Oreo and Cappuccino. On the vendor's recommendations, we went for the Raspberry-Yoghurt flavour and the sugar-free Strawberry flavour – we were not disappointed. Seeing as how there is no seating area, we gladly took our popsicles to-go and enjoyed them as we strolled around the mall. The Raspberry-Yoghurt flavour was light, creamy and delicious, but the raspberry-yoghurt ratio, however, was rather unbalanced and the yoghurt dominated most of the flavour. The Strawberry popsicle really took us by surprise; we honestly felt like we were biting into fresh, frozen strawberries. It did not, at all, taste like bland diet food and it was quite hard to believe that something this good was absolutely guilt-free. All in all, Freshi was a delightful discovery as it offers fresh, light, and affordable treats and can be found in countless malls all over Cairo. The staff was pleasant and helpful and the popsicles tasted just as amazing as they looked. We will definitely be going back again for more of the flavours.

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Cairo 360 Takes the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge!

The Cairo 360 team has today taken on the ALS Bucket Challenge and we've challenged a few of our good friends to follow suit. A group of our bravest souls were on hand to make a donation and contribute to an online craze that has seen people from across the world dump buckets of ice and water over t