Cairo Reviews

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PepperS: Homely, Big-Portioned Oriental Food at Heliopolis Restaurant & Cafe
Published On: 07/02/2016

When it comes to restaurants and cafes, there's certainly no shortage of either. One of the latest to catch the collective Cairo 360 eye, is PepperS, which, located in the Almaza area, does a good job of standing out – largely thanks to its colourful exterior. Surrounded by luminous greens and cosy outdoorsy tables, Peppers has an inviting atmosphere with a spacious indoor interior, various colourful pepper motifs on the walls and a huge blackboard for guests to show off their talents or leave a comment – as well as a made-to-order pasta station. As soon as we were seated and handed the menus, we felt comfortable right away thanks to the excellent staff, who were consistently friendly, helpful and all-round cheery. After some thinking, we went for Beef Shawerma with hummus (18LE) from the starters section and Grilled Kofta (66LE) and Chicken Shawerma (46LE) for our mains. What's interesting is that we had originally ordered the Beef Knuckle Fattah (69LE), but were advised to go for something else by the chef, who admitted that the beef knuckles he had in the kitchen at the time of our visit were not fresh – a sign of a committed chef. Served with quarters of crunchy pita bread brushed with olive oil, the shawerma was well-spiced, tender and surrounded by hummus which was smooth, creamy yet thick enough to hold its texture. The entire ensemble was sprinkled with a couple of mint leaves as a nice finishing touch. Moving onto the mains, the roasted kofta was extremely satisfying, coming as four thick juicy pieces of well-seasoned lamb kofta and a serving of steamed sautéed vegetables and French fries – which were a little over-fried, but not so much as to ruin what was an excellent serving of classic Oriental food. Topped with fresh red and green peppers and served 'open face' on a baked pita, the grilled chicken shawerma chunks tasted more like chicken fajita, though they were seasoned well and moist, with a serving of creamy and slightly lumpy mashed potatoes and some short-grain steamed white rice which was perfectly spiced. Skimming the dessert section, which has some classics including Om Ali (36LE), Brownies with Ice Cream (39LE) and Cream Caramel (32LE), we opted for the latter. Covered with fresh whipped cream, caramel sauce and topped with fresh strawberries, the cream caramel had a golden colour and a creamy succulent sweet taste, though the serving was rather small. We washed our meals with some refreshing lemon mint juice (18LE), which was quickly followed by kiwi and a blueberry-flavoured shishas (40LE and 35LE) which were tended to well. On paper, PepperS doesn't offer anything particularly innovative with its dishes, save for little touches like the open face shawerma. However, as common as many of their dishes are, they sure execute them well, which in itself is something to shout about.

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Concussion: Will Smith Shines in Otherwise Pedestrian Biopic
Published On: 07/02/2016

After a series of questionable career choices – After Earth, Focus anyone? – Will Smith returns to form in Peter Landesman's biographical sport-drama, Concussion; an entertaining, but relatively safe, biopic. Concussion tells the story of Nigerian-born forensic neuropathologist, Dr. Bennet Omalu (Smith), who in 2002 makes a startling medical discovery when the body of a former American football player, who's reported erratic behaviour and mental instability led him to suicide, is brought in for an autopsy. Omalu's findings suggest that the persistent head trauma, which the players endure on daily basis out in the field, can cause permanent brain damage, which often leads to various mental disorders, including memory loss, anxiety and depression. Naming the disorder CET - Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy – Omalu decides to publish his findings in order to educate the public on the potential dangers of the game. Unfortunately for him, the NFL isn't too keen on what he has to say. Based on a true story that rocked professional sports in America, the film starts off on an investigative and relatively intriguing note by opening with the struggles and then the death of Hall of Fame football star, Mike Webster (Morse). This is when we are introduced to Omalu, whose quiet and yet somewhat quirky demeanour - he talks to his corpses before beginning an autopsy - doesn't sit all that well with his less traditional colleagues. Striking a good balance between highlighting Omalu's journey as an African-born doctor in America and later his struggles when dealing with the NFL, Concussion ticks most of the boxes of an affective biopic; however, the film often swerves into the melodramatic, which diminishes the weightiness of the story at times. In addition, the script doesn't take risks in unravelling the story from its very core; it would have been nice to see a bit more dirt hiding underneath NFL's impenetrable façade, for example, and the hurdle that the NFL presents to Omalu in publishing his findings never really seems challenging in any real way, leaving the film as a whole rather unrewarding. Luckily, Smith, in one of his best performances in years, is there to remind all of what a passionate and empathetic actor that he can be, even if the romantic subplot never really pays off. Intriguing and thought-provoking, Concussion works, but thanks to its safe approach, it never really resonates as the important or a must-see film that it could have been.

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Zamalek Art Gallery: 'The Magic Thread' by Souad Mardam Bey
Published On: 05/02/2016

Eyes are the windows to the soul; an old saying that was perfectly demonstrated in Zamalek Art Gallery's current exhibition, 'The Magic Thread'. 'The Magic Thread' features a collection of unique, childlike and somewhat eerie figurative paintings by Syrian artist, Souad Mardam Bey, who, through her artistic talent and devotion, conveys intense feelings through the eyes of each painting. Each painting portrays a different character; only it seems that the same captivating element in each one of them is the eyes, which seem to be filled with some sort of sadness or longing that can be further understood differently. One particular painting shows a female figure –a child most likely- with her head titled to the side, smelling a white-petal flower with large longing eyes which seem to be gazing right out of the canvas. Everything about this painting is simple and bland; except the eyes, which are much more detailed and slightly bigger than one would expect which draws the viewer in even further. The background of Bey's paintings are simple and exist purely of one flat colour; which is why more attention is drawn to the innocent childish figures painted on top portraying a 2D style, similar to the one you find in children's books. Another painting that stood out depicts a young girl figure or doll, dressed up in a floral pink dress and make-up, looking into a mirror with large sad eyes, a common element in many of Bey's artwork. 'The Magic Thread' is a title that not only draws on the childlike theme in this exhibition, but also evokes the idea of children's toys and dolls coming to life, especially through their expressive eyes-which seemed to be the central point of this exhibition. With its ray of unique large portraits and simple childlike style, Bey's exhibition is without a doubt captivating one and it succeeded to attract a large crowd among art connoisseurs in Cairo.

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The Finest Hours: Nautical Rescue Drama Just About Keeps its Head Above Water
Published On: 04/02/2016

Inspired by Casey Sherman and Michael J Tourgias' 2009 non-fiction book, The Finest Hours: The True Story of the U.S Coast Guard's Most Daring Sea Rescue, Craig Gillespie's rescue-drama is an occasionally compelling film, but bearing in mind this is supposed to be the retelling of one of the greatest sea rescues in the history of sea rescues, the end-result is a little flatter and isn't distinguished as one might expect. Taking place on 1952, off the coast of Massachusetts, a raging storm has caused two oil tankers - the SS Fort Mercer and SS Pendleton – to split in half. While most of the rescue boats have been deployed to assist the Mercer, the crew on Pendleton - led by the first assistant engineer, Ray Sybert (Affleck) – weren't able to send out a rescue signal and are now left at the mercy of the sea. Meanwhile on land, docile-looking Coast Guard captain, Bernie (Pine) has been given instructions by his commanding officer, Daniel (Bana) to undertake the risky rescue-mission after the Pendleton's location is discovered. Aware of the consequences, Bernie, along with a handful of men, heads out into the stormy night. What keeps The Finest Hours afloat, so to speak, is the fact that it's inspired by real-life events – this in itself gives the plot a sense of gravitas. If this was a fictional plot, however, it would have been thrown out long before it reached the big screen, despite, for the most part, telling its story in a relatively compelling and capable manner. The problem is that it's all a little run-of-the-mill. Giving the subjects of loyalty and bravery the classic, melodramatic Hollywood touch, the familiarity of the story is inviting, yes, but it's also highly derivative and predictable. In addition, the nautical jargon used in the film is confusing and keeping up with the technicalities distracts from the human elements of the plot. However, the film's biggest setback comes with the decision to screen it in 3D, which is not only distracting, but also terribly disorienting; most of the film takes place at night, so trying to keep up with what's going on is almost impossible. The performances offered by what is a solid cast, meanwhile, are engaging enough to keep things balanced – Pine is surprisingly reserved but affective, while Affleck shines as the skilful engineer. Overall, though, it's just not strong or heartfelt enough to keep its head above water (sorry, we can't help it) and deliver a story which fitting of its real-life story. 

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Night & Day: Exquisite Friday Brunch at InterContinental Cairo Semiramis
Published On: 03/02/2016

Overlooking the Nile and Cairo Tower, InterContinental Cairo Semiramis' Night & Day has it all on paper – a stunning view, live music and a Friday brunch buffet offering a diverse selection of international cuisines. Located by the Garden City hotel's lobby, the music can be heard all over the place, giving a fun positive vibe, once you enter the hotel. Greeted at the entrance, we felt welcome and pampered as we were shown to our table, with the lovely sunny view giving a sophisticated backdrop to the culinary experience (290LE per person) we were about to embark on. As we were still trying to figure out which station to start with, we were first greeted with a welcome drink made up of soda, coconut, lemon juice and a cherry on top; a great refreshing start. After a buffet tour courtesy of Night & Day's extremely friendly chefs, we started at the all-inclusive fresh salad bar, where we treated ourselves to an assortment of cold cuts, cheeses, breads and salads that boasted a variety to satisfy every pallet and an all-round freshness. Our first station into the main courses, we opted for some Mexican sausage – available in regular and spicy – which had a somewhat dry outer shell but great flavourful meaty filling. We also tried the chicken fajita wraps which had a crispy outer shell with a warm and satisfying chicken punch, perfectly complimented by sour cream and guacamole dips. Visiting Night & Day's Chinese station, we were served some crispy spring rolls. Fresh out of the oil, with a crunchy golden brown outer pastry, fresh cabbage and vegetables fillings, these were among the best spring rolls we've had in some time. Offering an array of mouth-watering grilled delicacies, our next stop was the grill station where we had a well-done lamb steak with gorgeous grill marks and an incredibly fresh taste, which we couldn't get enough of. A side of shish tawook on a stick gave a welcome contrast to the steak and tasted just as good. We wrapped up our grills fiesta with a large grilled salmon steak which had a melt-in-your-mouth pink texture and a sublime taste. We reached the soup station a little later in our tour, where we tried a Taiwanese soup comprised of coconut and mushroom which had a distinct flavour unlike any soup we've tried before. Making our way onwards to other never-ending stations, we stopped by another Asian culinary special which had classic Indian selections, including flavoured rice infused with boiled potatoes and grilled vegetables and chicken curry which had a spicy kick and a creamy smooth taste. Our last two stops before hitting dessert were the sushi bar; where we tried some tasty and fresh sushi bites and the pasta station where we tasted some over baked pasta which needed an extra kick in its flavours. Offering both Eastern and Western desserts and an exquisite chocolate fountain, the dessert station was a lounge of its own, with a chef's special one-meter-long mille feuilles with different fresh toppings and fantastic cream sauce which complimented the perfect crunchy taste. We couldn't help to leave without trying the red velvet and black forest cakes, which, hands down, were outstanding. All in all, with a versatile selection of foods, a chic atmosphere, not to mention amazing service, there was very little to complain about at Night & Day at the time of our visit – a visit that we have no qualms making again and again.

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Ravish: Cairo's Newest Burger Restaurant Lands in Heliopolis
Published On: 02/02/2016

Located in Korba, Heliopolis Ravish is the latest contestant to join the endless battle between gourmet burger restaurants in Cairo. From the chains and the empty bottles hanging on the wall to the small buckets placed on the tables, Ravish has an interior that has become typical of many burger places, with an unremarkable atmosphere, but the open kitchen gave it a different ambiance. With competition high, one would expect a variety of burgers on the menu, but what we found was some very basic options; out of 9 burgers, there are 3 mushroom burgers, the Signature Mushroom (55LE), Signature Mushroom and Bacon (63LE), and Provolone Cheese with Mushroom Saute (55LE). We decided to go with the Chicken burger (45LE) and the Spicy Mexican (55LE), but neither were available so we instead began with one of the more creative options, the Salmon Burger (68LE). Boasting a perfectly cooked piece of salmon, topped with lettuce, 'wasenasa' sauce which was very similar to wasabi mayo, and sliced avocado and mango cubes, the burger had something of the fried sushi about it and gave the burger exotic flavours. The only element of the combination was the tempura onion rings, which didn't meld with the other flavours. In addition, it was very oily and the batter didn't hold together. Moving to our second burger, the (160gm) Provolone Cheese and Mushroom Sauté burger (55LE) is possibly the best representation of what Ravish is all about. The beef patty was super juicy and seasoned well, but the melted Italian provolone cheese stole the show with its mouth-watering, gooey texture, which in turn complimented the sweetness of the onions and the earthy flavour of the sautéed mushrooms. The mayonnaise was a particular highlight, meanwhile; it tasted homemade and fresh and was free of artificial flavours. It gave the burger richness, which worked well with the fresh shredded lettuce. You can't eat burgers without fries, so tried the restaurant's Skin on Fries (15LE) which were unfortunately oily and were unremarkable, while the Green Mayo Dip (8LE) we ordered was just wasabi flavoured mayonnaise. The Sweet Potato Fries (18LE), however, were really tasty, but, again, it was super oily and lacked seasoning. The Bacon and Blue Cheese Dip (8LE) we ordered wasn't much of a dip, turning out to be bacon bits mixed with blue cheese and oil – but against all logic, it was a delicious combo that could work great on a burger. Due to the small size of the burger, we ordered another one and we went with the (160gm) Signature Mushroom and Bacon burger (63LE). It tasted exactly the same as the provolone cheese and mushroom, but instead of cheese we got bacon. We finished our meal with Torrjas with Vanilla Ice Cream, Bananas and Nuts (50LE), which is a burger bun soaked in milk and eggs then fried, not unlike French toast. The exterior of the bun had a beautiful colour to it and the cinnamon and sugar coat worked incredibly well with the fresh bananas, the creaminess of the ice cream and the nuts, which gave it a crunch. However, the center was very soggy and lacked any real flavour. This was further compounded by the fact that the promised drizzled caramel was missing because it was out of stock. Overall, our visit to Ravish proved to be a very pricey one, with average results. Had Ravish opened two years ago, it might have impressed, but with today's competition, it fails to bring anything new to an already very crowded table.

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Backfire: A Mixed Bag at 'Battle of the Burgers' Winner
Published On: 02/02/2016

With the hype of winning Battle of the Burgers under its belt, Backfire had us pumped and excited to try out their winning burgers. Located in Mirage Mall at the beginning of the Suez-Cairo Road, we entered what is a biker-themed burger joint with motorcycle and superbike-like interior – helmet-ceiling lights, motorcycle-exhaust shisha, tires-shaped seats and even automotive-inspired metal menus. As soon as we arrived, we were greeted by the very friendly staff and were shown to our seats. We started things off with the Cheddar Chili Chicken Flutes (39 LE) as an appetiser and as our mains, we decided to jump headfirst into Backfire's award winning burgers; the 111 Cubic inch burger (72 LE) and the Trio SGF (72 LE) with a non-alcoholic Red Sangria pitcher (92 LE). A mix of cheddar cheese, jalapenos, minced chicken and sausage rolled together into tortilla flutes and deep-fried and served with spicy tomato sauce, the Cheddar Chili Chicken Flutes were lovely spicy pieces from heaven with a crispy-on-the-outside tortilla bread and a spicy tomato sauce a which gave it a great kick – it was a great start for the night. Our red sangria, which came a few minutes later, was a mixture of non-alcoholic red wine, red and green apples, orange juice, mint, mixed berries, kiwi, pineapple, lemon and cinnamon – an overwhelming combination which had a sweet and sour taste and worked perfectly as a fire extinguisher for our spicy appetiser. Then came our burgers – along with some latex gloves to reduce the burger mess to a minimum. Served in a pan and surrounded by French fries on all sides, the 111 Cubic inch burger came in what one can only described as rugged presentation and was drenched with too much cheese and BBQ chili con carne, which was part of its downfall, unfortunately, especially with a spongy, slightly stale bun which crumbled as we ate. Served with some fries, parmesan cheese and marinara sauce – which felt a little out of place – the Trio SGF was the burger version of a parmesan chicken which was even huge, even dwarfing the bread around it. We cut the burger in half to reveal beneath the fried crispy exterior; a grilled patty stuffed with a mix of cheeses and jalapenos, topped by some lettuce, mayo, onions and a slice of tomato. It was an extremely heavy combo bursting with flavours, but again, the bun wasn't fresh. The fries with both burgers were great, boasting a spicy flavour which complemented the taste rich, thick potato cuts. We ended the night with a Skillet Apple Crumbles (45LE); a pan infused with crumbles, apple chunks, some crunchy almonds, drizzled with cinnamon, and caramel sauce, all topped with a scoop of Vanilla ice cream; a great dessert which had a delightful overall taste, with every element having its say and working in harmony. All in all, our meal Backfire was satisfying, to say the least, particularly with appetiser and dessert. However, at the time of our visit, we couldn't help but be disappointed with the small missteps in the burgers.

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Al Masar Gallery: 'Abstract Practices' Group Exhibition
Published On: 01/02/2016

Located in the beautiful Baehler's mansion in Zamalek, Al Masar Gallery is currently hosting Abstract Practices; a group exhibition bringing together the work of a selection pioneering contemporary Egyptian Artists. Abstract art came to be 1910 and 1920, with the artwork of Piet Mondrian and Kazimir Malevich setting the motion for a movement that has come to be one of the most divisive elements in contemporary art. It's a form of art that has often been misunderstood and therefore challenged by society for involving unconventional styles and for focusing more on shape, colour, form and line rather than portraying an image recognisable to the human-eye – something that it still faces to a certain degree in Egypt. Portraying a segment of artists' life in Egypt, Abstract Practices is a welcomingly eclectic collection, featuring abstract paintings, sculptures and silk screen graphic art. 'Escaping The Light' is one particularly intriguing painting which takes form on a large canvas (80x120) and is completely immersed in thick layers of oil paint, which appears to have been applied using a palette knife. Looking closely at the layers, the colours don't mix into one another, meaning that each layer of oil paint might have taken months to dry before the next one was applied. Made from polished chrome bronze, Essam Darwich's sculpture is another interesting piece which seems like a large slab of chocolate, for lack of a more explicit description, with its shiny exterior and subtle wave form. Further into the gallery, Fouad Kamel –who uses oil on canvas- demonstrates his approach to abstract art through a shattered glass effect, using shades of blue mixed with white and black creating a shimmering impression. Perhaps the most colourful and aesthetically pleasing piece, however, is an oil painting by Said El Adawi, which shows a series of abstract bizarre alien shapes amplified by their vivid colours and evoking various interpretations from the audience. Al Masar Gallery is a fantastic space for displaying art due to its spacious complex and authentic design; a venue that's notorious for putting on a grand exhibition of Egypt's ground-breaking artists. 'Abstract Practices' might not be the most prolific exhibition, yet it is a true portrayal of how far Egypt's contemporary artists have come. 

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The Boy: Occasionally Scary, Often Creepy, Mostly Silly
Published On: 31/01/2016

From Chucky in Child's Play to the Clown doll in Poltergeist, there's nothing there's nothing quite as creepy as silent doll coming to life as a sort of a blood-thirsty monster. Sadly, the The Boy is not as scary as you its premise promises and, although relatively high on the creep-front, it doesn't fully realise its ambitious ideas and get to the end without stumbling over. The plot tells of Greta Evans (The Walking Dead's Lauren Cohan), who in escaping an abusive relationship decides to leave her home in Montana, U.S.A, heads to rural England, where she's to work as a nanny for elderly couple, Mr. Heelshires (Norton) and Mrs. Heelshires (Hardcastle) at their country house to care for their eight-year-old son, Brahms. However, when she gets there, Greta is shocked to learn that Brahms is no ordinary boy, but in fact a life-size porcelain doll. At first, Greta is taken back by the discovery and thinks that she's part of some sort of prank, but she quickly realises that the pained-looking couple treat the doll as their son and even provide Greta with a strict set of rules that she must follow if she is to care for him well. Naturally, it doesn't take long before a series of strange events begin to occur around the house when the Heelshires leave her to go on their well-deserved break, forcing Greta – along with the help of potential love interest, Malcom (Evans) – to look into Brahms' troubled and shady past. While there are a couple of genuinely creepy moments of terror to recall, The Boy mostly relies on its mood – impressively restrained at first and unsurprisingly threadbare towards the end – and the predictable jump-scares to indeed make you jump nonetheless. Turning what is often a refreshingly subdued and an atmospheric film into a dreadfully insipid story of a creepy life-size porcelain doll and its predictably helpless nanny – Cohan is not as terrible as one might think - the suspense surrounding Brahms is conveyed in a relatively convincing way. However, the sheer ridiculousness that unravels within some of the scenes takes the shine off the film, so to speak, even inciting an unintentional laugh or two. This is no more apparent than with an equally ridiculous third-act twist, which seems motivated only by setting up a sequel.

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Savages: Adore Life
Published On: 31/01/2016

Ever since the 2012 release of their double a-side single, 'Flying To Berlin/Husbands', Savages have occupied an interesting space in the musical spectrums. With a mixture of old school post-punk and noise rock, they appear to be the perfect cross-section of Siouxsie and the Banshees and Swans. Their frenetic, dark, and sinisterly beautiful style has been receiving rave reviews the world over from critics and fans alike and their latest EP Adore Life is more of the same. This is an album about love, but one would hesitate to call any of the tracks traditional love songs. Instead of falling into classic song writing tropes about how amazing love is, Savages instead approach the subject matter from a much darker perspective. This is an album about the true power of love, nd how that isn't always a good thing. The opening track, 'The Answer', heaves with energy from the get go, telling the story of an almost obsessive infatuation, with frontwoman Jehnny Beth (real name Camille Berthomier) repeating the words "If you don't love me/You don't love anybody" throughout the song just to drive home the fact that love can be a dangerous force. The hectic instrumentation provides a binary opposition to Beth's sweet tones and is the perfect start to the record. That is not to say that Adore Life is unrelenting in its aggression. This album is a mixture of forceful distortion, British post-punk and torch songs, and nowhere is this more apparent than on the song 'Adore'. It's slow, it's bassy, it's reverby (is that even a word?) it's dark, but above all, beautiful. Concluding with a lyrical coda accompanied by a slow crescendo, it sounds like something you would hear in a smoky Paris café at 3AM. Make no mistakes, this is an early contender for one of the best songs of 2016. Even towards the end of the album, they manage to keep the energy up. The penultimate track, 'T.I.W.YG', is almost a sequel to 'The Answer' in terms of style and narrative. The instrumentation provides an organised cacophony to truly drive home the fact that, this is what you get when you mess with love. For what is only a second album, Adore Life shows a surprising maturity from the London-based female foursome. The lyrics are emotive without being contrived, the instrumentation is varied without being schizophrenic and the style is classic without being clichéd. This is more neo-post punk as opposed to post-punk revival and thank god it is, because the last thing we need is another attempt to revive a past genre. Remember the comment about the band being perfect cross-section of Siouxsie and the Banshees and Swans? This album hits the nail on the head, being equal parts a love song to the past and an ode to the fuzzy future.

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Cheap Eats: 10 Restaurants in Cairo Where You Can Eat for Under 50LE

Remember when 50LE were more than enough for going to the movies and having dinner? No, neither do we, but our parents often reminisce about it. The evolution of Cairo's restaurant scene has been fantastic over the last few years, with new cuisines and concepts arriving, but as with everything in Eg