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Masrawy: New Egyptian Grill Opens in Downtown Cairo
Published On: 24/07/2014

The newest restaurant to open in Downtown Cairo is the surprisingly sleek Masrawy. Having timed its opening for Ramadan, the new eatery on Bustan Street offers no-frills, wholesome food for fetar and sohour. There are eight hearty meal options to choose from for Iftar and each offer a diverse and healthy mix of foods including drinks and dessert. The cheapest of these eight choices costs 22LE and consists of quarter of a chicken, rice, mixed vegetables, mixed salad, Egyptian bread, Oriental dessert, one bottle of water plus a special fruity Ramadan drink.  You can also replace the chicken for meatballs in a tangy tomato sauce with pasta. The most expensive meal on the fetar menu is the Mixed Grill (80LE); but don't be put off by this significantly higher price because the portion can easily feed two people. The selection of meat is simply delicious.  Included in the Mixed Grill option is: ¼ kofta, ½ chicken, ¼ kebab, 2 juicy lamb ribs, a thick soup, basmati rice, green salad, tahina salad, garlic salad, bread, a bottle of water and finally, that special fruity Ramadan drink. The prices at this new restaurant are highly satisfactory considering the diversity that comes in just one meal choice and of course the large portion sizes that we really love and appreciate.  The service is great too; staff is all dressed in bright orange to match the interior of the restaurant. Masrawy is extremely spacious taking up two large air-conditioned floors plus outdoor seating; it's clean, fresh and almost sparkles beneath that perfectly adequate lighting.  Large tables are available for families or groups of friends plus some quieter tables for two all prepared efficiently and the food is served in stylish ceramic dishes, which really add to the atmosphere and pleasant dining experience. Masrawy's sohour menu consists of a lighter and significantly cheaper choice of meals than feter, but there are only four different choices.  The cheapest of these costs a mere 10LE and consists of a generous serving of chunky foul, two falafel, green salad, yoghurt, bread and water.  On the other hand there is the 'Masrawy Special' which costs 18LE and is highly recommended, consists of omelette, a cheese plate, three falafel, salad, bread, yoghurt, french fries and a bottle of water. There is no daily menu as yet for Masrawy as the focus is purely on Ramadan but the restaurant has managed to burst into the Cairo scene immediately attracting attention and reeling in customers.  The seating is comfortable; the large air-conditioned space is refreshing and they serve a top-notch fetar.

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La Gourmandise: Sohour at the First Mall's Ramadan Tent
Published On: 22/07/2014

Located on the ground floor of the First Mall in Giza, La Gourmandise sits pretty with vibrant décor and a sense of majesty. Unfortunately, the Ramadan kheima flatters to deceive. Once you settle down, the initial vibrancy quickly turns into gaudiness; the pink lighting in particular is somewhat tacky and poorly done A live Oriental takht band sets a laidback vibe, though the big screens showing Ramadan shows on mute are rather distracting and makes for a confused sensory explosion. For fetar, La Gourmandise houses an open buffet; sohour, meanwhile, is served a la carte. From said sohour menu, we opted for a Vine Leaves (30LE), Cheese & Tomato (30LE), Taboulah Salad (30LE), Hummus (30LE), Sambousak with Cheese (42LE) and a Chicken Shawerma Sandwich (80LE.) The waiters serve you a breadbasket with a variety of freshly baked bread to snack on while you wait for your food, which was served within a few minutes. The stuffed Vine Leaves were rather clammy and after the first bite you feel every bit of it stuck to your teeth, while the stuffing itself was devoid of taste. Hummus is a fairly simple food to prepare, but the one that La Gourmandise served was very bland, lacking cumin, chilli powder or even olive oil. The Cheese & Tomato, despite its deceptive simplicity, was excellent. The cheese was rich and creamy rather than soggy, leaving you with a spicy after taste which we couldn't get enough of.    The Sambousak dough was crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, and served hot, but the white cheese and thyme filling was, sadly, sparse. While the chicken shawerma is not a common sohour option, it was one of the better dishes we had. Served cut into four different pieces, the saj bread was perfectly toasted, light and non-greasy.  The chicken itself was well cooked with a hint of spicy marinade, some chopped grilled onions and pickled cucumbers. Though the food was lacking, La Gourmandise does stand above the rest in terms of service; the staff are attentive and prompt. Overall, however, La Gourmandise does little to stand out.

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Maasa: New Oriental Sweets Bakery in Zamalek
Published On: 22/07/2014

Around Cairo's cafes, restaurants and bakeries, Lebanese and Syrian influence remains strong, with the subtle Levantine touches transform Egypt-familiar foods into something a little exotic. When it comes to Oriental sweets, Mandarine Koueidar has dominated the the market in Zamalek for years, even despite new competition such as Al Samadi. New in Zamalek, Maasa has arrived during Ramadan as a challenger to the throne. The venue is quite small and the glass façade only shows refrigerator which has six different kinds of ice cream, although that sight alone is enough to draw you in. We were greeted pleasantly at the door by a man whose accent gave away his Syrian nationality. Oriental sweets vendors usually have strange restrictions on minimum amounts, as a means of forcing you to buy as much as possible of their product – but there's no such obligations here. A kilo of Pistachio Baklava cost 110LE; crunchy, golden and drenched in honey, we expected it to be much sweeter – which was a pleasant surprise. The pistachio is used generously and tasted freshly roasted. We also tried the Pistachio Hareesa, (55LE per kilo), which was tasty, had good form and a good ratio between the pistachio and the coconut flavoured mash. We tried the Basbousa with Almonds which was a little strange. Surprisingly void of sugar, and with a strong crust versus the grainy semolina we're all accustomed to, it didn't quite hit the mark. The Esh El Bolbol (110LE per kilo) on the other hand was roasted perfectly and with plenty of pistachio. Maasa also sell Malban and Nouga. Pistachio Turkish delight will set you back 120LE per kilo, and has a positively distinct taste without overdoing it with the sweetness. Of the previously mentioned ice cream (60LE-90LE per kilo), because it looked very different to what you'd find locally. We opted for the Damascus Mesteka – as mix of pistachio and cream – and it was divine. Levantine ice cream, or Bouza, differs from regular ice cream in that it pulls from the mesteka and has a slightly different texture, which along with the pistachio made it some of the best we've tried. While Maasa is a safe option in a pinch, its offerings are largely conventional – except for the ice cream, of course.

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ZENTRO: Serene Asian Fetar in Maadi
Published On: 21/07/2014

With Ramadan almost over, are our appetite for Oriental cuisine is, too. And with so many set menus trying to put an Oriental twist on the restaurant's original cuisine, we thought we'd try something completely unrelated to the usual malarkey. Cairo 360 Editor's Choice Award-winning Asian restaurant, ZENTRO, is a personal favourite, so we were excited to find out that the Maadi restaurant was offering a Ramadan Set Menu (150LE) that consists of Pumpkin & Coconut soup, an appetiser tray of Money Bags, Spring Rolls and Fattoush, a main course of either Stir Fried Beef with Oyster Sauce or Honey Plum Chicken, and Steamed or Fried Rice with Vegetables. You can also order a la carte, should you prefer. The beautiful thing about ZENTRO is the serenity. The simplicity of the decor, the solid block colours and very stylish utensils and plates combined with the very relaxing down-tempo music come together perfectly to immerse you in your meal. Served first in a large white bowl, the Pumpkin & Coconut soup was tastefully sweet, generous in portion and a great start to the meal. Next came the appetisers in small cube containers lined in a long rectangular tray. The Money Bags were simply brilliant; delicious and hot, they remain our favourite of ZENTRO's appetisers. The Veggie Spring Rolls, unfortunately, paled in comparison. The Fattoush – note the 'Oriental twist' mentioned earlier – never really came together. As for the main courses, we opted for one of each, the Stir Fried Beef with Oyster Sauce and the Honey Plum Chicken. We had raved about the Honey Plum Chicken in an earlier review, and were curious to see how ZENTRO handled quality control in Ramadan. They passed with flying colours. The Honey Plum Chicken was the same fresh chicken cubes in the perfectly executed honey plum sauce with sesame. Combining both flavour and crunch in an immensely enjoyable experience, it overshadowed the Stir Fried Beef, which was very tasty and cooked to a perfect tender, but not as complex in flavour. The Rice, however, was a hit-and-miss. Two of our fried rice orders were great, combining fried vegetables, mushrooms, and eggs into a decent complimentary dish to the main course. But the other two orders had an unordinary pungent aroma of egg, which was very off putting. We expressed our aversion and the waiters swiftly replaced them. Overall, we were pleased with our meal and experience at ZENTRO, which seemed almost unscathed by the pressures of Ramadan. As a relative newcomer to Cairo's dining scene, ZENTRO seems to be really coming into its own.

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Sia: 1000 Forms of Fear
Published On: 20/07/2014

Singer-songwriter, Sia Furler, is by no means a household name. Fans of Zero 7 will be familiar with the thirty-eight year old Australian, having provided vocals on all three of the British duo's albums. Sia herself has previously released four solo albums between 1997 and 2010, with relative success. Her fifth and latest release, 1000 Forms of Fear, marks her return from a self-imposed sabbatical of sorts, during which she worked with some of the biggest popstars on the planet, including Rihanna, Katy Perry, Jennifer Lopez, Britney Spears, Beyonce and even Celine Dion – not as singer, but as writer.  Her return has been eagerly awaited by fans, while here work with pop royalty has introduced her unique brand of alternative-pop to a wider audience. The album kicks off with 'Chandelier', which is heavy on Rihanna influence; an r&b-tinted stadium pop opener.  Similar spirits carry 'Big Girls Cry' and 'Burn the Pages' and it's not till fourth track, 'Eye of the Needle', that fans will hear something familiar – a sweeping pseudo-ballad that sees Sia at her angsty best. 'Hostage' will also please fans, seeing Furler introduce her trademark bubbly milieu to an otherwise quirk-less album; it's playful, fun and catchy – characteristics that can also be found in varying degrees on 80's inspired track, 'Free the Animal', and, to a lesser extent, 'Elastic Heart', featuring hipster-r&b act, the Weekend, and LA DJ/producer, Diplo – a song that was featured on the soundtrack for 2013's The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.  Sombreness is never too far away on 1000 Forms of Fear, however, and 'Straight for a Knife' and 'Fair Game' sees Sia take on more gravity. The album ends in a striking crescendo of energy, with more of the same grand stadium pop. Unfortunately, 1000 Forms of Fear finds itself as victim of Sia's own doing. As a whole, the album's sound is somewhat derivative of the direction that pop has taken in recent times, particularly through female artists. Essentially, while she co-wrote some of the biggest songs of the last few years, the alternative pop trend that she helped to create from behind the scenes has passed her by as a vocalist. Despite this, 1000 Forms of Fear succeeds in two ways; it's her most accessible album to date, but long-time fans will spot the evolution of her music into darker, broodier waters.

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Andrea: Ramadan Fetar at Great Egyptian Classic
Published On: 20/07/2014

There are few restaurants in Cairo that holds as much of an eclectic history as the original Andrea. Located along the Marriotteya Canal that cuts across the mammoth Faisal and Haram Streets, the specialist grill has attracted tourists and locals alike for years, while also formerly being one of the top venue choices for event organisers. The area which the restaurant takes is more of a small compound, with a labarynth of an outdoor seating are taking up most of the space. Greenery surrounds said area and the seating and tables are rather basic and economical, though the whole atmosphere nods to that intangible 'Old Egypt' feel. A point of pride for the restaurant is the fact that their concise menu has never changed, offering a handful of starters and mains, along with mezzas and salads. Reservations at Andrea are mandatory during Ramadan and our part of five was advised to arrive at 6.20 – a good forty or so minutes before the call to prayer. This is to give you enough time to order and, to the staff's credit, our food was served right on time. Our waiter claimed there to be a total of ten different mezzas (9LE each) and salads (6.50LE each), so we ordered the basics. The two standouts were classic Oriental mezzas; the tomeya was suitably tangy and the baba gahnough was smooth and tasted fresh. Other dishes included a fairly straightforward plate of beetroot, a loaded serving of green salad and a flavourful tehina. From the starters, the sambousak (25LE) was outstanding. Stuffed with white cheese and mint, the dough itself had been fried to a perfect crisp. Other starters included well-cooked, if rather ordinary, chicken liver (30LE) and meatballs (30LE), which are misleadingly listed as kofta. Yes, the theory is the same – seasoned and spiced ground meat – the meatballs at Andrea are much more tender than the traditional kofta and sport a slightly hard shell. Unfortunately, they lacked the seasoning that gives kofta a kick. We also tried the chicken wings (20LE), which are of the 'drumstick variety' – easy to pull off the bone in one swift bite. Again, these were cooked perfectly with breadcrumb exterior, but lacked flavour. Andrea's real pull is thanks to their grills. Upon entrance to the restaurant, patrons will see a mass grilling with chickens lined on skewers as far as the eye can see, like some sort of hellish dystopian field, where chickens are grown and cooked. Half a chicken will set you back 35LE, while boneless chicken will set you back 45LE. As expected, the chicken is cooked perfectly and bursting with flavour. Poultry fans might also want to give the quail (45LE) a try – a whole bird is served on your plate, leaving you to roll up your sleeves and get messy. As pretentious as it may sound, the staff at Andrea understand and consider the status of Andrea as one of the most popular restaurants in Cairo. This translates into friendly and prompt service – a necessity in the busy month of Ramadan. Andrea might not hold the same kind of prestige as years gone by, but the quality of its food is as good as ever.

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Fuego: All You Can Eat Ramadan Fetar at Maadi Sushi Favourite
Published On: 20/07/2014

Something about all-you-can-eat offers and Ramadan just clicks. There's no worry about portions, and no worry about how much you will pay for it. One of our favourites when it comes to all you can eat is Fuego – and for good reason. Fuego is one of very few places that gives you a huge selection and excludes only two items from the offer, whereas its competitors will either severely limit your choices, or worse, pick them for you. So we called Fuego early in the day and reserved two All You Can Eat Sushi offers (180LE). We were told we could place our order and have it ready when we got there, so we dove into the extensive menu. The only items excluded are the Chef's Special Rolls and the Special Gunkans, so we opted for a variety regular, Special and Ura Maki Rolls including California rolls, Red Dragon rolls, Philadelphia rolls and Crispy rolls to name a few. Thankfully, during Ramadan, loitering teenagers around Maadi's Bandar Mall are minimal. At the restaurant, you'll find all the non-fried sushi ready on the table, along with a big bottle of water and a plate of dates to break your fast. The fried sushi is then served within 5 to 10 minutes. The presentation of the sushi is decent, but we've seen better. The cold sushi was both tasty and light, though, at the time of our visit, it didn;t taste completely fresh. Rolls like the Red Dragon Roll – marinated sea bass with lettuce, mango and wrapped in tuna – and Crispy Rolls – shrimp tempura with avocado and crispy rice – were particularly delicious thanks to the spicy sauce and teriyaki sauce, respectively. The fried rolls are what you go for if you want to get full. Orders like the Golden Bermuda – five pieces of salmon, shrimp and cream cheese wrapped in seaweed and sushi rice – are incredibly filling and satisfying. The Salmon Hot Uramaki was also fried and gave the salmon some opportunity to cook, which left us with a very delicious roll. Besides the great food, quick service and clean restaurant, Fuego's let downs are the cheesy pop music glaring out of the speakers and the confused décor, with its tacky carpets contrasted against more elegant dark wood walls and ceilings. While the music will remain annoying throughout the meal, you'll hardly notice the décor after you're immersed in a wonderful sushi.

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Al Dayaa: Shoddy Ramadan Fetar in Maadi
Published On: 20/07/2014

There's a plethora of options in Cairo for the fasting masses to dine out during Ramadan. Many offer buffets and set menus, while others prefer sticking to their usual dishes. For the first few days of Ramadan, people seem less willing to experiment with cuisines and prefer traditional food, and one that fits quite easily into that category is Lebanese cuisine. We had previously reviewed the Maadi branch of Al Dayaa and found their food to be quite tasty and the atmosphere pleasant. But Ramadan, along with impatient and fasting customers, changes the ball game completely. Restaurants can usually tackle this issue in a number of ways and Al Dayaa chose one that should, in theory, work well. You can call in and reserve a set Ramadan fetar menu for 130LE per person. The thing about a set menu is there's nothing you need to ask the customer after the phone call. The restaurant basically tells you what you're ordering, and they know what time the Maghreb prayer is called;so, in theory, all should go smoothly. We arrived ten minutes before the call to prayer and were shown us to our seats upstairs. There were six tables being served besides us, two of which had not yet arrived when we walked in. The Ramadan meal consists of different salads including hummus, fattoush, pickles, spinach manakeesh, batata harra and a plate of mix grills. By 7.30PM – half an hour after the call to prayer –we were only served the humus and salad. We asked for lentil soup and instead got lesan asfour, which was bland at best. We asked for hibiscus and instead got tamrhendi – they ran out. But it got worse; the two empty tables beside us were served their main courses well before the party itself got to the restaurant, and when they did, the waiters paid much more attention to them. Why? They were tourists. When we asked about why our food was so late, the waiters looked at us puzzled and asked us what we had ordered. It's a set menu. Everyone called in hours earlier to reserve. There should be zero confusion. So after a long wait, we were given two plates of mixed grill each containing a skewer of tangy kebab, a skewer of somehow bland shish tawook – chicken that's supposed to be marinated overnight – and two semi-decent skewers of kofta. You'll realise we talked very little about the food itself, which may or may not have been good, it's hard to tell when the service is that incompetent and they make you wait an extra hour. But this is exactly how memorable the food will be in light of a terrible experience. 

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Kahwet Leila: Sohour with a View at the Platform in Maadi
Published On: 17/07/2014

A decent meal in a good location with good weather is an unbeatable, if often unattainable, combination. Ramadan, however, moves the goalposts; the food of a traditional sohour is neither complicated nor difficult, making the whole experience dependant on many other factors. At Kahwet Leila in Maadi's the Platform, you get just that. The Lebanese restaurant serves a set sohour menu at 100LE per person; that package includes Ramadan drinks, manakeesh, eggs, foul and falafel, plus a selection of desserts. The great thing about the Platform is its breezy Nile-side location, paired with its chic aesthetics. Kahwet Leila also serve very decent shisha. Shami flat bread is served with thyme and olive oil for you to snack on until the food arrives. From the sohour menu selection we opted for a Mouajanat Cocktail, Eggs Mfarakeh, Foul with Homos, Foul with Vegetables, Labneh, Falafel and Osmanliyet Leila from the desserts. Frustrations flared almost immediately; the flat bread was cold. Seriously, small things like make a world of a difference. The Foul with Homos didn't particularly stand out –neither did the Foul with Vegetables – and after a few bites we realised why; they both had the artificial taste of a canned product. The Labneh, an excellent dish to cool your stomach after heavy and oily foods like foul, had more salty cheese than labneh, which unfortunately took away from the cooling effect. The Eggs Mfarakeh – scrambled eggs with cut up potato cubes – was equally as lacklustre ,but the Mouajanat Cocktail was the saving grace; around a dozen pieces of different dough and pastries, filled with either cheese, spinach or meat, all fresh, warm and delicious. The Falafel was also much better than the other dishes, made the Levantine way with homos instead of foul, and served hot and crispy. After a brief coffee break we proceeded to the dessert, which we believe may be the best thing on their menu. The Osmanliya – konafa topped with pistachio ice cream and syrup – was the definite hit of the night, and a definite must try for any sweett0othed Cairene. Despite the inconsistency of the quality of the food itself, Kahwet Leila's strengths in sohour lays primarily in its location – perfect for sohour with family or friends.

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Nola Cupcakes: Ramadan-Themed Sweet Treats
Published On: 16/07/2014

Once you reach the halfway point of Ramadan, you will very possibly become bored of traditional food and Eastern sweets. Following the trend that started with someone putting mangos into konafa, Nola Cupcakes has marked Ramadan 2014 with a series of specials. Utilising traditional Ramadan ingredients like dates, konafa, basbousa and more, we opted for a Salted Caramel Date (12LE), Red Velvet Basbousa (13LE), Karkade (13LE), Konafa Nutella (13LE), Konafa Mango (13LE) and a Blueberry cupcake with Ramadan-themed frosting (14LE). There's an immediate problem with Nola's; they are far too sweet and this is a recurring theme in almost all the cupcakes. The Salted Caramel Dates cupcake was a relative success; the dates are mixed into the cake itself, which created a nice textural contrast, but the icing was just a little much. The Red Velvet Basbousa was even more intense, but the flavours just didn't add up leaving you with an excess amount of sugar. The Karkade was the least impressive and the taste of hibiscus was undetectable in both the icing and the cake. The Konafa Nutella was the most surprising of all, because there wasn;t so much of a sugar onslaught.  The konafa, however, lacked any crisp and tasted a little stale. The Konafa Mango suffered similar problems, in addition to tasting of burnt butter.. The last cupcake was a standard blueberry muffin, only with a mountain of icing in different Ramadan themed shapes – ours was a prayer mat and beads. Unless you're a serious fan of icing, you may find yourself sliding most of it off, only to reach an average cupcake with very few blueberry pieces. Overall, this was probably not the best dessert we've had this year. It's probably not the best Nola have done either, but with the growing trend of westernising Oriental desserts, almost all confectionaries and bakeries are jumping on the bandwagon, and to that we say: stop. You can't even find a proper konafa with nuts or cream anymore!

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Eid 2014 in Cairo: Enjoying the Holiday at the Top Cairo Hotels

As half of Cairo embarks on trips to the North Coast, the Red Sea and other seaside destinations for the long Eid holiday, there will, inevitably, be a few stranded souls left in the capital, growing more and more bitter at the lack of sun, sea and sand in their lives right now. But to that we say t