Al Ahwa: Contemporary-Balady Café In Zamalek
Since cafés in Cairo are at the top of the list of places to go for either an intimate rendezvous or large social gathering, newly established names are expected to provide a completely novel concept to stand out.
On Zamalek’s Taha Hussein Street, burlesque café, Al Ahwa, attempts to put a modern twist on the traditional ‘ahwa’, by making it accessible to a young, modish crowd. The café is a two-storey venue that provides a complete view of the street by a totally glass entrance.
The interior is an unnerving mismatch of powder blue walls, silk-screens of classic photographs, and a mixture of clashing pink, green and yellow wooden chairs. At the time of our visit, the top floor was not yet open to the public, so we were left with the task of finding a table on the cramped ground floor.
With limited seating options, between being seated next to the only available bathroom and underneath the deafening sound system, we decided to sit near to the front of the café, conveniently located next to the counter’s heavy-duty blender.
Greeted by a genial waiter dressed in trendy traditional garb, we were handed our menus to browse through. It appears that the eatery is gearing towards a more gourmet approach; the menu is expansive, with sections for breakfast, soups, appetizers, salads, sandwiches, pasta, tawagen, finger food, desserts, and beverages.
We decided to start with the Al Ahwa combo mini (30LE), a choco banana shake (24LE) and a glass of fresh lemon juice (13LE). While the combo platter took a while before it was served, the delay was forgiven as soon as we picked up one of the crispy cheese sambuseks. In addition to the delicious turnovers, the platter also included cheese sticks, Doritos ashelazma dressed with a mildly spicy, homemade salsa and disappointingly bland onion rings.
Encouraged, we opted for a meat shawerma sandwich (24LE) and a tagen fattah (20LE). Arriving hot and looking a treat, both dishes were delivered only a short time after ordering. Although the sandwiches were generously portioned, the strips of meat had a tendency to pull when biting in, which turned the meal into a gruelling affair. Split into halves, the shawerma came with a side of fries, salad, and deliciously zesty pickles.
Meanwhile, the fattah was delivered in a decorated clay tagen with crispy bread squares, deliciously sautéed onions and a large helping of mild tomeya, garnished with parsley leaves. While not exactly spectacular, the fattah was both hearty and appetising.
The choco banana shake and lemon juice were eventually served during the meal. Thick with only a hint of chocolate, the shake was a decadent blend that complemented the aromatic meal. The lemon juice, on the other hand, was frothy and incredibly refreshing, with a burst of citrus flavours.
Finally, for dessert, we settled for a caramel cheesecake (18LE), latte (19LE) and Turkish coffee (9LE). As soon as we took a bite from the cheesecake, we immediately fell in love. The sticky sweetness of the caramel melted into the frosty filling of the cake and created a perfect combination of flavours and texture. Both the latte and Turkish coffee were unexceptional, but fairly decent.
Al Ahwa doesn’t provide much in terms of novelty – or peace and quiet – but once they open up the second floor, the consistent quality and attractive location is sure to pull the crowds through their doors.