El Balad: Casual Lebanese Fetar at New Maadi Restaurant
In the run-up to Ramadan, as restaurants in Cairo prepared for the holy month, El Balad caught our eye on Road 9 in Maadi, as final touches were being made for its grand opening.
Already wildly popular in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Lebanon, Al Balad has – as a chain – spread across the region by delivering authentic and casual Lebanese cuisine.
Looking at the exterior, the restaurant’s simple design and light colours follow similar schemes at other Lebanese restaurants around town; the interior, on the other hand, is spacious, warm and elegantly decorated, with traditional Lebanese music playing in the background.
There’s no specific menu for fetar or sohour, or an open buffet like many other restaurants offer, so in ordering from a standard à la carte menu, diners are encouraged to arrive well before the sunset prayer time – regardless of whether reservations were previously made, which we would recommend anyway.
Complimentary drinks were served first thing – karkadeh, guava, cocktail and kiwi juices – which we found to be refreshing and perfectly sweetened. Served alongside these drinks were Jordanian-style pickled olives and soft shamy bread, which stifled our hunger until the main meal arrived. There was also the choice of other juices such as lemon mint, orange and berry (18LE).
The leafy El Balad salad (32LE) comes in a huge portion and includes fried aubergine, pine nuts and a sprinkle of pomegranate – the latter of which added a lovely zing to an already tasty dish. An order of mixed grills for one person (100LE) arrived with cubes of grilled meat, kofta and chicken with bouri bread and garlic dip. While all the meats were well-seasoned and generally well-grilled, the kofta was a little undercooked and my not suit palates that are more accustomed to the Egyptian way of cooking meat.
The kofta in yoghurt (70LE) is a concoction of meatballs, similar to hawawshi meat, placed in buttermilk with garlic, cucumbers and crispy bits of bread. It’s a typical Lebanese dish through and through, and while the ingredients were nice and fresh, we sadly found it a little bland; the buttermilk stifled the potency of the meat.
Another traditional dish we tried was the halawa with ice cream and chocolate (30LE) for dessert. The soft ice cream perfectly complements the crumbly texture of the halawa and was by far the highlight of the meal – a must for any sweet-toothed Cairene,
We found the service to be pleasantly efficient and quick; add that to the fact of decent food, and you have two good reasons to pay El Balad a visit.