Essence Barbecue and Mughal Cuisine: Near-Perfect Pakistani
The recently opened Essence Barbecue and Mughal Cuisine in Mohandiseen
promises ‘delicious and mouth-watering Mughal cuisine’ prepared by the female
executive chef and co-owner. What sets
Essence apart from other restaurants in Cairo
is that its promise of good food is backed up by a concise menu, courteous
service and stunning interior decor.
The restaurant’s colour scheme is one of muted reds, accented with deep-coloured
wooden chairs and wooden panelling adorning the length of one wall. The table
setting is very elegant with well-polished cutlery; but it’s taken one step too
far with the thoughtful but unnecessary addition of a fresh rose on each table,
alongside a shot glass with a floating candle decorated with rose petals.
We started out by ordering the vegetable samosas (13LE), which arrived
right on time, having been given sufficient time to rest from the heat of the
deep fryer; but not so much that they had gone cold. This helped us enjoy the
subtle heat of the spices as opposed to the raw heat of the cooker. The vegetable
pakoras (15LE) were veritable pillows of light and airy deep-fried goodness,
but not oily in the least. Both appetisers came with a bowl of mint-yoghurt dip
to balance out the mild spices.
The restaurant was empty save for our own table; so the service was
absolutely spot-on, and the main courses arrived just as our stomachs began signalling.
Sadly, the rogan josh (68LE) was not available and, upon the strong
recommendation of the head waiter, we ordered the smoked yogurt lamb (65LE)
Arriving in domed copper pots, the chicken karai (54LE) was a quarter of
chicken, bone-in, robustly spiced with (among other things) chilli, tomatoes,
lemons and cardamom. The flavours were very satisfying, but the inclusion of
the bones was unfortunate, since it forced this reviewer to get his fingers
sticky. Finger licking may be good for fast food, but here it was an
embarrassing oversight. The daal tarkewali (29LE) is made of lentils cooked
with onions, tomatoes and a cornucopia of spices, but lacked the punch and full
flavour of the chicken tarkewali.
Our taste buds thanked us profusely for the smoked yoghurt lamb, comprised
of a dish of very tender smoked and barbecued lamb resting in a spiced yogurt
sauce. The delicate flavour of the charcoal smokiness combined with a muted
lamb flavour mingled very well with the tart spiciness of the yogurt. It was
easily the best dish of the evening.
It has been said before; but no meal is complete without a dessert. With
full bellies, we ordered the gulab jamun (20LE). Normally, this dessert is a sickly sweet
confection at other restaurants; but at Essence it was made with
even-handedness and grace. A brace of spiced coconut spheres settled in a
shallow pool of cardamom-spiced syrup delivering spice and sweet in equal
measures, culminating in a very satisfying end to an enchanting meal.