Fawanis: Ominously Quiet Ramadan Tent at Citystars, Heliopolis
Clearly a lot of time, effort and money went into the construction of Fawanis, the Ramadan tent outside of Cairo shopping behemoth, Citystars. A team of gifted architects must have taken great pains to design the elegant lime-green and natural wood outdoor seating which still smelt of freshly cut wood and glue.
It was a surprise to find it almost completely empty between 1AM and 2AM, despite the crowds filtering past from the closing mall. Since nobody was there, the lanterns were unlit – giving a touch of the dingy to an otherwise charming structure – and four of the six main dishes had been taken off the menu. Happily, they somehow arranged to make us some others, or we would have had a sparse sohour of omelette, foul and bread.
The service lacked the hustle of a busy Ramadan rush, and the member of staff looking after us was very friendly although inexperienced. The waiters, whose station was so far away that to catch their eye required waving both arms, brought our meal a little too leisurely; by the time our food was set on our table, it had cooled during the long walk past the skeleton of an open buffet (now closed due to lack of interest).
The food was nicely presented but still nothing extraordinary. A well-flavoured but undercooked lamb kofta (40LE) was left half-eaten, and the omelette (18LE) bored us even as we chewed. A plate of bitter olives was saved by perfectly ripe and juicy tomatoes, which in any case were a free accompaniment so who would complain. The latter complemented the very tasty grilled chicken and red pepper (30LE) well, although despite the great taste, this dish would have been better served hot. A spicy but perhaps over-salted foul (10LE) went down well with beautifully fluffy baladi bread, and the pleasant coconut shisha (15LE) went some way to mollifying us about the uninspiring, if perfectly edible food.
Whether Fawanis was empty as a result of the poor service and average food, or whether the waiters and chefs had stopped trying because it was empty, is impossible to know. In any case, a certain sense of hopelessness and defeat filled the air, as if the staff had fallen at the first hurdle and lacked the energy to get up and try again. More than anything, it was sad that a set-up with such potential fell so far short of our expectations.