In Cairo, Thai food is too often lumped in with Chinese and Indian cuisine. It’s rare to find a restaurant in the city that offers authentic food from the land of smiles. Thai Elephant is such a place, though it hardly does itself any favours.
The most peculiar thing about the Zamalek restaurant is that it looks more like a tapas restaurant or saloon bar than it does an establishment offering fine cuisine and complex dishes. Old wood flooring, painfully basic seating, high ceilings and the occasional flamenco song over the speakers all add up something just a little bit strange. There’s even a bar at the back that would look great with a few colourful margaritas lined across it.
Despite an array of interesting starters, few were available. The nue yang ta khrai (39LE) – better known as grilled beef marinated in lemon grass – makes for a decent starter. Slender squares of beef come served in a dish with a garnishing of vegetables and a mysterious brown dressing in a small bowl. Said brown dressing is a dilution of soy sauce, vinegar and red pepper. It’s a welcome addition, as the lemongrass marinade is indiscernible. The beef itself is a mixed bag. Some pieces were overcooked, while the smaller, thinner pieces had a great charcoal crisp.
Pad Thai (29LE) is always a safe bet and through their version of the classic, Thai Elephant has shown itself to be one of the few places in Cairo to serve good tofu. With the noodles and diced vegetables cooked to a perfect consistency, the shredded tofu is included generously in the dish. However, it’s only truly appreciated when you happen on a big piece.
Rice options are plentiful, too. At 19LE, the fried rice, egg and vegetables in the khao pad pak make for a great canvas on which you can enjoy the meatier dishes. The kang phed ped yang (45LE) delivers roast duck in a red curry and coconut milk gravy. The gravy itself is outstanding; full of flavour, spice and a richness that gives texture to the disappointing duck. Although it too was flavourful, and was cooked to a perfect tenderness, sizable pieces of fat were found at every other bite.
Like the appetisers, the desserts were slim pickings. The staff remedied our grave disappointment at them having no green tea ice cream, by recommending what was essentially a coconut ice cream (20LE). As is the case with most of Thai Elephant’s menu, the dessert portion presents excellent value for money – it was more than enough for two diners. The ice cream was smooth, milky and full of coconut, though the occasional piece of inedible pulp is a slight on what was otherwise a perfect follow up to a spicy meal.
There’s little to criticise about Thai Elephant. There’s no flash or aesthetic flair, but it doesn’t need it. With excellent prices, the kitchen delivers; that’s all you can really ask of a restaurant.