I love French pieces of bread stuffed with delicious fillings, buttery croissants, and fresh orange juice. Who doesn’t? Which is why I couldn’t pass Brioche Doree in Egypt without having a bite at Downtown Mall in New Cairo. I was happy that the second largest French Bakery/Cafe chain in the world had faith to open its doors in Egypt, what with the political situation. And I enjoyed the experience so much, when I spotted Brioche Doree at City Stars in Nasr City, I had to feign tiredness to sit down and have a memorable bite.
My usual is the Le Rustique Thon, 42.95 EGP, which is tuna mayo with boiled eggs, tomatoes, tiny pickles and lettuce in a traditional Rustique bread. The filling is gorgeous, the mayo making the sandwich juicy, while the other elements add a crunchy dimension. The only problem I had, however, was the toughness of the bread. It almost felt stale, my mouth and gums taking a battering while trying to chew the pieces gracefully. The bread has the same stale, tough texture at both Downtown Mall and City Stars.
When I commented on the toughness of the bread, I was told that the traditional Rustique bread is supposed to be that tough. Ouch, someone actually wants to eat hard, stale bread? They must have a strong set of teeth and very strong gums! But I was given a very helpful tip from one of the waiters: I could ask for the traditional French baguette for my Tuna mayo filling instead. The French baguette is exactly what I used to have for breakfast in Paris; it’s crunchy on the outside and soft once you tear into the sandwich.
While the service at Downtown Mall was quite relaxed– we were left waiting for a long time before someone came to take our order and our check for example– at City Stars the waiters stop by every five minutes to see how you are enjoying your meal. I think Brioche Doree’s service needs to meet the middle ground: not have waiters leaving customers waiting for twenty minutes, nor having waiters incessantly hovering over customers and asking them how the food is every five minutes.
That said, Brioche Doree’s ambiance and the food is a perfect place to interrupt your shopping trip and have an early lunch.
Brioche Doree City Stars, Nasr City – in front of Starbucks. Opening hours: 10 am – midnight. Downtown Mall New Cairo; 8 am – 1 am.
Also in Zamalek, 21 Mohamed Mazhar Street; 6th October, Tivoli Dome Zayed; and Dandy Mall on the Alexandria Desert Road.
In search of a venue to have an Iftar meal, we came across an online review recommending the Tamara Lebanese Bistro and decided to give it a try. It’s right across the VIP cinema at City Stars, next door to Mori Sushi.
I immediately fell in love with the decor and the tiny details like the railings, wall art, and chairs. But unfortunately, I didn’t get to enjoy the surroundings because the non-smoking section is out in the hallway. As non-smokers we felt quite penalized and marginalized because it felt like we weren’t really inside the restaurant, enjoying the ambiance. It also got a little noisy with children playing in the hallway.
The Iftar menu is a mix of Egyptian-Lebanese food. The list looked like quite a mouthful and proved to be. Most of the people in the restaurant left with takeaway containers because there was a lot to eat. The salad was already on the table when we arrived, so we weren’t really sure how fresh it was and if insects had already gotten to it first.
That said, the Roca salad and Fattouch were deliciously drizzled with the right flavors which went down very well. But being a hummus fan I was quite disappointed in its concentrated, strong taste, which I am not accustomed to in Lebanese cuisine.
The pastries were delicious, my favorite being the Halloumi Safayeh. The spinach was too spicy, while the meat was cooked nicely.
Next, the tajins were brought to our table, which consisted of the famous Egyptian dish Molokheya and Okra. Strangely the rice was unseasoned and very dry. This was the same with the Molokheya. The Okra, however, tasted as it should in its delicious sauce.
Because the service was quite slow, we received our mixed grill quite late. It arrived in a blanket of bread when uncovered revealed the meat. One plate serves two people whilst two plates serve four. I found the chicken quite dry, so I couldn’t continue eating my piece. While the spices in the kofta were tasty, the meat itself was a little soggy. The highlight of the mixed grill, however, was the pieces of succulent meat; it was perfectly cooked so that you could cut into it easily, and it tasted delicious. I would have been very happy to have only that served.
The Karkadeh was also the best I have tasted– not too strong and not too weak. It was nice to break our fast on this traditional Ramadan drink.
Sadly the service was quite slow and disoriented. Some waiters were not focused on those in the non-smoking section; even the table next to us were upset by this. To be fair the waiters must have been fasting too, but it did take a while to get our food, especially our soup and mixed grill. When the bird’s tongue soup arrived it was lukewarm and lacking flavor, whilst the lentil soup was cold but had these lovely hints of spices and herbs.
After a while, the sweet was served, which was adequate, not really impressing our taste buds. The Lebanese Khoshaf was too sweet but at this point, we were just happy to relax with the tea served because you can’t go wrong with Lipton tea.
The beautiful décor builds up an expectation that the food will be just as lovely, but for 170+ Egyptian pounds, this Iftar was a poor effort. Was the food filled with the delicious Lebanese taste my family and I know and love? Perhaps it was the “lite” version but in need of a serious upgrade. Would we eat here again? We all said we wouldn’t since the food, the location of the non-smoking section, and service were all sourly lacking.
But if I were to catch an afternoon movie at the VIP cinema across the hallway and I was dying of starvation, I wouldn’t rule out a light lunch with the Halloumi pastry and Fattoush salad.
It’s on the evening of the first day of Eid that I’m standing in a small shop my brother has brought me to. He was craving a doner kebab and had read reviews recommending Adam’s Doner & Grill. The only problem is that it didn’t smell of a doner kebab shop as I step in and read items listed on a chalkboard behind the counter– very London-Turkish-Kebab-shop style. It smells of the most delicious Indian spices. My mouth is salivating. One look at the menu and we both realize they not only serve doner kebab here but tandoori. We look at each other and smile. This is turning out to be a very good Eid.
It takes half an hour to wait for our order, so we know it’s fresh. We can see the staff behind the counter working hard on our food. I’ve chosen the tandoori with rice. I could have chosen it with a wrap or salad, but I’m in the mood for saffron-colored basmati.
The seating is outside with quaint canteen-style wooden bench tables on the pavement in a quiet street in Heliopolis. They’ve even put marble counters around a couple of pillars in front of the shop with stools to sit on. I could see myself relaxing with friends and family whilst gathered around one of the tables and enjoying a meal.
“Doesn’t it feel like we’re in London?” my brother tells me as he leans against a noticeboard Adam’s has put up that has all sorts of adverts and postings. On the glass door, there is even a London underground sign that warns “Mind the Glass”, as opposed to the “Mind the Gap” signs found in London. It’s almost a shame that we are taking our food home.
With the delicious aromas wafting around the car, we’re thinking it wasn’t a good idea to order take out. This food was made to be eaten right away. The drive home is a very long, agonizing journey and it’s very hard not to reach over to the back seat and grab a bite. And then there’s getting home and having to photograph the food before I can devour it. While I took a couple of photographs I pinched a chip from the small packet and had to sit down. Adam’s chips are by far the best I have tasted. They not only taste oven cooked, although I saw that they were fried, there is an incredible seasoning of paprika and salt that sent my taste buds to heaven. It’s a shame that the small packet is expensive for its tiny size, 10.00 LE, but worth every penny. I did not want to share.
The food is in a plastic take-out container which is a good, generous portion for one person, although to be honest, it’s the portion of the rice that is generous. The tandoori has been cut up and scattered over the basmati rice, with some fried crispy bread, slices of tomatoes and garnishing.
The chicken tandoori, 20.00 LE, is delicious. The spices are perfect. Although mild, there is a container of yogurt on standby. To think I had to visit a doner and grill to find the perfect tandoori spices in Cairo, not an Indian restaurant.
The crispy bread pieces provide a crunchy texture, giving the experience an extra dimension. Everything was perfect except for the basmati rice, 18.00 LE. I think I felt it tasted more of the factory it was previously in. But it is great that Adam’s offers choices, so next time I could order the tandoori in a wrap if I felt the rice hadn’t improved. On the menu, it does mention they add garlic mayo sauce to the tandoori wrap, 28.00 LE, so I would definitely request they hold the mayo so I could specifically enjoy the taste of the best tandoori spices — and chips! — I have had in Cairo.
Adam’s Doner & Grill
3 El Mamaleek Street
Off El Marghani Street (Opposite Heliopolis Club),
Tel: 02 22 58 42 79
Still, on the quest for an authentic Indian restaurant that I could liken to the dishes, I regularly feasted on in London, my family and I ventured to Massala at The Karvin Hotel in Heliopolis. Off the main street, one finds the independent hotel on a quiet narrow road, making parking a little tricky.
The hotel, a relatively tall apartment building nestled between other such apartment buildings, stands out from its noticeable sign, glass doors, and security metal detector out the front. The full garage meant we had to park right outside the hotel, having to leave the key with hotel security.
But this did not matter, for the promise of delectable Indian spices waited in close proximity. Much to our surprise, however, was the “Massala restaurant is undergoing refurbishment and is closed until further notice” sign that greeted us upon entering. Deflated, and about to turn on our heels and leave, the receptionist informed us that the Massala kitchen as still open, just not the restaurant. We could eat in the Chinese lounge instead. So far, my emotions could be likened to a heart monitor, up one minute, down the next, and up again. The food had better be worth it.
It was a little bizarre entering the empty Chinese restaurant, and one could not blame customers for staying away. I imagine this is what Charlotte Bronte had in mind for Jane Eyre’s traumatic experience in the Red Room, the lounge pulsating a reddish glow that even Al-Ahly fans would detest.
I wanted to be the Hotel Inspector right that minute and order things to be taken away with a clap of my hands, including the Chinese lampshades that were causing an attack on the eyes, and the strange Chinese figurines on the old, wooden piano. Everything seemed to be a different shade of red, including the tableware. The walls also needed repainting (preferably a different color). Gordon Ramsay would not be happy here, and I could imagine him using quite a few profanities about the chosen décor.
But the menu was brought to our table and it was time to study my hopes and dreams of revisiting my comfort zone. Scanning apprehensively through the list, I have to admit I was a little disappointed because there wasn’t a good selection of choices in the non-vegetarian section.
I noticed the prices were in the 45 Egyptian pounds range for the main dish, having to order the rice separately. For three people we would pay a total of three-hundred and fifty Egyptian pounds, which included starters and drinks.
I chose number 25, which was as close as I was going to get to butter chicken. We also ordered number26, and number 27. What I liked was that the waiter asked whether we wanted the dish to be mild or quite spicy, something that we were not asked in the previous Indian restaurants we had ventured to. We ordered two of the dishes to be mild, with one being very spicy.
While we waited, we ordered starters, naturally. The samosas were shaped unlike any I have laid my eyes on, which was an entertaining change. Breaking into its crusty exterior with my fork, I could smell the delicious spices already.
After tasting it, I was pleased that the vegetables inside did contain the spices I remembered so well. The fried onion, however, failed to please me, as all I tasted was fried oil.
Now, my dish looked quite interesting. The chicken had a nice tandoori taste to it, appreciating that it was marinated quite well. But the sauce was just too rich in tomato purée, and I couldn’t detect the taste of butter, cream, or even a hint of coconut which was always delightfully added to the Indian dishes back in London. This meant I wasn’t really satisfied with the dish on the whole, although the tasteful spices were there, unlike Indira’s restaurant at the Holiday Inn.
This dish was number 26, the tandoori chicken boneless cooked with bell peppers and onions. It didn’t really have a sauce like my dish, and the bell peppers hindered us from tasting the spices that I enjoyed in my dish. So this was a disappointing choice. The saffron rice with peas was cooked well, the peas giving it a pleasant, crunchy texture.
Number 27, the tandoori chicken in a rich, spicy tomato sauce, was surprisingly spicy for those of us who could tolerate it. And this was the authentic spiciness we knew and liked, not like the awkward Egyptian chili one splashes on a plate of Koshary, which was offered to us at the Indira Restaurant, passing it off as Indian. (Tsk.)
The garlic naan was a much better version of Indira’s too (couldn’t help but compare). It was juicy and tasted of butter and garlic, just as it should. But the bread was a little strange, and I couldn’t help but think this was not the naan bread I was accustomed to. It was a little thick and just didn’t taste the way I know a naan should taste. However, the one portion was quite generous, with four large naans to accompany you with your main meal.
On the whole, I would rate the atmosphere with a big, fat juicy zero. The décor was outdated and ghastly, even if it wasn’t the Massala restaurant. Perhaps after the Massala restaurant is refurbished, it will prove itself worthy for customers to venture inside and enjoy a quiet meal. Although the hotel has a roof terrace to enjoy one’s meal, it was too cold that night to even comprehend eating outdoors.
The service was good, the waiters helpful with suggestions, giving us an idea about each dish. They gave us our space but were also fast to appear when it came to wanting their attention. During our stay, another small group came in to have a meal without looking at the menu, so I got the impression that the restaurant must have its regular customers.
Overall, the food was definitely an improvement from the last two Indian restaurants I visited; the spices and tandoori were authentic. The fact that there weren’t many choices in the non-vegetarian section means it is unlikely I visit again unless I am in the mood for the same dish I tried. But I would ask the waiter that the chef go easy on the tomato purée. And if the chef was open to suggestions, I’d even ask for something off the menu.
The Karvin Hotel’s Indian Restaurant
Massala at The Karvin Hotel
11 Mohamed Ebeid st.,
El-saba`a Emarat Square,
Still, on the quest to find a good Indian restaurant in Cairo, I was quite excited to try Indira, under the assumption that since it was under hotel management, the food and service, would be of high quality. It had been months since my taste buds were tickled by succulent spices and herbs, and looking at the menu outside the restaurant inside City Stars made my mouth water. Sadly, however, that was as far as the drooling went.
Upon walking into the small restaurant, we were met with an x-ray machine, quite an unusual start. Because it was busy, the waiter sat us down to wait in front of the prep kitchen, until a table was available, where chefs were busy kneading dough for what I assumed were the garlic naans. It was entertaining to watch, for the first few minutes, and we were handed our menus to peruse. The menu came in the form of one large sheet of paper, held by a leather holder, available in Arabic and English. I decided to try the Chicken Tikka Massala, while my company decided to try the Butter Chicken and a vegetarian dish with potatoes.
Fifteen minutes had passed and we had still not been seated, although a couple of tables had been cleared. I had by now memorized how to knead dough into little naan shapes. I had also by now learned how to place minced chicken onto a skewer, and how to dip said skewer of chicken into a deep pot that I assumed was where the marination took place. We had asked two waiters if we were going to be seated soon, and they, looking quite rushed off their feet, would reply in the affirmative and then disappear.
As we waited some more, I took a good look at my surroundings. The restaurant design was sort of a hybrid–an East meets West, what with the orange wall at the side, with small, squared niches scattered across, displaying oriental artifacts I assumed was Indian. It wasn’t ultramodern, but modern enough for a hotel situated inside a mall. Being part of a corporate hotel chain, it did not look like an authentic Indian restaurant.
Half an hour had passed and we had still not been seated. In that time we had spoken to the chef and asked him what part of India he was from–Vikram from the north–whilst he told us the food in the menu was from different parts of India and not one specific area. That should have signaled alarm bells for me, as surely a chef cooking from different areas of a large, rich subcontinent is spreading himself too thin, meaning the food was going to be lacking.
That and the fact that the waiters were nowhere to be seen. It was then that I noticed other people waiting too, on the verge of complaining to the invisible manager. Something was definitely not right with the staff here.
Forty minutes later–twenty of which two empty tables were available but not yet cleared–we were seated. But the waiting was not over for us, the waiter was nowhere to be seen. The table near us joked about holding up their hands like children do in school, to call the teacher’s attention, so we did the same until the waiter finally noticed us.
It was nearly fifty minutes and we still hadn’t ordered. When the waiter finally came to our table he did not apologize for the wait, as professional waiters usually tell us. So we had to tell him how long we waited and ask how much longer we were going to wait for the food. Twenty minutes we were told, with a “I’ll be very upset if you’re upset” speech before he disappeared into the kitchen.
In the meantime, we were offered dips to dig into while we waited. The problem was, we didn’t have anything to dip with, no poppadoms, or naan–how were we supposed to eat the dips? We asked one of the staff who told us that the poppadoms had not arrived from India yet, so they were basically out. We were puzzled by two things: why couldn’t they make the poppadoms from scratch in the restaurant, they were making all types of naan in front of us in the prep kitchen, and why entice us with dips we couldn’t eat?
Thirty minutes had passed–making we wait a grand-total of over an hour. We had taken to playing with the rotating elevated glass table-top in the middle, passing around our drinks, anything to keep us entertained, when finally the food made an appearance. Now, it looked Indian, but it did not smell Indian–I could not detect the aroma of the special spices I was so used to back in the United Kingdom. But being ravenous by now, we tucked into our meals, a frown appearing on each of our foreheads one at a time.
It sure looked Indian, but it didn’t taste remote anywhere near the Indian subcontinent. The garlic naan, the ones we had watched being kneaded and placed in the oven, was shiny from the butter, and the texture was good, but I could not detect a hint of garlic, or anything for that matter. It was all very bland, from the rice to the main dishes.
So we asked for curry, and the head chef himself came over and presented a little saucer for us. He explained that foreigners who came to the hotel did not like their food to be spicy, which is why they were not allowed to make the dishes too hot. We suggested that they asked upon ordering how hot or mild the guest wanted their food, so as to avoid disappointment. After he had left, we added the chilly to our dishes and again, our foreheads creased. This was not the Indian chilly we knew and loved. This was the type of chilly you were offered in Koshary establishments.
We had had a disappointing evening so far, what with the waiting and the quality of the food that did not have a resemblance of any type of Indian we had devoured in our lifetime. It was time to leave. It was now approaching two hours since we entered the restaurant. We asked for the cheque, not expecting another wait. But wait we did- for another fifteen minutes. Waiters were either in the kitchen, or taking photographs with a tourist who wanted to savor the moment. As it was now approaching ten in the evening, most of the tables were empty, so we were unsure why there was a lack of staff.
By now we were at the end of our tether and wanted to move. We reminded another waiter of our cheque, who reminded the waiter was serving us, who then remembered to go to the computer and print out our bill. Unprofessionalism does not even describe it.
Two hours and a half of torture, the three of us paid the grand total of 550 Egyptian pounds. If the food was good, if the staff were competent, if the atmosphere was authentic, we would have gladly paid and tipped the waiter serving us. But Indira turned out to be a dire event that would not be repeated.
Upon leaving, the waiter handed us a little box with an Indira logo. He told us it was a little gift from the restaurant, something we had seen waiters hand out to every guest leaving. Looking inside the box, it was a packet of Indian spices.
We laughed and wanted to hand it back to the waiter.
If anything, the restaurant needed it more than we did.
Indira Indian Restaurant
Holiday Inn – City Stars