By Hannah Wilkinson
The idyllic atmosphere of the Marriott Cairo Hotel and Omar Khayyam Casino in Zamalek’s Somaa Basha tent is partly due to its design; a selection of elegant fabrics hangs overhead to form the roof of the tent and spiral down its supporting poles. This is partly due to the scent of shisha and the voices of the live singers which linger in the air; and partly the setting in the hotel’s Khedieval gardens, which surround the tent with towering palm trees, silhouetted against the sky. But I would posit that the idyll is largely due to the fact that no traffic can be heard from inside the gardens, giving patrons a chance to escape from the continuous cacophony arising from Cairo’s trigger-happy engine revvers and car horn honkers for a few sweet hours.
The Marriott Hotel presents its Somaa Basha tent, specially erected for Ramadan. Its theme is “Egyptian nights” – presumably the product of a fairly short brainstorming session – but nonetheless one which is pulled off with panache. The aforementioned tasteful decor does well to set the scene. Traditionally-clad Egyptian women oven bake baladi bread in front of your eyes and the menu offers all the Egyptian classics, including shawarma, fattah, and koshary.
The consistently delicious starters were the strongest part of the meal by far. Soups and salads are available, but we opted for a selection of traditional cold meze, which arrived in small, deceptively deep clay bowls.
The baba ghaough was delicately flavoured, with a hint of vinegar which was pleasant rather than overpowering. We also had sweet and spicy muhammara, and a refreshing and varied fattoush salad.
Hummus in all its forms is well worth sampling at the Marriott. Smooth, rich, nutty, our other starter, hummuus with meat, was heavenly. The lamb was melt-in-the-mouth gorgeous, and the dish was interspersed with pine nuts which created a lovely varied texture.
The main courses were nothing if not abundant. The fattah with lamb shank arrived on a veritable mountain of rice and crispy baladi bread, topped with strong tomato and garlic sauce. The lamb shank atop the carb mountain was well cooked, with the lamb succulent and falling off the bone, if somewhat reluctantly.
The lamb in the okra tagine was more tender and succulent still, complemented beautifully by the okra sauce, which blended the vegetables and spices into a pleasingly thick consistency.
The fillet of beef, while not the strongest item on the menu, was accompanied by a delicious array of roasted vegetables, including a whole tomato, which helped to counteract the slight dryness of the meat.
All of the above dishes were delivered in quick succession; our table was constantly crowded with food. Although we were sitting in a slightly secluded corner of the tent, the waiters managed to strike the perfect balance between attentive and intrusive; we were never waiting too long for something we needed, and the restaurant staff were welcoming and friendly throughout.
With hardly any room left for dessert, we bravely soldiered on in the name of journalistic integrity, and ordered an oriental platter of traditional sweets. In a departure from the abundance of the previous courses, the plate was a little sparse, but this allowed us to fully enjoy the delicate flavours of the sweets on offer, and served as the proverbial cherry on the cake of a relaxing Ramadan experience in stunning surroundings.