The restaurant s Asian offerings are expensive, but justifiably so most of the time
CAIRO: Eating out in Cairo can be predictable, and sometimes downright boring. Many popular restaurants mimic each other’s menus, so that even a new idea quickly becomes passé.
But high above the commotion of Sphinx Square sits a noteworthy duo to the Cairo dining scene – the twin restaurants of Raoucha and Kandahar, are two ambitious eateries which promise to make for enjoyable evenings out.
A friend and I spent a recent evening at Kandahar and found the experience delectable from start to finish. The atmosphere is luxurious, the service warm and friendly, and the food is generally excellent.
Named after a neighborhood in Beirut and a city in Afghanistan, respectively, Raoucha specializes in Lebanese cuisine while Kandahar offers a wide variety of South Asian dishes.
Both are owned by the Oberoi Hotel chain and together they take up an entire floor of one of the towers overlooking the busy square, giving diners a surprisingly pleasant view of the stream of bright traffic lights.
From the moment you step out of your car in front of the restaurant, it is clear you are about to enter a world far removed from the noise, pollution and overcrowding of the city that surrounds it.
Raoucha Kandahar offers valet parking, and a golden elevator whisks you from the sidewalk to the dining room several stories above the square. Once inside the serene and fashionably decorated dining room, it is easy to forget where you are. Candles gently float in giant brass cauldrons, surrounded by deep red flower petals. Each table is covered with linen cloths atop which sit golden plates stamped with intricate designs. It is not your typical evening in Mohandiseen.
With a few exceptions, the food at Kandahar is among the best you will find in Cairo. Because it is owned by the Oberoi, some of the dishes are very expensive, for example jheenga masala or curry made with prawns will set you back LE 96, not including taxes or service. But the Oberoi name also ensures that almost anything you order will be excellent. The service is also attentive and warm, without veering into the creepy and overly friendly, as so often happens in some restaurants and cafes.
Each meal begins with a plate of vegetable pakoras and fried potatoes with pickled lemons, sweet onions and a savory coriander sauce. All are delicious, although the pickled lemons pack a powerful punch and are not for the faint of heart.
After this, my friend and I chose seekh kebab (lamb kebab, LE 37.50), murgh curry (chicken curry, LE 45) and matter paneer (savory green peas and cottage cheese, LE 17.) As side dishes, we chose chaawal (steamed rice, LE 7) and keema naan (bread with lamb, LE 15.)
The chicken curry was savory and tender; three large pieces of meat so delicate it practically fell away from the bone. The matter paneer was also excellent. Unlike some Cairo restaurants that serve freeze-dried vegetables and try to hide their lack of flavor by drowning them in a heavy sauce, the vegetables at Kandahar are farm fresh.
The keema naan was also enjoyable, its crispness and delicate flavor make it the perfect scoop for matter paneer.
Compared with the high quality of the other two dishes, the seekh kebab was something of a disappointment. It did not taste bad; it just tasted a bit too much like regular old kofta and did not seem worth LE 37.50. Similarly, chaawal is just plain old boiled rice – the kind you can make at home using a regular stove. Many restaurants would serve curry with rice for free, and LE 7 for a bowl of boiled rice seems unreasonable in a country where many citizens live on LE 7 a day.
Overall, Kandahar makes an excellent choice for an evening out. Despite a few pitfalls here and there, it is undoubtedly a memorable evening.
KandaharOberoi Hotels Egypt, 3 Gamat El-Dowel Al-Arabia St., Sphinx Sq.Tel: (202) 303 0615
Liam StackThe restaurant’s five-star setting and service quality is credited to its operator Oberoi Hotels