A taste of India on the banks of the Nile

Aida Nassar
8 Min Read

Walking down the plank to Le Pacha’s, it feels like a small world after all. Well, that is in a culinary sense. We walked past a Greek tavern, we took a right at the Lebanese restaurant, we passed by Italian Piccolo Mondo and Asiatique, and made our way to India.

Maharani, Le Pacha’s latest culinary adventure, allows epicureans a tasty tour – though brief – through the Asian subcontinent.

Once you step over the threshold, it’s like walking onto the set of a Bollywood movie. With popular Indian music blaring over the speakers, I half-expected Amitabh Bachchan and Gracy Singh to pop up from behind the bar and start a flirtatious two-step. Of course, the scene wouldn’t be complete unless the band of waiters joined in with an ensemble dance.

I admit, the dining experience wasn’t as dramatic, but the décor did little to tame a wild imagination. I don’t doubt that Le Pacha did its research, yet the brassy interior is not what I had expected. The wine-red seating was lush and quite comfortable. The brass-top tables were inspired. But was it really necessary to deck the white columns with garish gold wreaths?

The stained glass mural of a Maharani being waited upon by her willing servants did seem like a good idea, but the execution was borderline kitsch. I’m no expert on Indian interior design, but given its vast culture and heritage, was this the most tasteful theme they could adapt for a top-notch restaurant?

While I was questioning the authenticity of the décor, the authenticity of the cuisine was unquestionable. Never one to cut corners, or to compromise his reputation for offering the finest culinary experience, Le Pacha flew in Indian chefs. Perusing the menu whet our appetite even more and the tantalizing aroma of spices that wafted from a nearby table only heightened the anticipation.

The Samosas (LE 33) – stuffed with potatoes and vegetable tossed in a mix of sharp spices – arrived first. The mint sauce was not able to compensate for the dryness of the pastry. The starter definitely fell short of our expectations, and two of the four samosas lay untouched on the dish.

Thankfully, a basket of assorted breads arrived to the table and we were immediately distracted by the comforting taste of Nan infused with garlic. Delightful. The breads are freshly baked and arrive hot to the table, and are essential to soaking up the curry sauces. So, I recommend ordering the assorted basket (LE 28) of Nan, garlic Nan, and Chapati. And try to keep it with in arms-distance during the meal, because I assure you that you will constantly be reaching for it.

The main dishes arrived. We opted for the Maharani Platter (LE 107) – a selection of chicken, lamb, and kofta cooked in a genuine (I asked) tandoor oven. The platter was enough for two hearty appetites to share, but we couldn’t possibly go home satiated unless we dipped into a rich curry dish. We chose the Murgh Makhini (LE 65), “Tandoori chicken in a delicate blend of butter, fenugreek, tomato, and garlic described the menu.

I cannot say enough good things about the main course. The tender lamb chops were infused with a charcoaly flavor from the Tandoor oven. The kofta had the subtle undertones of a bouquet of spices that were unexpected and delightful. The skewered chicken was rosy from the mix of spices, and succulent.

The Murgh Makhini, however, topped the evening with its rich, thick tomato sauce. The sweet, tangy spiciness only gave a hint of heat (you can request how hot you want your food when you order). I tore off pieces of Nan and Chapati to scoop up the extra sauce. This would definitely be the dish to draw me back to Maharani again and again.

The side dishes were a good accompaniment, though it might be wise to ask your waiter to recommend which go best with your main dish. The Dal (LE 33) – roasted yellow lentils infused with curry – was tasty. Though I would have passed on the Mushroom Matar (LE 33) – a mix of mushrooms and vegetables in tomato sauce – as the flavors did not mesh well with the Murgh Makhini.

The meal was filling, and it was somewhat of a relief that the menu offered no Indian desserts. Firstly, because Indian desserts are more of a culinary adventure than I can face after such a hearty meal. Secondly, the Indian dessert chef is still making his way to Cairo so it’ll be a couple of weeks before he make a contribution to the menu.

The meal, in the end is quite pricy. After all, we’re talking chicken, chops and lentils here. While each item on the menu is only slightly overpriced, the fact that each accompaniment comes with its own price tags means it all adds up in the end to a grand total of about LE 200 per person (not including alcoholic beverages).

But it’s not the food that you’re paying for, it’s the overall dining experience. The attention to serving genuine cuisine and the quality of the ingredients is worth paying that extra bit for, and the service is exceptional given Cairo’s standards. The waiters were professional, attentive without being overbearing. Our waiter, Mohamed Fouad, was knowledgeable, answering my persistent questions about the menu patiently. The premium experience nearly justified the premium prices.

Maharani is really a place to dine with a group. The dishes are served at the center of the table for all to share. We were only two people so we had to pass on the rice and Biryani dishes, which we enviously watched other diners eat. The fun is in exploring the different flavors of Indian cuisine, which spans a spectrum of flavors and styles. A word of caution, however: dine early. Indian cuisine is rich and spicy, and it’s wise to wait a few hours before bedtime to digest.

The meal comes to an end with small finger bowls placed before you. The lemon wedges wipe away the pungent spices from your fingers. Long after you leave the dining room, though, the aromas and spices of India linger, and I know it’s only a matter of time until I’m drawn back again for more epicurean explorations.

Maharani Le Pacha 1901 Saray El Gezirah St, Zamalek, CairoTel: (02) 2735 6730 Opens daily from 7 pm

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