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Heliopolis says hello to Thai

Most dining ventures open in the heart of the city, and as a resident of Heliopolis, a craving for Italian or a dinner date usually has me making the trek to Zamalek or Garden City, if not further away to Giza. A chance discovery of the Fairmont Heliopolis’ Lan Tania Thai restaurant has me gloating …

Most dining ventures open in the heart of the city, and as a resident of Heliopolis, a craving for Italian or a dinner date usually has me making the trek to Zamalek or Garden City, if not further away to Giza.

A chance discovery of the Fairmont Heliopolis’ Lan Tania Thai restaurant has me gloating that now we have something brilliant in our neck of the woods.

With some die-hard foodies in tow, dinner for four was costly but very much enjoyed. Lan Tania is a small restaurant in the corridor that connects the Fairmont Towers to Fairmont Heliopolis. The two wings of the hotel share a number of new dining venues that seem quite promising. Haiku, a Japanese restaurant, is also attracting some attention.

Under a large dome yet not strictly outdoors, Lan Tania’s setting is slightly unconventional in Cairo for its interesting interiors among Thai restaurants. The space is hip, elegant with clean modern interiors, and the kitchen is visible to diners through glass, no Buddha head or bamboo plants here, thankfully.

Diners can also watch head Chef Panya Thosuanchit – armed with 28 years of experience – as he leads a team of Thai and Egyptian chefs in creating their many specialties.

And the food? Some of the dishes are extraordinarily good.

Although there’s an extensive drinks and wine list, skip the cocktails for the mocktails. The innocent Mandarin Mojito (LE 30) was refreshing, and the Dome Ice Tea (LE 30) of apple spiced tea with cardamoms was repeatedly ordered throughout dinner.

First-timers beware: Thai food is extremely spicy, and although the menu so kindly suggests that diners ask to alter the degree of spiciness in their liking, it certainly doesn’t hurt to try. A Thai culinary glossary is provided in the menu, but most charming of all is the illustration of one to four chili peppers connoting the degree of “authentically Thai food.

The menu is extensive, with vegetarian and carnivorous options throughout.

Deep fried shrimp wonton (LE 80), satay beef and chicken (LE 90) and minced chicken and shrimp spring rolls (LE 45) were ordered as appetizers, yet not the best I’ve had in Cairo. It pays to start with the salads and soups instead.

Though slightly bland, the Traditional Tom Yum Goong soup (LE 45) is poured from a press, which I found to be quite charming.

The best salads sampled were the Pla Goong of grilled prawns in Thai herbs for LE 80. The shrimp was juicy and fresh, and – as I was ordered by my dining partner to stress – don’t ignore the sauce under it, “it’s got citrus zing!

Also, the Yum Nuea Yeang (LE 95) was fantastic. Grilled strip loin with onion, cucumber, tomato and Thai dressing, it too impressed our palates.

The main courses included curry options and other typical Thai fare. The glossary also included explanations for the various curries, as each region in Thailand is synonymous with a particular curry and the ingredients which form its makeup. So not only was this meal very good but it proved to be quite educational as well.

We ordered and shared Phad Holapa Taley, a stir-fried seafood dish with mushroom and basil leaves, (and also three chili icons worth of spice stated the menu, for LE 120). Very spicy but very good.

For my vegetarian friend, Tao Hoo Phad Tour Kok, a dish of stir-fried tofu, bean sprout, soya sauce and oyster sauce was deemed good (LE 40) but I would suggest solely ordering from the curry-based options, which proved to be the most rewarding.

The menu includes dishes made from red, green, yellow, peaneang or massaman curry. Each curry has its distinct flavors.

Geang Rwang Goong, a shrimp broccoli and zucchini dish cooked in yellow curry (LE 120) was two chili icons spicy, yet mild palettes at the table were able to handle it due to the coconut milk base, which helped temper the heat.

What was most rewarding was the Paneang Ped (LE 110), a red curry made with peanuts and flavored with nutmeg paired with tender and succulent slivers of smoked duck breast, and given a kick of zest with some kaffir lime leaves.

Although the menu contains a wide-ranging choice of meat, poultry and sea food choices, the rice and noodles were limited to four good options.

Traditional Phad Thai Goong Sod noodles were the best in my opinion, stir-fried noodles with shrimps, bean sprouts, soft tofu and (perhaps this is the secret ingredient) spicy tamarind sauce (LE 70).

The lightly spicy Kao Phad “Lan Tania fried rice (LE 70), the namesake rice and noodle dish of the restaurant itself, was also delicious. Minced chicken, prawn and Thai herbs flavored the fried rice and it served as a perfect complement to each of our main dishes. I recommend ordering a rice and noodle dish for every two dining – their portions are overwhelming.

As is typical of most Asian-inspired cuisine, dessert is somewhat limited. The menu offers five options, one being ice cream. Their fried banana with vanilla ice cream was wonderful, but the remaining three options were more curious and exciting.

Saku Piek, tapioca pearls with caramelized sweet potato and coconut milk was quite tasty. Tapioca pearls are naturally derived from the Thai tapioca flower, and are said to be quite nutritious. Although very sweet, it was deemed the group’s favorite. The Tab Tim Khob was also enjoyed, if not for the hot pink candied chunks of chestnuts floating in coconut milk. All desserts are for LE 35.

Coconut and spiced coffees and Jasmin tea were the perfect end to the beautiful, yet expensive meal. A definite treat for Heliopolis residents, and a great place to go and dine on occasion.

Lan TaniaFairmont HeliopolisOrouba St., HeliopolisTel: 2267 7730

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