Esca, Heliopolis (Iftar)

I was living in Doha during Ramadan in 2016 and 2017 so this year Ramadan, my first in Cairo, has been slightly different. I think it would be fair to say as a non-Muslim the holy month hasn’t affected my life as significantly as it did when I was in Qatar. Most shops are still open (all be it with slightly different hours), people are still working almost ‘normal’ hours, the radio is playing music and we aren’t restricted to eating and drinking behind a blacked out windows at school. We also haven’t been to as many Iftar / Suhoors as we have done previously, so on Friday we decided to try the set Iftar menu at ESCA, a restaurant I’ve wanted to go to for a while.

ESCA Iftar Menu

First off, I have to say how good the ESCA team are on social media. I made the reservation through their Facebook page and received almost immediate confirmation. Even when we arrived later than expected due to a combination of Uber cancellations and the craziest traffic, they didn’t seem to mind. The design of the restaurant is lovely. The tables are well spaced and several are divided up to give privacy, creating a more intimate feel. The floor to ceiling windows bring in natural light and the greenery allows for an outside/inside feel. Clever use of a mirrors on the ceiling reflects the lights and makes the restaurant feel spacious despite the dark furniture and fixings.

ESCA, Heliopolis
ESCA, Heliopolis

After a few minutes we were brought a ‘Ramadan’ drink which was fruit based and extremely sweet, a bottle of water and the Iftar set menu. As usual I had pretty much decided on what I was going to have as soon as I booked the table, so it didn’t take long for us to place our order. We confirmed our main courses – chicken and beef – but we weren’t asked about our soup choice. When we mentioned this we were told it was tomato, the soup of the day,  so it wasn’t actually a choice. Shortly after ordering the shared appetizers arrived, I really liked the small serving dishes and the portion size was generous. However, as we started to tucked into the appetisers our soup arrived. This was a bit odd as some of the starters were hot so we could either eat the hot soup and leave the starters, eat the starters and leave the soup, or eat both at the same time which wasn’t really practical. We chose to eat the soup and pushed our starters aside.

Iftar, ESCA

The soup was good. It tasted of fresh, earthy tomatoes with a hint of spice and had a lovely gooey ball of buffalo mozzarella dropped into it which added a creamy texture. It also a sensible sized portion keeping in mind this was one of 4 courses.

Iftar, ESCA

We then returned to the starters, I think it is fair to say we enjoyed some more than others. I loved the salty, cheesy, crunchy feta croquettes and single handedly I ate them all despite the lack of fig chutney. Greg really enjoyed the hawashi which he said was just the right side of spicy for him. We dipped fresh bread into hummus, tahini and aubergine, these were nice but nothing out of the ordinary. The arugula, tomato and onion salad could have been better, the arugula (actually spinach) was tough and several leaves were past their best with holes and yellow tinges to them. Also, neither of us like liver so we didn’t try the chicken liver with walnuts although it did look good!

Iftar, ESCA

Bizarrely, while we were in the middle of our starters our mains arrived. By now we had been in the restaurant for less than 30 minutes and it was starting to feel a little rushed. I am not sure why this happened, the staff were watching closely as we were the only people there and they could quite clearly see we hadn’t finished. We sent the main courses back but we were aware they were probably just being kept warm. Once we were ready to move onto our mains both dishes definite had the ‘wow’ factor, they were very nicely presented other than the fact the flowers had wilted and the gravy for the chicken had started to congeel as they had been kept warming in the kitchen. As we tucked in to the food these small issues faded away. Both dishes were excellent. My steak was cooked perfectly ( medium) and the sprinkle of sea salt helped bring out the flavour of the beef. The accompanying crunchy, buttery potato dauphinoise were moreish and the sweet baby carrots added a freshness to the dish.

Iftar, ESCA

Greg loved the roast chicken on a bed of risotto, the chicken stock gravy brought all the flavours together. The skin was crispy and again the contrast of textures worked well. By now we were getting full and I was defeated by the size of the steak!

Iftar, ESCA

Once again as soon as we had finished our main course the sharing dessert was brought out, it would have been nice to have a rest between courses but this didn’t seem to be the case. I am not sure if it was because we arrived ‘late’, they were closing soon ( it was just before 8pm) or if this is the usually serving style at the restaurant but for us it felt too rushed. The desserts were a bit hit and miss. We both really enjoyed the sobya semi freddo – creamy, fruity mousse encased in a white chocolate shell on a bed of kunafa, it was just sweet enough without being sickly. The dense date cake with meringue was just a bit too heavy after the previous courses but tasted nice. We really enjoyed the rich, creamy rice pudding but the menu said it was cranberry and cardamom and there was no evidence of either, it was plain creamed rice. Unfortunately the apricot tart was far too sweet for both us but if you like sugary, fruity dessert you’ll love it!

Iftar, ESCA

Overall it was a rather mixed experience. We really enjoyed some of the dishes, namely the feta croquettes, hawashi, both of the main courses and the sobya semifreddo but for us it just felt that the meal was over too quickly. By the time we had finished dessert we had only been in the restaurant an hour. I know that Iftar usually only runs for a couple of hours at the most, but to have been served 4 courses in under an hour seemed odd. The service was friendly and we loved the setting so we would definitely go back and try their regular menu after Ramadan. Do I recommend it? On the whole I would say yes. I think for 40OLE each (ignore the printed price on the menu, it isn’t 500LE) it is good value for money and if you maybe ask for more time between courses I think it would be a very tasty way to break your fast or just enjoy a nice meal.

Kazoku, Cairo

I think it’s fair to say I’ve sometimes been underwhelmed by the restaurant offerings close to where we live in New Cairo. I do like Beirut and Sakura in City Square and enjoy the food at Casper & Gambinis but other places have been pretty average, nowhere I’d rush back to. This changed with our visit to Kazoku. I had planned to visit this restaurant when we first arrived in Cairo, but life got in the way and we finally only managed a visit a couple of weeks ago. At Kazoku everything comes together; the ambiance, the service and most importantly the food…….

The ambiance

Tucked away in Swan Lake compound the contemporary design of the restaurant allows huge amounts of natural light into the room and the space has been well thought out. It has a very welcoming feel with various seating options, cute art features and a laid back vibe. When we first arrived it was quiet with only a few tables occupied, but it slowly started to get busier and there was a lively buzz. Most of the seating is indoors but there are a few tables on the terrace overlooking the pool. This makes me sound really old, but I liked the fact the music isn’t intrusive -you can still have proper conversation without shouting! However, I have seen footage of the Saturday brunch which seems to have much more of a party atmosphere. The restaurant is the type of place you can go to as a couple, with family and friends in larger groups – it is great for any occasion.

The service

On both of our visits the service has been spot on. Friendly but not over the top, efficient but not hovering and they seem genuinely interested in providing guests with a good, all round experience which is refreshing to see. On our first visit it took about 15 minutes for our drinks to materialise but Greg commented that this was probably as good thing as it stopped us drinking too much before eating! On our next visit the drinks were served a lot faster.

The food 

Offering a comtemporary, Asian inspired menu, we were spoilt for choice. On our visits we have enjoyed the slightly spicy tempura shrimp, salt and pepper squid, various gyoza, sushi rolls and sushi temaki as appetisers. I think the best thing to do is try different dishes by ordering several and sharing tapas style.

My favourite main course (and one of the most expensive dishes on the menu) is the miso black cod which was cooked to perfection. I also really enjoyed the beef tenderloin which was served meduim rare. Two main courses with a complimentary side dish each are enough for 2/3 people. Our friends enjoyed the Thai curry and roast duck, however I found the duck a little dry, as I prefer it a pink and this was well done.

I loved the concept of bento box desserts and they were reasonably priced at 150LE. We shared the peanut butter rice pudding, white chocolate mousse, match creme brulee, chocolate fondant and the chocolate semifredo. However, the firm favourite was the tangy, sharp, yuzu lemon cud which was very refreshing.

Kazoku also has an extensive cocktail menu, there are pages of classics such as a Moscow Mule through to the Serenity which features sesame oil. The wine list showcases local wine as well as imports. I am speaking from experience when I say is easy to spend as much (if not more) on drink than food so be warned!

I am really pleased we have discovered Kazoku, it is a gem of a restaurant and a place we will return to again and again. No, it’s not cheap in comparsion to other restaurants I have reviewed,  but here you definitely get what you pay for….

On a side note I have found it quite difficult to use their website, it doesn’t seem to load very well. I also found the menu on there isn’t the same as the menu we were given at the restaurant, so you may want to double check with them. From what I can gather there are 3 ‘sittings’ 2-7pm 7-10pm and 10-1am and reservations are advised.

5 Delicious Dishes at Casper & Gambini’s

I sometimes feel that people look down on chain restaurants under the belief that they offer mass-produced, substandard food. For me, as long as the food is good, I don’t mind the name above the door. For people who are new to a town, city or even a country, a chain restaurant can provide some familiarity and comfort. I remember when I traveled to India several years ago almost 3 weeks into my trip, I snuck off to McDonald’s as I just wanted a break from Indian food! Also, in countries where there is a language barrier, such as when we went to China, a universal menu at a chain restaurant is sometimes a good idea!

Chinese Street Food, Beijing


A week or so after we moved to Cairo we needed to have the dreaded trip to Ikea, so we thought we’d fuel ourselves up before buying half of the store. I looked on El Menus and Cairo 360 for decent places to eat at CFC and the chain restaurant Casper and Gambini’s was recommended. The chain started Northern Italy just after WWII and it now has restaurants in 10 cities across the Middle East and Africa – for us it was our first visit.

Casper & Gambini’s Cairo Festival City


Since that first visit we’ve been back several times for the following reasons;

* We usually go on a Friday morning and it’s really easy to get a table. We have been sitting indoors but now the weather is cooler there’s a large outside terrace.

Casper & Gambini’s Cairo Festival City


* The staff are very friendly and the service is consistently good. On one occasion I poured half the salt-cellar over my food and, without any fuss, it was quickly replaced.

* The menu has lots of choice. They serve breakfast, light lunches, main meals and desserts – there’s something for everyone.

* The prices are reasonable for example Pancakes are 62LE, Lasagna is 91LE the House Burger is 85LE and Chocolate Fondant 49LE.

* You get a delicious basket of focaccia with dip to nibble on whilst waiting for your food to arrive.

Bread at Casper and Gambini’s


* They serve really nice iced tea, but my favourite drink is ‘sweet roots’ with fresh pomegranate, beetroot and orange.

Casper and Gambini’s Cairo


The 5 dishes I would recommend to try here are;

Philly Cheesesteak Sandwich (96LE)

Philly Cheesesteak, Casper &Gambini’s


Poached eggs with avocado on pumpernickel (44LE)

Poached eggs, Casper & Gambini’s


Terriyaki salmon with squid ink pasta (159LE)

Terriyaki Salmon, Casper & Gambini’s


Cobb Salad (86LE)

Cobb Salad, Casper & Gambini’s


Salmon with basmati rice and aubergine (185LE)

Salmon with aubergine, Casper & Gambini’s


So, next time you’re at CFC and you get hungry I’d recommend you try Casper and Gambini’s. They also have branches at the Mall of Arabia, Towers Mall, Point 90 Mall, Maadi and City Stars.

Staycation Package at the Royal Maxim Palace Kempinski, Cairo 

Last week I had what was previously referred to as a ‘Doha Day’ – I’m not sure what to call it now I’m in Cairo but it wasn’t a good day. Greg felt I needed a bit of time to myself, a bit of pampering, so he suggested I booked a solo staycation at the Kempinki near our home (I think he was just trying to get rid of me). The hotel offers a fantastic staycation package so I booked in for the Thursday evening reserving a single occupancy, deluxe room via their website and paid $130. The staycation package includes;

  • Complimentary upgrade if booked directly through their website 
  • Breakfast buffet per person
  • Access to swimming pool and spa facilities
  • Pizza and soft drink by the pool (worth approx 200LE) per person
  • 15% off the bill in Lucca, Romanov or Yana
  • 100/200LE discount on a 50/80min spa treatment per person
  • 4pm check out

Check in  – So that I could make full use of my stay I arrived at midday. I didn’t expect my room to be ready so planned to go to the pool but I was pleased to be told it was available. Check in was friendly and, at the time, I felt it was efficient but in hindsight it could have been better. The lobby area is lovely with a wonderful flower display and a huge chandelier, there were lots of staff on hand. I was personally escorted to my room and my bag followed a few minutes later

The room – I booked the cheapest room and I was happily surprised at how luxurious it felt for a ‘basic’ room. I loved the high ceiling and large windows as this made the room feel light and airy even though the furnishings were deep, rich, dark colors. It was very well sound proofed despite it facing the ring road.

The bed was very, very comfortable and the room overall felt spacious. In addition to the TV and work desk ( with USB ports) there was a long corridor with a full length mirror, luggage storage, clothes hooks, a drinks stand with tea/kettle, complimentary water and a Nespresso machine. 

​I was disappointed to see that the fridge was empty as was the space for the Nespresso capsules and the tea bags hadn’t been replenished either. Maybe housekeeping hadn’t had time to restock the room as I’d checked in early? After mentioning these issues to reception everything was quickly brought to the room but really the room shouldn’t have been made available until everything was checked.

** rant alert**  I rung housekeeping to see if I could have some fresh milk as I think using powdered creamer in tea is just gross, but they said it would not be free. This simple gesture in a 5 star hotel really frustrates me. A small milk is 4LE, I point blank refuse to pay room service for milk so Greg ended up bringing me one over later that night. Its just annoying and a personal bugbear of mine  **rant over**


​The bathroom was huge and was spotlessly clean. In addition to the rainfall shower there was a separate bath, toilet, bidet and a large sink.

The bathroom also housed floor to ceiling wardrobes with plenty of space for those staying for a few nights or more. There was a safe, hand held hairdryer and slippers. The robes unfortunately were missing.



Facilities – I mostly used the outdoor pool and the spa area during my stay. The pool is a really good size and the space has been well designed. Some rooms have access straight onto the pool area, there are lots of loungers with umbrellas and there is a cafe area which offers drinks and snacks. The staff here were really attentive bringing over towels and cold water. There is a small, shaded children’s pool and close by there are changing rooms, lockers and toilets. I found the pool very peaceful on a morning and even though it slowly got busier it never felt really cramped or noisy.


​I also went to the indoor spa area which is absolutely stunning, it really did feel like an escape from crazy Cairo! Although I didn’t have a treatment ( I plan to do so next time) I used the indoor pool and Jacuzzi, there is also a sauna and steam rooms available. The staff here were warm and friendly, they offered to show me around but really I just wanted to lie down and nap!

I didn’t use the gym but, for a hotel, the Gym area looked very well equipped and not just an afterthought. It is certainly good enough for a workout for most people.

Food and drink – For me this was the most inconsistent and disappointing part of my stay. The kofta by the pool on my first day was deliciously fresh and tasty as was the pizza, so I would recommend eating here. 


However, when Greg came to join me for dinner and we ate at Lucca the Italian restaurant, it was nothing special. We decided to share the antipasta but on the menu there was no description of what this included. We asked and we were told it was grilled vegetables, seafood and cheese but when it arrived it seemed to be a rather odd mix of ‘bits’ with a pile of spinach to bulk it out. There were some prawns, a bit of pasta and veg but nothing that stood out or impressed us. It also tasted heavily of olives which neither of us like!


The main courses were below average in comparison to other Italian dishes we’ve had. My penne chicken with aubergine was definitely under cooked to the point I had to pull pasta out of my teeth, again it tasted very strongly of olives – this ingredient wasn’t listed on the menu.

img_9372Greg’s fish cannelloni was only just warm and again the pasta was under cooked. We decided not to stay for dessert. 

The first cheque that came wasn’t ours and we sent it back, the second cheque didn’t have the 15% discount which is applicable in all 3 restaurants. The manager told us that we couldn’t use the 15% on the a la carte menu but he was happy to do so on this occasion. However, we had been told by the front desk staff we could use it on any item. Throughout my stay it was clear the staff weren’t aware of the staycation offer and if they were there were mixed messages. Indeed, it took me 4 attempts and a trip to reception to get the voucher needed for the complimentary pizza as the staff didn’t know what I was talking about and I hadn’t been issued with it on check in.

We also went to 1897 Bar for drinks but it was very quiet and there wasn’t really much atmosphere. The prices in here are quite high and I wondered if this was a reason why it was empty? I did like the ‘gentleman’s club’ feel to the place though.

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Breakfast was an average hotel buffet. Fresh pastries, cheeses, meats, an egg station etc –  it was OK. I felt some of the food wasn’t replaced quickly and it would have been nice to have some healthier options such as smoothies and more fruit as this was quite limited. Service at breakfast was very good.



Check out  – As I had a late check out I was able to spend most of the day by the pool before coming back to pack which was a huge bonus. On check out my bag was taken so that it could be stored until I was ready to leave. I did ask to speak to the manager to clarify a few questions I had about the package as I felt that some staff didn’t know about the 15% off promotion, the complimentary pizza and as I hadn’t been upgraded I questioned if the hotel was full. After him ringing a few people it transpired he didn’t fully understand the package either! He was very nice about the points I raised and clarified the following for me;

  • If the package is booked through the hotel website  then if a room upgrade is available on check in it will be given. They did offer me an apology as I was not offered this.
  • The staycation package entitles you to 15% off in Romanov, Lucca and Yana restaurants – this is 15% off the whole bill.
  • The staycation package is available to everyone, not just Egyptian residents/citizens

Verdict  – I think the staycation package is an excellent deal and its something I would definitely recommend. I was really taken aback with how different the hotel looks inside in comparison to the outside. The staff were very good and the whole hotel was designed with attention to detail. My room was lovely, I really liked the mix of textures and fabrics and the way the room was laid out. The hotel facilities are excellent especially the pool and the spa, I came home feeling relaxed and happy. It wasn’t seamless, there were some problems, but if not many people are using the promotion this to some extent is understandable. I do feel that further training is needed for staff in the restaurants regarding the discount and I suggested that on check in someone who is staying on this package should get an envelope with the discount for the restaurants and spa and the pizza voucher as this would eliminate any confusion.

Would I go back? Yes, absolutely …maybe next time I will take Greg along and we would give the Italian a miss! So, if you’re looking for a weekend retreat, an escape from city life, this would be the perfect get away. Shortly after my stay I was sent a survey about my experience in which I highlighted all the points raised in this post.

The Tap East, New Cairo

Having lived in West Bay for 3 years surrounded by bars, cafes and restaurants moving to Rehab has been a big change. I definitely think we’ve made the right choice but I do miss being able to walk across the road to Quickbites or next door to Prime! In a search for a new ‘local’ Greg found The Tap East, marketed as a ‘Neighbourhood Bar’ we thought we’d go and check it out and I reserved a table through their website which was very efficient. It was fairly quiet when we arrived but we immediately felt welcome.

I would describe the decor as industrial meets American Diner. The exposed brick walls have small recessed TVs and there’s a variety of red leather booths, steel tables and stools with a large central bar displaying their ‘towers of beer’. Wall murals of Audrey Hepburn and Jim Morrison provide a backdrop to the area by the mixing decks and stage (there is live music most nights). There’s also a large outside terrace which will be great when it’s cooler. The menu was pretty good too, a wide selection of bar snacks and main meals. I was pleasantly surprised to see imported drinks too such as Newcastle Brown Ale! ​

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​We decided to share the nachos as an appetiser and I ordered the buffalo chicken salad for my main with Greg choosing the boneless BBQ rib sandwich along with a couple of bottles of Desparados. As we waited for our food we spent most of the time shazaming the soundtrack which was excellent and create a cool, laid back atmosphere. Mustafa, member of staff, also came over for a quick chat to find out where were from and what we thought of the bar – everyone was really friendly. Soon our nachos arrived and they were a good portion size for sharing. There was a good balance of melted cheese to nacho with a splattering of beef chili and sides of salsa and sour cream. Unfortunately shortly after we started tucking in to them our main courses were brought out. I find this a bit frustrating especially when we specified we wanted an appetiser followed by mains. 

My buffalo chicken salad was really tasty and just on the right side of spicy for my taste. I did think there was a little too much lettuce but that’s probably because I don’t particularly like it! The salad was nicely presented and the vegetables were crunchy and fresh.

Greg really enjoyed his rib sandwich. Again there was a generous portion of tender beef in a fresh bun with a tangy BBQ sauce served with crunchy fries and creamy coleslaw. Overall the food was good, solid bar food.

After a couple more drinks we asked for the bill and left very happy that we’d found a new ‘local’ and of course, survived our first month in Cairo!

​We paid just under 700LE in total for our food and drinks which was reasonable value. I’d like to go back again when it’s a bit busier, maybe when there’s a band on. Overall we enjoyed our night.

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The Smokery, Katameya Heights

When you’re new to a country how do you find out about good places to eat? For me I usually check out Trip Advisor, read blog posts and google reviews. Here in Egypt there’s El Menus which is similar to Zomato, a webiste I relied on a lot in Qatar. Having carried out my due diligence and read great reviews I reserved a table at The Smokery in Katameya Heights for a night out. We eventually arrived just after 5pm after a scenic detour thanks to Uber!

You know the feeling when you make a reservation and walk into an empty restaurant? Yeh, that’s exactly what happened. We assumed it would get busier later on and we were shown to our table by the hostess who told us we had the table ‘with the best view’. It was pretty; the weather was perfect and it was nice to sit outside overlooking the golf course and lake. We were quickly brought the menu and hopes were high it was going to be a lovely evening.


The menu written, in English and French, was extensive and the food sounded delicious. We took a while to decide what to have but the staff didn’t seem to mind as they were setting up for the evening and, as the only customers, we didn’t feel rushed at all.


We decided to share a couple of appetizers and have a main course each. Our drinks were brought over but there was no interaction at all from the waiter. I know due to language barriers communication isn’t always easy, but a smile wouldn’t have gone amiss. We placed our food orders and again no interaction other than to repeat our order back to us.


After waiting about 10 minutes our appetizers were placed in front of us in silence. The chicken satay was ok. It was lukewarm and the sauce wasn’t particularly flavoursome, the chicken was also fairly dry. The tempura shrimp faired a little better, the plump shrimp were hot and crispy and the chili sauce packed a punch. It was just a bit ‘standard’ I think from the reviews I had higher expectations. We assured each other the mains would be better!


After a suitable wait our plates were removed, again in silence, and our main courses were brought out. I thought my quinoa salad with salmon was well presented but unfortunately it didn’t taste as good as it looked. The quinoa had no taste and the ‘julienne vegetables’ (carrot and cucumber) didn’t add any texture. The salmon was tasty but very rich as there was nothing sharp to cut through the smokiness of the dish and it was just a bit bland and…….boring!


Greg was happier with his surf n turf. The steak was cooked medium as requested and the potatoes were well seasoned, the shrimp were really tasty. However there was a big jump in price from the steak to the surf n turf and he didn’t feel the 2 prawns were worth the extra cost. He also felt it the dish should have had some veg.


Our plates were removed in silence, no enquiry if we enjoyed our meal or any smile or acknowledgment. By this point 2 more tables were occupied but there wasn’t really any atmosphere apart from the staff coming and going on golf buggys. We decided against dessert or more drinks and asked for the bill. At this point a manager came and told us there was a problem with the till and our bill was hand written. Even he didn’t ask about our meal or show any interest in our visit.


We left a little over an hour after we arrived. As we left we walked past 3 members of staff and then the manager – not a single person said goodbye or even glanced at us! Unfortunately for us The Smokery was a bit of a disappointment. Yes, as other people had reviewed, the setting is lovely but in my opinion the food and service has got to match and for us it sadly didn’t. It wasn’t representative of the warm and friendly service we’ve experienced during our time in Cairo so far. Would I go back? I doubt we would eat there again but it is a nice spot for drink so I won’t rule out a return visit completely.

UPDATE – Sept 2017

The Smokery have been in touch with me, keen to find out more about my visit. It was really nice to speak to the Operations Manager and discuss some of the points I raised. He was very keen to emphasise that our experience certainly isn’t what customers should expect, we’ve been invited back for dinner. I’ll update this post again if we return. I thought it was really good of them to contact me – things don’t always go right but I feel they’re trying to make amends.