- Life Style
On the winding coastal road between Taba and Nuweiba something unusual will meet your eye as you scan the landscape. Built into the mountains, almost indistinguishable in color and texture from the mountain itself, are the ruins of a castle.
But perhaps they are not ruins, for you will notice a flag flying from what is left of the uppermost campanile. As you approach, you will see a sign reading Castle Zaman. Zaman means "the past," but that is not all Castle Zaman means; there are secrets within the castle, ones that you can only find out by … making a reservation in advance.
Castle Zaman is not only the ruin of a castle, it is a restaurant, indeed it is more than a restaurant, it is an experience. A 250LE minimum charge is levied to a chivalrous gatekeeper who checks your reservations and makes you sign your life away on a paper that says "NO DRUGS, NO LIFEGAURD," then you enter the Castle to begin the day.
Castle Zaman was constructed entirely from the mountains upon which it stands and employs a style of late Roman architecture.
The furniture within the Castle is made of wood and other recycled material including palm fronds, glass bottles and local pottery. There is a massive fireplace and impressive chandeliers. The overall effect is positively medieval.
The most spectacular feature of Castle Zaman is its view. As you emerge onto the wraparound porch, you are confronted by the most breathtaking panorama. A gradient of blues and greens shows a birds eye view of the coral reef and distant hazy mountains of Arabia.
A swimming pool, made to look like a mountain spring, is set below the main castle and porch. The pool is surrounded by ridiculously comfortable bean bags; an unusual choice for poolside furniture, but very popular with the guests and extraordinarily suited for cat naps.
Castle Zaman boasts a unique menu of slow-cooked food. Only four to six dishes are available to order: lamb, fish, seafood, or turkey, and the order must be made beforehand.
There are no appetizers. This can be a disadvantage if you spend the day there and schedule your meal too late.
But the whole point of the Castle Zaman experience is that you are supposed to be ravenous by the time you eat. If you are not so hungry you could eat a kilo of meat (literally), then you won’t enjoy the full benefit of the meal. That is because Castle Zaman’s meal is no mere meal, it is a banquet.
Castle Zaman has replicated the clay pots the ancient Egyptians used. This method of cooking requires less fat and preserves the flavors and nutrients of the food. The food is slow-cooked in its own fat in the clay pots.
The leg of lamb and turkey were served on the bone and were very tempting to just pick up and bite into in the style of Asterix and Obelix and the Gauls, which very likely would have been encouraged by the staff.
Both the turkey and lamb were incredibly flavorful and tender, the gravy having permeated the meat, giving it a juicy, tangy taste. They were served with a variety of succulent vegetables and other delectable delights, such as figs and whole garlic bulbs.
“This is possibly the best lamb I’ve ever tasted," raved diner Amir Shawky.
The seafood dish was an elaborate mix of salmon, crab, shrimp and squid swimming in salad and served on a bed of cracked wheat, or fereek. Don't freak out, an unusual combination, but perhaps an ancient recipe. The fereek was mixed with peas, beans and carrots and was overcooked and a bit mushy, but it was delicious.
The crab was so brilliantly orange that it looked like it could walk right off the table. Its meat was soft and sweet and was so delectable it was difficult to get the shell open fast enough.
But the squid was a bit overcooked and rubbery. I wasn’t sure whether to eat it our bounce it against the wall. The shrimp and salmon were also slightly overcooked.
If you have room for dessert after the meal, which really shouldn’t be the case, you can order it separately. The only dessert item on the menu is called an ice cake. Unfortunately, it was a deplorable specimen of Egyptian ice cream. Much too kiosk-esque, the ‘ice cake’ was an ice cream sandwich with a scoop of coffee ice cream and a drizzle of chocolate syrup. The dessert did not fit the flavor of the castle or of the banquet.
The castle only has two permanent bar hostesses, though thankfully one extra lovely lady was helping out for the Eid weekend. These bar hostesses do everything: bar tending, serving and busing, taking reservations and working the cash register. This is an extraordinary amount of work when the castle is at full capacity. I commend them highly for their excellent service and problem-solving skills because the whole day ran smoothly and our food was served on time.
Though one of the bar hostesses was cheerful, friendly and easy to talk to, the other two rarely smiled and seemed to be tense. Everyone who dealt with them seemed to walk away with a bad feeling.
However, when the castle is at full capacity, the tables do not receive regular drink service during the meal. If you want a drink during the meal, go to the bar.
Castle Zaman’s stunning beauty, sumptuous banquet and relaxing atmosphere combine to make an unforgettable experience. Its languid atmosphere relaxes and cleanses the soul, bringing out another secret to the name Castle Zaman. The word "castle" is the Arabic pronunciation for laziness, thus Castle Zaman could mean in Arabic “the laziness of the past.”
Castle Zaman is definitely worth a visit and highly recommended. It is not something you would want to miss. Indeed, if you drive along the Taba-Nuweiba road, it is something you can’t miss.