FoodLife & Style

Branzino: Dining in a bleak suburban landscape

While the suburbanization of Cairo seems to be in full flight, with new developments opening weekly in increasingly far-flung suburbs, legitimate dining options have been slow to follow.  Many Cairo residents now live in satellite cities around Cairo and have trouble finding eateries with a little more sophistication than KFC or Chili's without making the trek back into the old urban core.  

This column is dedicated to restaurants in Cairo.  As such, it is primarily focused on dining options somewhere within the rectangle formed by the neighborhoods of Heliopolis, Mohendiseen, Giza and Maadi.  However, every once in a while, we venture beyond these boundaries and out into Cairo’s hinterland to investigate any signs of life in suburban dining.  While the results continue to be spotty, we continue to monitor for signs of progress.

Our latest investigations in suburban dining brought us to the Dusit Thani hotel complex in New Cairo, along street 90 on the way to AUC. For a dedicated urbanist, this whole area has a bit of a Mad Max feel about it.  There’s a massive amount of development going on—it’s clear that many stores, universities and home owners believe that this area is the next great thing—but for the moment there’s not a lot to show for all the hype beyond endless concrete, partially finished structures and acres of construction rubble.

This is a bit unfortunate for Dusit, a 5-star hotel chain emanating out of Thailand, as the surrounding evnironment coats the structure with a heavy layer of dust. Dramatically positioned at a corner of the road, next to the Lakeview housing compound with which it is linked, I’m sure that Dusit if filling a much needed void for a quality hotel option in this part of town.  Not yet fully open—it’s still in its soft opening stage with the grand opening expected in September—Dusit is what you would call a 'work in progress'.  

We focused our attention on the Branzino restaurant, the only restaurant currently open of nine ultimately planned. The Dusit is expected t house Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Mediterranean, and—suitably for the hotel’s owners—Thai food traditions.

Branzino so far is hedging its bets, serving up a little bit of this and a little bit of that.  We went for lunch recently, and had a wide range of options, including a “light and healthy” sandwich and salad bar option for a very reasonable LE85, something called a “Business Lunch” providing three courses for LE105, as well as a full a la carte menu providing all the basics with a bit of a Thai twist.   

My companion ordered from the fresh, but limited, salad bar menu (I hesitate to be too critical of the breadth of a salad bar during lunch in Ramadan) as well as a tasty though unexceptional steak sandwich.  I, thinking that a Thai hotel chain should know a thing or two about Pad Thai, ordered it, only to be disappointed by the arrival of a congealed mess of over sauced noodles slathered in tamarind paste.  In spite of this, the meal was by no means a write-off; there was decent freshly baked Arabic bread; one of the salads from the salad bar, an Asian beef salad, was delightful; and the sandwich came with funky and delicious home-fried chips.

So, what can be said about Dusit?  It has an airy interior, a beautiful pool and snazzy, if slightly gaudy, decor.  It couldn’t stand up in a taste test against any of the 5-star warriors that duke it out in Cairo’s downtown dining space.  Nor could it likely compete with many of the better downtown restaurants.  However, you’d be hard pressed to find an equally affordable meal at a downtown 5-star hotel (LE85—the price of an entire meal at Dusit—will probably get you two bottles of mineral water at the Four Seasons). It's also unlikely you'll find comparable dining options, for the moment, within a five mile radius of Dusit.

So if you find yourselves craving good food in the corridors of Cairo’s suburban experiment, Dusit may not be such a bad option. It certainly deserves a return visit once its gastronomical ambitions are more fully realized.

Details: El Tesseen St., City Center, Fifth Settlement, New Cairo. Tel: 02 2614 000; Open daily 24 hours; lunch for two: around LE250.

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