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Chef’s Table

The times they are a changing and as CairoScene resident foodist David Blanks discovers, Egypt is reveling in something of a culinary-revolution with the arrival of the pop-up taste-experience…

For dessert last Saturday my hippie princess and I had cherry and coffee jello with vanilla ice cream, a pinch of sea salt, and dehydrated beef bacon dipped in chocolate. You will not find this on the menu at Chili’s. It was good.

I had tasted desserts like this before: mango ice cream with chili salt, vanilla ice cream with salt, peanuts and olive oil; I myself like to serve a strawberry and crushed black pepper parfait. But for many the combinations of sweet and salty are too odd to stomach.

What’s happening?

Well, Cairo is changing. That’s what. And for the better. If you’re just getting turned on to food now, you’re lucky, because back in the day it was shit. We’ve suffered a lot over the years. Remember Four Corners? Finally we’re getting somewhere.

The parade began with a pumpkin soup. Warm, smooth, satisfying. Some sniffed at it, not knowing what it was, but all enjoyed it as far as I could see. The bowls were going back to the kitchen empty. The occasion was Chef’s Table: The Third, held like the previous two at the Cellar Door in Maadi. If you are already turned onto food and you don’t know this place, you need to put it on your mental culinary map.

The salad course consisted of a roasted beetroot carpaccio, arugula, green apples, walnuts and blue cheese. Again, nothing but empty plates were returned from the dining room. Blue cheese, apple, arugula and walnuts are tried and true by now—a recipe that made its way into British cookbooks more than a decade ago; but the addition of beetroot added greatly to the earthiness and color of the dish. It worked.

Chef’s Table is what is known as a “pop-up restaurant.” Meaning it only happens once in awhile and you will only know about it a few days in advance via Twitter, Facebook, etc.. It’s like a food rave. In this case one organized and executed by three chefs: Ayman Samir, Wesam Masoud and Moustafa El Rafaey (from Zooba).

A trio of tacos followed—1) lentil and aubergine moussaka; 2) sea bass ceviche; 3) beef tongue. The taco shells themselves were a bit too firm and sweet—they got in the way of the otherwise interesting flavor combinations, but the accompanying guacamole was as good as any I’ve had, rivaling even Maria’s. (If you know what I’m talking about then your foodie credentials are secure; if not, you’ve got some exploring to do.)

Then salmon belly, sea bass with an almond crust, and tempura crayfish tails. Where they found crayfish tails I do not know: but I knew what they were. Tasted like a mini lobster tail tempura. This trio of fish—what they were calling “White, Pink, and Gold”—should have been hotter coming out of the kitchen. There were some timing and assembly problems back there. True, a pop-up restaurant is all about taking risks, but it’s not cheap either, and so diners have a right I think to high expectations.

The fish was followed by a shot of orange, ginger and Greek yoghurt to clear the palette, signaling to those assembled that the pièce de resistance was up next. By the way it was an impressive assemblage. I don’t want to intrude on anyone’s privacy, but there were some important people there in the Cairo foodie scene and one of the fun things about these types of affairs is that you get to hang out with individuals who really know what’s happening in this town. That alone makes for a good time.

The sixth course was slow roasted leg of goat with a berry sauce, what I’m going to call an oxtail meatball with crushed peas, and a braised potato terrine with caramelized carrot purée and pickled pearl onions. The potatoes were a bit sleepy, but the oxtail and goat had an old-fashioned barnyard throw down on my taste buds. Braised meat is one of the things these three chefs do best. We liked a lot of the dishes we tried that night, but this was hands down the winner.

All in all my hippie princess and I had a smashing night, as did everyone else I think, including the chefs themselves. Well done guys. If you haven’t checked this out yet you should. I’ll be there. Yeah, Cairo is changing for sure, and it’s a good thing. Get in on the action.