Friday, February 10, 2006

Moghul Room, Mena House, Giza, Egypt – Dinner

The Mulligatawny soup, the Tomato Saar soup, and the dishes of chutney and raita at Mena House.

Sometimes I almost studiously avoid restaurants in wonderful settings. It seems that restaurants are able to provide nice settings or good food, but very rarely can they do both.

A notable exception to this rule is the Mena House in Giza. Located right next door to the Great Pyramids of Giza, Mena House offers a more exciting setting than almost anywhere else in the world. The restaurants and bars have views of the Pyramids, which are lit up by night. (Note, though, that there is no view from the Moghul Room.)

Buried deep inside the hotel, this restaurant does not offer a view of the Pyramids, but its exotic decor is as exciting as it is luxurious. Three of us had dinner here tonight, Dr. A, Mr. M, and me! We started off with pappadums ($2.00) and the complimentary samosas. Then we had soup. Dr. A and I had an excellent Mulligatawny soup ($4.00) and Mr. M had a the Tomato Saar soup.($4.00), which he pronounced delicious.

We each had a different dish for the main course. Dr. A chose the Murgh Jal Farizi ($12.73), which tasted as if it was very freshly cooked unlike in some India restaurants where it seems that they achieve long menus by creating any permutation of about five pre-cooked bases (chicken, lamb, beef, shrimp, or fish) with one of a dozen sauces. The sauces and the base don't exactly hit it off because they have never even met before! When I tried Murgh Jal Farizi, the vegetables were fresh, tasty, and crunchy showing that they had been freshly cooked. I found the spices in his dish just a little timid, but tasty. The Chicken Vindaloo ($13.78) was, in my mind, only passable. For my taste, there was too much vinegar in the sauce, and the chicken consisted only of drumsticks and wings. For this class of place, I would have expected a better class of meat. I really enjoyed the Shahi Korma, though. This dish of lamb in a creamy sauce with almonds has always been one of my favorites. I asked them to spice it up a little as I expected it might be a little bland to cater for the international crowd that frequents this restaurant. They added just the right amount of spice, and the dish had a pronounced tasted of black cumin. The spices in the dish were well integrated – you could taste the individual spices but they were somehow unified so that they seemed to be in harmony with each other.

We agonized a little about the wine. Initially, we were presented with a list of international wines, which was really a list of what you might see in the discount section of a British or American supermarket. The collection of French, Italian, Australian and American wines were mostly mediocre mass preoduced wines being sold at outreageous prices. For example, Blossom Hill White Zinfandel was offered for about $85! Eventually, we asked if they had Château des Rêves ($43.60), an Egyptian wine that we had recently tried at the Four Seasons Hotel. (This phenomenon of selling cheap imported wines at high prices is not unique to Mena House. It seems to be standard practice at all the top hotels in Egypt. My best advice is to stick to Egyptian wines.)

A wonderful feature of this restaurant is the little trio that provides music while you eat. A young man plays the sitar; there is a percussionist; and a woman plays another instrument and is the vocalist. Her haunting voice has lived with me since 2004 when I first visited the Moghul Room, and she was there again tonight. (I believe she is a daily feature.) Some of the songs are Indian, but they also adapt popular songs to a very distinctly Indian style, including a version of “Happy Birthday!” I asked them if they had made a CD, but they didn’t. So I will have to come back if I want to hear her again.

My only little complaint with Mena House is the way the bill is prepared. My concern is not with the bottom line. You expect to pay a lot for a meal in a top hotel. But I don’t like the way every little detail becomes an additional item whether you order it or not (chutney, water, raita, and so on.). The total worked out to be about $50.00 a head.

Before dinner, it is wonderful to sit at the bar where you do get a view of one of the Pyramids, which is flood lit. But drinks are expensive, and the measures are very short.

The meal at Mena house is the perfect ending to a day visiting the Pyramids. Highly Recommended.

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