Walking through the lobby of InterContinental Cairo Citystars, trying to find Al Khal for their new brunch - past the fountains and golden sphinxes, down the elaborate staircase - it’s unmistakable that you’re in one of the swankiest hotels in the city. All the shiny gold stuff, the big expensive-looking piano, and fancy-looking folks make it hard to imagine you’re anywhere else - not that you’d ever want to. Even the staff were all smiles as a guy - who clearly only uses the word ‘fancy’ in a sardonic, self-deprecating kind of way - asks them how to find a restaurant whose name he pronounces like the word ‘alcohol’. I don’t even think they made fun of me after I walked away; that’s class.
This auspicious ambience doesn’t necessarily disappear once you get out the door into the courtyard as much as it transforms into a different kind of hospitality. Just past the pool, an elaborate tent was set up; full of solid, comfy chairs and decor, it made the place seem like something out of the movies that I’ve seen on TV where I have no idea what’s happening. The cloth of the tent was embroidered with the faces of what I assume are Egyptian celebrities or heroes from back in the day, as well as other designs; meanwhile, on the thick wooden supports hung all kinds of black and white photographs and decorations. As my troupe of assorted friends and family sat at the table, the feeling of a five-star hotel in the middle of a giant, noisy city reshaped itself into the sensation of being far away on vacation. The atmosphere of Al Khal’s tent setup, with the barely perceptible noise from the pool, made it seem like we were far away from the chaos of Cairo - like we were on a beach somewhere, enjoying the soft sounds of water and warm sunlight filtered through a canopy.
As we waited for the impending foodpocalypse that we knew was coming, Mariam Botros and her takht
started up, providing a soundtrack fit for the epic brunch we were undertaking. Soon, several huge platters full of all kinds of Egyptian specialties flew to our table from the kitchen. Mixed grill and big bowls full of more meat and sauces that I don’t know the name of (edit: We're pretty sure that's tajin,
Skot) crowded our table, along with all the sides and salads you’d expect - tahina
, baba ghanoug
, yoghurt, and more than enough bread to serve as a vehicle for getting that dippable deliciousness into our faces. Then, a small cart started going around offering molokhia
with either chicken, rabbit, or shrimp broth. This is my first experience with molokhia
and it certainly won’t be the last. That stuff is awesome.
One of the toughest parts of all this FancyPants business that there is so much food and you don’t think you could possibly eat any more, then they bring out dessert. Small platters of adorable little pastries, plus rice pudding and fresh juice, arrived just as our food comas started to kick in. The quick input of sugar into our systems made sure that we would stay conscious for the next few moments and appreciate the sort of homely effect Al Khal has.
Al Khal was almost like going on a vacation outside of Cairo with nothing to worry about but relaxing and eating. The environment of the restaurant, nestled within the beauty of InterContinental Cairo Citystars’ courtyard, was a perfect getaway from the stresses of city living - without actual leaving the city.