Lebanese restaurants are a dime a dozen in Cairo, but few add as unique a flair to it as the Conrad Hotel's Oak Grill.
One of the many perks of working for CairoScene is the opportunity to roam around the city eating for free. My first experience as a culinary critic came as I was invited for a lovely candle light dinner at the Oak Grill restaurant at the Conrad hotel.
To prepare for my new vocation, I practiced my British accent in front of the mirror for a couple of hours. Criticism always seems more poignant in British. Then, I learned to pronounce words such as gustatory, acerbic, dulcified, luscious, ambrosial and faux pas.
I picked up my beautiful date and we headed with great enthusiasm to feast on modern Lebanese Cuisine. Oak Grill is dimly lit to put the emphasis on the candles present on every table. The architecture was modern, with beige leather chairs and brown wooden tables providing a touch of class to the otherwise minimalist décor. A subtle touch of red gave the place a romantic undertone.
Good thing I practiced my English because apparently the best way to prove to customers that they are in a high end restaurant is to have the waiters speak in Shakespeare’s mother tongue: “May I take your coat sir?” “Why thank you, yes you may. Please also take care of my fedora and my Burberry gloves. That would be quite gustatory of you, young man.”
As we sat down, we were warmly greeted before being presented with the menu. When you know you will eat for free, you want to order everything. But being well brought up, I simply ordered four appetizers and two main courses so that I do no succumb to the sin of gluttony. To my surprise, the place was filled. A moment of originality came when we were serenaded by the sounds of a harp. A soothing accompaniment to dinner that set the mood for their Thursdays candle light dinner.
Appetizer 1: Moutabal
Probably the best moutabal I’ve had in Egypt. Served with delicious zaatar-filled warm bread, the eggplant was fresh, the tahini subtle and the pomegranate the perfect complement . Truly ambrosial.
Appetizer 2: Shrimp and Aragula salad
I had to try this one. Three things I love in a single dish: shrimps, avocado and Richard Gargeer. The Aragula was fresh and the shrimps were cooked to perfection. But the avocado puree was a bit acerbic. Still a good dish but a bit underwhelming.
Appetizer 3: Halloumi Sticks
Halloumi… the cheese that make all other (accessible) cheeses seem dull. This was a simple but delicious dish. The tomato sauce gave it a bit of character.
Appetizer 4: Grilled Cheese Samousa
My cheese-lover friend gunned for this one. Since it also had halloumi in it, I duly obliged. A mix of feta, halloumi and mozzeralla should have been a holy trinity but somehow it didn’t quite come off and is maybe one for die-hard cheese fans only.
Main Dish 1: Grilled Sea Bass
Presentation was simple but elegant. Accompanied by a few vegetables and French fries, the sea bass was grilled to perfection (which is rarely the case in Egypt). Even more impressively, they didn’t over-do it with the seasoning: just a bit of salt and a lemon were there to add some flavor to the sea bass. A simple but gustatory Mediterranean dish.
Main dish 2: Lamb Freekeh
Recommended by the waiter, the Lamb Freekeh is a scrumptious dish, a sort of Egyptianized Tajine. The lamb was tender and easy to digest and the freekeh turned out to be a surprisingly creative supplement. The apricots sweeten the equation and there was just enough lamb jus to ensure that the meat and the freekeh mesh perfectly. I can understand why this is their signature dish.
Dessert: Chocolate halva
Yes! Chocolate, halawa, meringues and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. A perfect way to end the night and a sweet way to soften the blow of having to pay 800 EGP for a 10-euros bottle of wine.
Overall rating: 9/10.
Oak Grill is located at the Conrad Hotel. For more information, check out the Conrad Cairo Hotel on Facebook or call 02-2580-848.