Phantoms at noon
Don't look the dragon in the eye, and listen hard to the musicians
We drove. Then we drove again, climbing on flyovers with which even the early settlers of Nasr City, of whom we had taken a hostage earlier in the day, were not quite familiar. We were four people on a mission to explore the East, the fabled land of golf courses, furniture showrooms, and newly discovered oases with plentiful edibles. It was noon, and the clouds were looming low, breaking occasionally to show a sun that moved delicately, saving its energy for another day. We awaited a sign, and the sign came, Exit 17 it said, only we didn't grasp what this means exactly, a full decade perhaps before the invention of the roadmap.
We landed tentatively at the aptly named Al-Obour (The Crossing) market, where the gate-keepers pointed to the pillar of haze in the horizon and wished us luck. The haze lifted a while later to reveal a half-built colossal store of furniture brought from East and West by the caravans of high design. An hour later, we had no doubt of what sofas and curtains we had to have.
Our next call, the charmed oasis of hotel chain lore, was said to lie somewhere further east, on a road parallel to the road intersecting with the road we had earlier missed. It was getting late and I contemplated abandoning the car and starting a new life right there -- by the amusement park that appeared out of nowhere, like a phantom city.
Finally, we found the dragons, two of them perched at the entry to the oasis, scanning the horizon with eyes of bronze, motionless. We avoided eye contact with Diana the Huntress at the northern wall, and with the musician who had turned to pillar of inanimate matter near the gate, and proceeded past security guards, past the marbled main hall with the massive lanterns shaped like massive lava, along the gilded balustrade, down to the hall of edibles.
J W Marriott, our oasis, faces a golf course surrounded by the villas of present and future settlers. The compound is called (what else?) Mirage City. We picked a window table at the bottom of the step pyramid that describes the lobby, and settled on comfortably padded chairs, fully ready to be half entertained by the half jazz band (two musicians, the others reportedly lost on Exit 19) that showed up that day.
The Friday brunch was an open buffet affair. As a caddy fished out a golf ball from the pond below the window, I had my first serving of stuffed aubergines and courgettes, chutney-flavoured avocado dip, tabbulah, miniature potatoes and California rolls. One of my companions, who took exception to the lack of fine cheese (some slices of cheddar and Gouda sat despondently, next to a plate of cold cuts, with no smoked salmon in view), recommended the puréed potato soup, which was faintly granulated like infantile memories, vulnerably tender like a first-time mother.
The roast lamb, in the next serving, was another winner. Not so the grills of fish, beef, and chicken, which were stringy and short-tempered from having to wait on warm plates too long. The rice, assertively fluffy, was greeted with approval. The green beans surprisingly stepped out of their poor cousin status to assume the crisp sophistication of a lawn fitted with automatic sprinklers. The chocolate mousse cup I found sitting alone on the glass shelf had a hole in the paste, betraying the heathen possibility of having been surreptitiously ravished by a marauder's spoon. I approach it sideways, with the care of a myopic surgeon, and liked every bit of what was left.
The brunch, promised at the top of the lobby for LE99, turned out to cost LE125 per person when the bill came, before tax. Brunch with drinks, after tips, came to LE220 per person. Coming along the Ring Road from Maadi, pass Carrefour and the Mobile gas station, and wait for a sign. Tel: (02) 4119428.