Reverie in green
Last order at 2am and you think you're going to a disco
Or a bar. At least the atmosphere of cool sophistication, for one side of the new and popular O'Negréo experience, will initially support this hypothesis. Glass cubicle-like entryways combined with plasma green-and- black décor suggest an almost psychedelic decadence, especially after you notice the two large hidden screens on which football and Friends swim silently beneath seemingly translucent walls -- the first of many signs that you may after all be mistaken. For inaudible satellite broadcasts belong with another genre of contemporary outing altogether, the by-now classic middle- to-upper-middle-class café, patronised by the non- drinking, shisha -smoking young, and serving a limited selection of bite-size cuisine.
O'Negréo has none of the smoky, staid warmth of these venues, however, even as it lures a similar range of clientele with its own variations on the same themes; the glowing green, for one overriding component, is too New Age for such classicism; the waiters' elaborate black uniforms alone are enough to allay the inevitable fear of not being in as hip a set of surroundings as you possibly can be.
And there is no doubt that the presence of self- enclosed, fluorescently lit lounges, for example, recalls certain nightclub settings. Still, the quasi-Latino music is not loud enough, and the light is consistent and dazzling. Headscarves and alcohol don't tend to go together, what is more, and the evident abundance of the former -- colourful, expensive-looking and often innovatively wrapped -- seems to complement the absence of the latter from the book-length menu, two copies of which are eventually presented to my very good friend Ballo and me.
Now my friend Ballo is a man of discernment, and despite being in an incommunicative mood tonight, dogged by existential uncertainty and irrevocable distress, no sooner does he leaf through the square volume than he announces, grunting, "this is one of the most comprehensive menus I've ever seen."
With pages and pages of salads, soups, starters, pastas, sandwiches, burgers and fajitas as well as main dishes, drinks and desserts, O'Negréo appears to have not only a representative flotilla of supposedly Brazilian fare but everything else as well; some dishes involve raw meat, others "deep friend parmesan breaded chicken breast". Notwithstanding an everyday tenderloin steak, served normally or with "a Brazilian blackened seasoning mix", you can have Feijoada, said to be the very "national dish of Brazil", fillet cubes with bell peppers and kidney beans in a tortilla shell. Traditional beach cocktails like pina colada stand side by side with Bandiera Brasileira, a tall drink that replicates the colours of the Brazilian flag, and Santos, "a golden cocktail made of fresh apples, honey and apple juice".
O-Shrimps, my share of our light supper tonight, turn out to be a perfectly edible rendition of minced shrimp in sesame batter, served on tiny "cane skewers" with banana, pineapple and tomato. If anything, they taste vaguely Chinese.
There is certainly something to be said for presentation when what you have to offer is slightly less alluring than you can make it sound (and look), though presentation isn't O'Negréo's only virtue. Far more impressive is the equivocal mixture of bar appearance and shisha café content, exotic names and familiar or nondescript tastes, unusual arrangements of what remains, on closer inspection, very ordinary furniture.
Given in their original Portuguese titles, the dishes are extensively explained, but, as Ballo is to make a point of noting, with reference to his own Salada Rio de Janeiro, that is, "it really isn't as fancy as the menu leads you to believe, is it. Probably has nothing to do with Brazil either," he adds, grunting.
O'Negréo, 14 Geziret Al-Arab Street, Mohandessin, tel 344 1002, open all evening every day of the week. Starters and drinks for two came to LE85, but the main dishes cost considerably more.