Desert road getaway
Skanky fish for your clandestine rendezvous
The suit wraps his jacket round his oversized gut, reflexively recognises the futility of fastening any buttons, and escorts his lady-friend through the slender trucks of Solidaire's entrance. From the outside, this "restaurant and entertainment" venue gives the impression of a bucolic amusement park. Patting the smoked- carrot dye of her coiffure and smoothing down her mauve lapels, said lady-friend decelerates her pace as she takes in the endearing clay foot lanterns delineating her path to the restaurant's central hub, and the grip on her partner's palm tightens.
That the location is charming can't be contested. A stream of dinosaur-egg rocks runs through a spacious, and shockingly verdant, outdoor seating area of steel chairs -- painted green and embellished with custard cushions -- and uniformly cream porcelain tabletops. The wooden bridges that arch over the stream are bound with rope, a decorative theme that recurs in the elevated mid-stream dining platform for one lucky group, as well as in the ground floor of the red brick central cabin. Style-defying, here picnic tables and steel chairs stand alongside the occasional velvet couch, while upstairs the varnished bamboo seating is garnished with decorative addendums of potted plants and generic African masks, and all lies under the shade of wooden planks covered with red tiles.
We're eyed suspiciously by a pair of shifty females, vengefully sucking the life out of sputtering shishas, as we're seated and handed menus. The predator closest feigns indifference as she surreptitiously gives each of us the once-over, while the ringleader stares dead ahead and gleefully prolongs a conversation with a clearly discomfited caller.
There are certain eateries with a broad enough menu to accommodate any taste. Solidaire is not only such a case, it's "safari" menu is a booklet that actually lists all dishes known under the Egyptian sun. From molokhiya to crepes, shish kebabs to om Ali, if it can be ingested without offending your digestive tract its name's in print. Awash in a sea of indecision we turn our attention instead to their supplementary, and infinitely more focussed, fish menu.
By the time the starters arrive the suit is already plunging prawns into his companion's orifice, his lascivious leer evenly matching hers. We help ourselves to a grease-fest of a shrimp keskh, crumbly fish-and- shrimp kofta, delicious slices of soft-baked foccacia bread and a sublime tehina dip as two more girls, armed to the hilt with black-eye purple lipstick and jeans at least two sizes too tight, join the shisha gluttons. The entire band quickly launches into a thorough and impressively unselfconscious assessment of all Y- chromosome acquaintances where projected income, prowess, wit and facial grooming are brought under laugh-out-loud scrutiny before moving to the garden to await their dates.
The breaded Rayes Hanafi fillet, dressed with an unappetising coat of shrimp and calamari cubes, mushrooms, and melted mozzarella was a hefty portion but reeked with the pale odour of a life lived in storage, and the sayadia (customary onion rice) looked weather-worn but retained some flavour. The baked fish with potatoes entrée though filling was reported characterless, and the shrimp curry with rice tagen was set aside after a few mouthfuls. After the meal the headwaiter brought over a tiny mountain of minted toothpicks, offering us yoghurt cake with mint sauce or lemon mousse for dessert.
Exiting, we're not spared another couple, breathing a little too heavily, laughing a little too eagerly at each other's mediocre wisecracks, and brandishing mismatched bands on their fingers, trotting off inside to exercise their questionable wills.
Despite the hit-and-miss menu, this place does project a genuine oasis calm where surroundings can be easily forgotten, but there can be no doubt that it's also where shady men credit their quality-time accounts with their wanton mistresses, and since subtlety's always been a matter of choice, it's best to leave the kids at home.
Barbeque and entertainment.
26km Cairo-Alex Desert Road, before the Cairo toll station.
Tel: (202) 539 1402, 012 323 1367.
Open 24 hours daily.
By Waleed Marzouk