The zebra will come on the plate, while the lion sleeps tonight
I had seen the advert on television and must confess to being intrigued. One is nonetheless usually wary of theme restaurants -- the wilder the ambition, tradition will have it, the more ludicrous the outcome. And so it was with apprehensive hope that I found myself heading to Planet Africa, in the company of my exuberant little one, who wound up getting more than he ever bargained for when he encountered a humongous, growling, jaw-snapping crocodile right behind the maitre d'. "Oh come on don't be silly, you see this is just an oversized toy," I urged him as I discretely edged further and further away from the pseudo-reptile, throwing the occasional furtive glance behind my back just to make sure everyone's posterior remained well out of reach.
Since the weather remains tenaciously in summer mode, the top floor, reserved for open-air seating, was entirely out of the question. And so we climbed the stairs to the first floor, stopping by the gorilla on the landing to say hello.
On entering the restaurant, an instant flashback of what was once called Coco Jungle (at Zamalek's floating Le Pacha restaurant compound) came racing to mind. The same dark, overdecorated equatorial atmosphere to which Cairo's salseros were treated in the heyday of Latino dancing seemed to have been replicated for the African ambiance.
Avoiding the vicinity of a crowd of teenagers noisily celebrating someone getting older, the little one chose the table by the lion (which roars pathetically at precisely 10-minute intervals); he was so drawn into the surroundings that his appetite could only allow for a cocktail. Now, the thing about Planet Africa is that the menu bears no resemblance to the continent in question. Unequivocally opting for a country-Tex-Mex identity, and obviously inspired by older chains of the same leaning in Cairo, this purely Egyptian enterprise aspires to spread over the Arab world and eventually Europe, offering, as it were, American food in an African setting. Hmmm... a rather bizarre combination, if you ask me -- but then again so is the presence of satellite TV in tents on the Steppes of Mongolia. We just get used to these little hiccups of world logic.
Despite the gorilla and the croc, I still had plenty of appetite for my Kwazulu Veal. Delivered by an extremely pleasant waiter whose affability had us believe his life-long wish of meeting us was finally coming true, my main course arrived sizzling hot on a zebra-patterned plate. I enjoyed every sliver of tender veal, richly covered in pepper and mushroom sauce; I enjoyed the pink slice of smoked beef hiding under the thick layer of mozzarella cheese melting over the medley of perfectly combined ingredients; I enjoyed the baked potato laden with sour cream. I enjoyed, I enjoyed.
The little one had timed his escape from the table to coincide with the lion's awakening, pointing the red beam from his watch to the beast's eye with a conqueror's pride. All interest in the layered cocktail sitting before him had dissipated, and a quick "I like fresh fruit, not compote", muttered casually -- as though his real mother sat elsewhere -- was enough of a reason not to finish what he ordered.
How, but how to respond to a health-conscious boy who won't touch canned food? You touch it for him, naturally, and such was the end of our interaction concerning the meal -- for now the elephant had awoken from its slumber while the lion took another nap.
94 Othman Ibn Affan St, Triumph Square, Heliopolis
Tel: 644 5511
Open from 12pm to 1am; Ramadan hours: 4pm- 2am.
Main course and cocktail for one: LE70.
By Injy El-Kashef