The lion sleeps tonight
By Injy El-Kashef
It is not the first thing that strikes you -- the fact that the immense cardboard feline overshadowing the entrance with its claws and teeth in attack mode, is not actually a lion at all, but a tiger. Yet, right across this dramatic façade, as one notices on subsequent drives, the words are spelt in big proud letters: Lion's Village. Hmmmm... whatever.
When you first see the sign, it is definitely intriguing -- as the promise of an encounter with big scary animals tends to be -- and should you be accompanied by children as you head out to the North Coast, it is impossible denying them this pleasure every once in a while. The place is actually not bad in and of itself, and a little fun never really hurts anyone -- unless it makes your heart ache to see a fearless king reduced to a drugged, harmless and lifeless creature behind bars. You may then opt not to watch the circus-style performance that takes place at several intervals every day and just contend with a rich and tasty meal.
The premises provide enough room for ample leg-stretching, which proves a fabulous idea once you are seated behind the wheel once more and ready to proceed with the remainder of the road. It is one thing to have been afforded a break for your back and a good meal in a pleasant setting, but at the Lion's Village add to that also a short walk in the shade of healthy greenery.
Before we get to the actual food, one last important note concerns the honey. They have their own bee hives down there; the honey is pure, succulent and relatively cheap. If you stop by do invest in a kilo and you might find that the Lion's Village soon becomes the main source of honey in your home. For one thing, both its taste and the lion's picture on the jar make that morning spoonful of honey just before heading down to the schoolbus much more welcome by children.
And now, time for the juicy bit: food. First of all, one must mention the fact that fresh fetir meshaltet (home-made filo pastry) is available all year round and, like a number of its sister venues dotting the highway, its quality is such that a take away order often finds its way neatly stored in the home freezer. The order you will eat there, however, will not only be fresh from the oven, but will also come accompanied by a number of dip choices in the form of honey, molasses, fresh cream, nuts, white cheese with tomato for a savoury version, roumi cheese and a number of other "basic" toppings.
But even if you decide that fetir will ruin the diet you've been working on so long in order to appear on the beach with head high, there is a full menu to choose from offering all forms of food to suit all tastes. The good news is that their kitchen is very tasty, and so anything you might order will probably go down with nothing other than smiles.
My order of chicken pane was perfect. The filet of chicken breast was tender and well marinated -- not thin and chewy like you might expect from a roadside restaurant -- and the portion was too big for my appetite's dismal performance of late (long gone are the days of eating like a reincarnated hoover). Sitting by its side were long and golden fries which made the little one eating my food very happy. His own order consisted in a vegetarian pizza with large tomato slices, black olives, mushrooms and lots of mozzarella cheese which stretched deliciously as he struggled with the cutlery.
Before you embark on a quiet moment with your mint tea, an ice-cream cup is highly recommended, especially the fruity flavours (save the chocolate scoop for Cairo) which are of a spicy sorbet penchant.
If this all sounds good and well, it only gets better: the bill will come up to far less than you expect -- except perhaps for the drinks which are a little extravagantly priced in relation to the rest.
As for the lions, reassure your kids, they are nothing to be afraid of down at the Village -- they could not hurt you even if they tried, alas.
Cairo-Alexandria Desert Road
Before Alex Toll Station.