Al-Ahram Weekly Online   2 - 8 August 2007
Issue No. 856
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Restaurant review:

A moment alone

Searching for pause, Serene Assir checks out Euro Deli

At Euro Deli's new branch in Mohandessin, the food is, on the whole, odd. The salads are fresh, but the portions small. The Lebanese food on the menu is tasty, but frankly not very Lebanese. The sandwiches are better, but the presence of bagels on the menu was sufficient in itself to turn me off entirely.

The music is similarly obnoxious: Britney Spears, followed by Backstreet Boys, followed by Britney Spears. Oh, and Dido made an appearance too, seemingly so that guests above the age of 12 wouldn't feel left out. If the music wasn't bad enough, the squeaky speaker system enforces concentration.

Wait. I take back everything I said. (Sigh). Let's start again.

Only the city's most frivolous have survived intact the crash in mood that the Arab world has suffered over recent years. In Cairo, perhaps it's the summer heat in part that's doing it, but a lot of establishments that were bustling around the clock in other years are emptier now. Focus is shifting onto more serious ventures than just killing time, it seems. And Cairo's cafés and clubs, once buzzing with life any day or night of the week, are more sombre.

No doubt, this sobriety is much needed today, in a country whose neighbours' suffering and struggling is escalating. But there are days when retreat is also needed, in order to keep the work going. And Euro Deli, despite the imported name, does well at providing such a forum.

My suggestion is that you don't aim to go for the food. Instead, walk in, enjoy the fact that the entirety of the café is lit up by warm, natural light streaming in through the massive window, pick a spot on the orange sofas at the back, and breathe out. Reassure yourself that in spite of everything -- or perhaps because of it -- everything will be alright for us all very soon.

With that attitude, the freshness of the café, the tasty coffee made to your own taste, however particular that might be, and the kindness of the staff will work wonders. Though Euro Deli gets busier later, the early afternoon is a great time to go because the locale is yours alone. It may have something to do with the abundant, orange sunlight, at that hour, and at the angle at which it enters the café. Whatever it is, there is something soothing about being there.

Meantime, while taking care to remain professional, waiters working at Euro Deli have also retained their own human spark, something which staff at so many other Western-style establishments in Egypt are trained to kill, it seems. As a consequence there is no strain on the customer to act. So I take off my sandals and forget about the menu, and about pretending to really care about what I am going to eat. At this stage, I have learned to ignore the music. And I improvise on the question of food, keeping my mind focussed on the much more important subject of the light.

It is at this stage, exactly when it is needed, the subliminal message is inferred by the waiter taking down your order. "Would you like some juice? We have watermelon, melon, strawberry, apple and peach," he says as he smiles. "They really are very good."

I don't refuse. But already feeling light, with the simplicity of the atmosphere as forged by the staff and the décor, not so much by the food or the café's name, I no longer care whether they are any good or not.

But they are magic. I take a sip of the watermelon, and instantly, with barely any pain, I land. I am back where I am, in a time-frame warranting struggle for self-defence. The escape, short though it was, finishes bluntly. It seems the waiter knew what he was doing.

Of course, that's the way it was supposed to be, because in truth there is no escape from the here and now. But it is beautiful that the deceptively named café has done so well, in a simple stroke, at bringing in the natural wealth of the world to remind us that we do not struggle in vain.

That is, of course, till the disproportionately expensive bill arrives. So, anyone for a tea in a downtown qahwa ?

Euro Deli Café,
1 Oman Square, Doqqi
Lunch for two: LE100

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