Out to brunch
Lakeside light bites? Gamal Nkrumah
meets suburban mums who don't want to waste mealtimes in kitchens
Luckily for those of us not blessed with massive lungs, it doesn't smell great but it's a hell of a lot better than when we were last here. The headwaiter heads towards us. He is at once apologetic and deferential. He is at pains to stress that they usually have the rib-eye steak, but that for some strange reason, they've run out of stock today.
The clientele, largely dressed in their Sunday -- oops, Friday -- best, stare back at you with a bland insouciance swaged in voluptuous veils and divers head coverings, jeans and sneakers. They are mostly women fingering their shishas -- hookahs -- and other accouterments such as huge plastic shopping bags bulging with goodies. They gossip incessantly and are obviously not at Le Rêve to make polite conversation. They could barely devote enough time to lunch. It is just mouth music to these suburban mothers and mothers-in-laws.
Lunch at Le Rêve? It is not a word that sends the pulse racing. There are one or two middle-aged men, but you could tell by a single glance that the world they had ruled over was consigned to the dustbin of history. What on earth were they doing in Rehab? It's probably not worth making the trip to Rehab to eat at Le Rêve. But once there, it would be a sin not to sit by the lakeside café and sip your favourite freshly squeezed fruit juice and smoke the hookah.
The Food Court is focussed around the curvaceous lake, a large tranquil reflecting stretch of water that mirrors the restaurants surrounding it.
It would be a cliché to say that it looks like something from a film set, but in this case it is. A pale and hollow eyed anorexic waitress who looks as if she has no reason to be in a sunny mood shyly approaches us. Her tray of tea and fruit juice quivered precariously balancing glasses of lukewarm water, presumably for tea, teabags, fresh mint sprigs and strawberry, lemon and orange juice. When she arrives at our table all smiles, it turns out she is a chipper old thing.
There is a strong sense of push and pull between the self-deprecating waiters, all courteous and self-conscious, on the one hand, and the driven jobbing restaurant attendants on the other. They bleat on and on about how great the fresh air is in Rehab, a suburban satellite city northeast of Heliopolis, constructed from scratch in the desert by the infamous jailbird tycoon Talaat Mustafa. The main thoroughfare along with half a dozen other landmarks in Rehab are ubiquitously named after him.
No less inexplicable is the proliferation of upwardly mobile middle class Islamist-oriented Egyptians and a host of Muslim foreigners ranging from blond and blue- eyed Bosnians and other Balkan Muslims to black Somalis and African-Americans. Rehab is surely one of the great mystery satellite cities of our time.
Family-friendly attractions abound. It has a higgledy- piggledy charm of sorts. That goes for both Rehab and Le Rêve. But don't expect gourmet organic food.
My teenage son is something of an "old soul" and he leans forward to make things clear. "I'll have steak, well done," he tosses the menu away. He smiles the knowing smirk of an adolescent who's got his life right. In part, his maturity may be on show because that's the kind of role he's been playing at school and at home of late.
"Of course, you'll not be having meat," I turn to my youngest son. It's a ham-fisted question as far as he's concerned and he bats it away. "Can I have pasta, please, and French fries? I prefer my pasta with chicken and mushroom," he whispers sheepishly.
His puppyish enthusiasm for pasta hides a steely resolve. He is no carnivore. Much to his mother's consternation, eating red meat is always a bloody battle of wits and wills. All of which adds to the appeal of a visit to dish-defining faux pas -- a steakhouse.
Grand Café Le Rêve
Food Court, Rehab City
Tel: 2692 3830
Lunch for three: LE225