Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
13 - 19 July 2000
Issue No. 490
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Issues navigation Current Issue Previous Issue Back Issues

 
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The siren's call

By Injy El-Kashef

Some places on this earth are shrouded with an aura of mystery that no lapse of time can affect. Stonehenge, for example; the Temple of Philae, the Puerta del Sol and, more recently, La Sirena. The beauty of modern times, however, is that its mysteries escape the bounds of human comprehension. For instance, why should La Sirena be so packed with customers on a week day; why?

This monument of the past century is situated on the first floor of a fairly ugly apartment building in Heliopolis. At the door stands a thug who checks you out in suspicious silence. In order to reach the holy of holies, you must first walk through a corridor dotted with aquariums where ferocious-looking fish swim about stupidly. Then, atop a few steps, is a closed door. Calm outside. You open the door and there is darkness, smoke, lots of people and 99 plastic fish on the wall. Who ever heard of this tiny little restaurant on a side street? The place is full house.

You sit down -- if you're lucky. The bored waiter hands you the most hilarious menu you've ever laid eyes on. It is not only riddled with side-splitting mistakes, it is actually a work of post-modern art. You see, it totally engages you to participate -- not by selecting your order, but by guessing what is on offer. Join us: what is "Seabars according to caly, biak"? We didn't know either.

We began with a Lapester (lobster) Soup. After taking forever to arrive (quite frankly), it failed to produce a very strong impression -- which is really bad for lobster soup. The two hot appetisers, on the other hand, were excellent. The "Shinese" Spring Rolls with Vegetables and Shrimp were extremely fresh and crunchy, although I could not detect any shrimp about them. Nevertheless, they were simply perfect. The Grilled Gamba (jumbo) Shrimps were even more delicious. Huge, juicy and brilliantly seasoned, they more than made up for the soup.

We were rather content until something began to go really wrong in the air. Other than the constant humming of human voices, which sounded like a muffled vacuum cleaner, suddenly an instrumental intervention joined the cacophony. It was torture to the ears. We'll confess, we'll confess; whatever it was, we did it; give us those blank checks, we'll sign them. First, all the customers experienced collective denial, convinced that if ignored the music(ian) would cease to exist. When this tactic failed, some adopted the befriend-your-enemy strategy, hoping to be treated more mercifully. After about an hour of forced clapping, the martyrs brought salvation to all present and the noise disappeared as suddenly as it had emerged.

Our main courses. My dining companion was quite satisfied with his jumbo shrimps rolled in slices of sea bass fillet. My Sall (sole) Fish with Lemon and Garlic tasted more of the ta'liya (vinegar and garlic seasoning) used for cooking fatta than anything else. As if alternating great with not-so-good, La Sirena offered some of the best Umm Ali to be found in town for our dessert. This dry dinner for two was LE144.

La Sirena, 115 Osman Ibn Affan St, off Triumph Square, Heliopolis.

Tel: 415 8714

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