We first got a sneak preview of the authentic Syrian cuisine of Amar El-Sham during Ramadan, when the restaurant set up a kitchen and lounge inside the Gezira Club in Zamalek.
Smitten as we were with their rich daoud basha (meat balls), delicious thin shami bread, falafel and shawerma; you can imagine our anticipation when we heard that Amar El-Sham now has a permanent location in the boat docked next to Sofitel Gezira Hotel.
Making its grand entrance onto Cairo’s dining scene on Nov. 3, 2010; Amar El-Sham is an ambitious restaurant with not one but three dining levels: an indoor family restaurant serving delicacies such as the Syrian raw kibbeh, a mid-level café and an upper-deck open-air shisha lounge.
It would be difficult to get more authentically Syrian than at Amar El-Sham: everything from the meats and spices to the uniforms and soft-spoken waiters have been imported from the motherland.
Amar El-Sham caters to an interactive dining experience; two kabab stations are located inside the first-floor restaurant in an open-air kitchen. On both the first and third levels, a bread oven station is set up, where a chef constantly kneads dough, tossing discs of bread into the air before laying them onto a pillow to pound them into shape.
Glasses of sweet chilled jallab are served along with the salty yoghurt ayran. Shisha is also available downstairs, with flavors of guava, cantaloupe and peach yielding smooth, well-balanced smoke.
An order of well-rounded appetizers (ranging between LE 15 and LE 20) yielded bowls of light and pungent baba ghanoush, salty tehina, and fatoush salad laden with crisp golden toasted bread, onions, tomato and cucumbers. We also ordered tasters of fasoulia (green beans), steamed and sautéed with sesame; as well as platters of plump, steaming kibbeh and taameya (falafel). The taameya was a phenomenon with a crisp toasted shell and flavorful filling. Made with hummus, unlike most taameya served in Egypt; it was neither overly greasy nor overly dry, and cut well with the tangy tehina.
The kibbeh yielded a medley of flavors with ground meat of sweet and savory spices. Plates of aromatic yellow rice, bulgur seasoned with nuts and raisins, and piles of airy crêpe-like Syrian bread continued to arrive throughout our meal.
Our main course of chicken shawerma was succulent and flavorful with a gentle citrus dressing, pickles and potent garlic sauce. An entrée of fatta yielded thick cuts of boiled lamb, pairing with roasted garlic and a tangy yoghurt base. Entrées at Amar El-Sham range between LE 50 and LE 80, making the experience relatively affordable for all its imported extravagance.
Our evening ended with porcelain cups of booza; made daily in the kitchen, the ice-cream was creamy with hints of rose, pistachio nuts crumbled over the top, making for a pleasing finale.
What the service lacked in expedience — a few friendly reminders about our orders were necessary — they made up for in friendliness and charm; and the overall ambiance outweighed any discomfort that our dining partners experienced due to the wait.
The authenticity and quality of ingredients made this a dining experience to remember.
Since the restaurant is new, and since many of the items are made on the spot, some menu items — such as the specially made taameya — can run out; so bear with the staff and enjoy the view.
The restaurant is planning to open a Syrian seafood restaurant in the boat’s second level; stay tuned for all the latest developments.
Amar El-Sham: Hodd El Sahel Street, Next to Sofitel Gezira, Zamalek, Cairo.
The article was contributed by Cairo360 www.cairo360.com