FoodLife & Style

Carlo’s for sohour

At the start of Ramadan, a friend asked me if I was doing the "kheyam circuit" (tent circuit). Of course, I was totally clueless. Apparently the party set, who have yet to get the party out of their system (it's still summer, after all), have redirected their energies towards kheyam gatherings.

Ramadan tents are either bars that turn into tents at Ramadan, hotels that set up tents for Ramadan, or kick-back shisha places that remain kick-back shisha places with a few additions to the menu for sohour.

Despite the big shabang the bars go through to attract customers (free cards, backgammon, Playstation, Wii and so on) and the crazy hotel extravaganzas (belly dancers and comedians), it is often the nice, laid-back shisha restaurants that have the true spirit of Ramadan all year long.

This is why, unless I am compelled to head out and party Ramadan style, I like to choose places that will give me the Ramadan feeling without all the show (the restaurants that serve fuul because they know how to make it–not as a Ramadan gimmick). Carlo's, on the Le Pacha boat, is one such place.

Despite slightly snobbish service and a LE125 minimum charge, Carlo's remains the classiest and most laid-back of shisha spots in Cairo. It also serves excellent food. And if you befriend the waiters, they'll probably get you anything you want from any of the other Le Pacha restaurants (more great food).

Carlo's is not actually on the Le Pacha boat, like Johnny's Pub and the little fuzzy rabbits (yes, there is literally a wooden pen with little white fuzzy rabbits): Carlo's is on the platform just before the ramp onto the boat. It is relatively open-air, closed in by glass windows on two sides and covered with some tenting to keep out the sun during the day.

At night, you must reserve. Your best bet, table-wise, is furthest into the restaurant, along the Nile. Although you might think service would worsen the further you get from the kitchen, a little table of plates and cutlery sets wrapped in napkins keeps the waiters buzzing around this area as well.

Carlo's Ramadan specialties (which you will not find elsewhere in the Le Pacha complex) are their mezzes. With a particularly addictive version of safayeh b'il gibna (a pastry with cheese), a killer hommos bel basterma (chickpea dip with salted meat) and bearing in mind the LE125 minimum charge, it is suggested you visit Carlo’s on an empty stomach.

Other standouts on the menu include their vine leaves, the fattoush salad (although this can be a little tart) and their Alexandrian liver.

With the weather this hot, outdoor seating may sound more than a little unpleasant, but Carlo's has fans and the weather is considerably tempered by its proximity to the Nile.

And the shisha is good. Each order comes with two bowls of tobacco, and the coal server is particularly prompt and conscientious about the welfare of your smoking experience.

As a snobby waiter remedy? Pretend you’re in Paris–be snobby right back!

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