When we heard a tapas bar had opened in Garden City we were excited. The neighborhood, where our office is, might be beautiful with big trees, old buildings and art spaces, but it’s not great when it comes to restaurants or bars. To dine out in Garden City you have to opt for a hotel restaurant, Taboula for Lebanese food, or Mahrous, the trusty street-side fuul place.
Dos Cañas, which calls itself a bar and taperia, is on a terrace on the 19th floor — the rooftop of the Cairo Capital Club — and from there you can see the whole of Garden City and the Nile and beyond. There is a lovely breeze, soft lighting, solid wooden furniture, gas-lit small candle-like flames and a nice table setup with thick cloth napkins. The minimal ambiance and design allows the view to be the star of the night. It looks promising, and expensive.
Tapas originated as an addendum to a glass of sherry. In Andalusia, back in the day, taverns gave their patrons bread or meat to cover their glasses to prevent fruit flies from diving in. Like mezze, hors d’ouevres or antipasti, they’ve evolved to become small, rich, sociable dishes eaten with a drink. Tapas is often a great opportunity to graze slowly, talk, drink another few glasses, realize you’re not quite full and order more.
But most of what we ate at Dos Cañas was more like the canapes you get at fancy cocktail parties, and possibly also made in bulk a little earlier in the evening. The tables have been fully booked since the place opened (reservations are a must), and several waiters hover constantly, waiting to whisk away the dishes as soon as they are empty — or even before they are.
Dos Cañas has a wide variety of drinks, including soft drinks, tea, coffee, local beers (LE30-45) and wines (LE185-350 for a bottle), along with regular imported spirits such as tequila, vodka and whiskey. But there are also more interesting-sounding specialties, such as tinto di verrano (red wine, soda, lemonade) or a cucumber kiwi mojito.
We opted for the red wine sangria (LE270). It was fruitier than we would have liked, so we could hardly taste the wine, which perhaps with Egyptian wine was not an entirely bad decision.
As for food, there is a reassuringly small menu and we went for variety. The beef bocadillos (“red bell pepper/shallot jam/aioli”) were bite-sized towers consisting of dabs of those ingredients (plus a coriander leaf) on top of a small medallion of nicely cooked beef, on top of a thick circle of extremely crusty white bread that overwhelmed the potentially delicate mix of sweet and sour above it.
The friendly waiter initially brought us the ceviche instead of the tuna poke tostones (“plantains/pickled onion/sour cream”), but switched it swiftly when we pointed out the mistake. The tuna sat on a tiny bedding of mashed plantains, pickled onion and sour cream, on a softer bread slice. Our reactions to it varied, but overall we were disappointed to only get four tiny bites, which come at a hefty price of LE83.
Later we ordered the ceviche (“shrimp/fish/lime”), as it had looked intriguing in its glass. Despite the fresh-tasting fish, it was disappointingly like prawn cocktail: mildly sweet and creamy, mayonnaisey even, rather than limey and spicy like it should be. Perhaps with a more generous amount of lime, chilli and cilantro it would have been our favourite.
The beetroot arancini (“parmesan/bread crumbs”), five risotto balls, were maybe too intensely fried, as their outsides were rather hard. They were slightly bland, but in combination with a green spicey herb sauce, which came in a little dish that sat alongside them on the plate, this worked — although the amount of sauce was too meager to have it with every mouthful.
The patatas bravas were nice, but almost exactly like the spicy potatoes you can get just downstairs at Taboula at a more reasonable price — equally cumin-covered, just less spicy. And there was no aioli or salsa to dip them in. We didn’t actually finish the pumpkin chiffon tart (“candied orange/5 spice”), which was basically two miniature, average-tasting pumpkin pies.
We understood why proper tapas would be difficult — it must be hard to get a lot of Spanish ingredients here, never mind Spanish wine or beer, and a row of hams hanging above the bar wouldn’t work. Accordingly, the menu says they have “drawn inspiration from around the world, whether they are South American staples, Indian spices or continental classics.” But if you call yourself a taperia and give yourself a Spanish name, you should probably make an effort to include certain tapas staples that can be made anywhere — tortilla, for example. Also, what we got was more boring old “continental classic” than anything resembling South American cuisine, and the prices would lead you to expect something that differs from generic posh restaurant fare.
As one of us remarked, “I was expecting something more authentic than sipping over-priced Omar Khayyam with some fruit mixed in while listening to Amy Winehouse.”
Despite all this, compared to similar places we’ve been to in Cairo, Dos Cañas might be the closest to capturing tapas. It could be a great place to wind down after work with drinks and snacks, but if you order enough food to actually fill yourself up it will come at a hefty price.
If you go, reserve a table next to the edge of the terrace, where you can make the most of the view. And definitely don’t go for the bar, which isn’t much of a place to sit at: brightly lit, in a sort of corridor space between the kitchen, the entrance and the terrace, with no view.
Dos Cañas is located on the 19th floor at 9 Rostom Street, Garden City, Cairo. For reservations call 02 27929443 starting 12 pm daily.