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Beyond the third circle

Injy El-Kashef sins, irremediably

The first impression one gets upon entering the Cheesecake Factory's sitting area is of being the uninvited guest who gate-crashed a private party: a suspended screen plays MTV's Nirvana Unplugged in a stuffy space where the entire clientele -- all the couples engaged in serious, muffled argument -- raises pairs of questioning eyes which cause one to reach involuntarily for the ID card in one's wallet.

In fact, the whole set-up is a little absurd. Departing from the noise and tumult of Roxy Square, in the quiet interior designed to resemble a diluted version of Chaplin's Modern Times (complete with cogs and wheels), where Egyptian teenagers quibble over imported American cheesecake crumbs, one feels disinclined to disturb such a very odd construction.

Very respectfully indeed we awaited our four slices of cheesecake, which promptly arrived at the fingertips of a smiling waiter. We assumed he smiled at us, as quick service is usually accompanied by self-assured and self-satisfied grins of the sort that horizontally split the face in two. As we discovered, however, the waiter was rather suppressing a giggle, having guessed from experience the effect of these four slices of cheesecake on our unsuspecting souls. He must have already seen others walk into the Factory looking smart and hopeful, and leave looking dull-witted and suicidal.

Quantity aside, however, there is no question as to quality. The cheesecakes are simply excellent. The distinction between the Macadamia Nut Cake and the Oreo Cookie Cake is subtle; perhaps the only detail distinguishing them is the presence of the black circles of Oreos on the latter. Considering the obvious difference between cookies and nuts, such a similarity in taste should have raised our eyebrows, especially as each slice is priced at LE12.25, but the cheesecake experience itself is so overwhelming that such observations only surface the following morning, along with the guilt of having committed a deadly sin.

Happily, we had anticipated the need for a pinch of salt between slices and so had ordered a quarter of a kilo of assorted savoury biscuits. A puff pastry base had been sprinkled alternately with sesame seed, poppy seed and aniseed and cut into strange shapes to qualify the label of assortment. They came in handy, in any case, because on the round granite table a slice of Chocolate Mousse and another of Raspberry Mousse cheesecake were still waiting to be eaten no matter how long we sat there in denial, sipping our excellent, sugar-free, cappuccino.

The Raspberry Mousse was a blessing tasting of children's toothpaste, the sort one easily becomes addicted to; it adds insolence to sin and that is usually an attraction. But one has not tasted real, third-circle-of-Inferno sin unless one eats the Chocolate Mousse Cheesecake. It is deep, ugly, wallow-in-the-mud delicious, and there is a humiliation associated with gulping it down that no starvation diet could ever redeem.

The Cheesecake Factory should be visited in winter, when food experiences of this dimension are welcome. In the summer, it is more of a traumatising situation, as one discovers that there is hardly anything to complain about -- not even the LE70 bill just for "desserts" -- and that, if you leave dissatisfied, it is because you have witnessed a facet of yourself you had never suspected existed.

The Cheesecake Factory, Heliopolis branch, Merryland Commercial Centre, Roxy. Tel 4526690

Photo by Waranya Mooldee on Unsplash

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