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Buried treasure

Injy El-Kashef says open sesame

When we arrived at Jaita, we were already in a bad mood -- and the name certainly didn't help. It was not easy to find the restaurant, despite its size and the huge letters spelling it out: these, of course, are only visible once you are standing right in front of the place.

Jaita is, as the first page on the extensive menu explains, a grotto in Lebanon, the subterranean half of which was only discovered in relatively recent times by an American who dropped something at his feet and heard it fall much further than he expected. But we are extremely grateful indeed that the interior designer of the restaurant did not have the bright idea to design it after the original. The result would inevitably have resembled something like Ali Baba's cave, probably much like the ones we get on television during Ramadan.

Our waiter found it very amusing and a little strange that we couldn't pronounce the names of the dishes correctly and that we didn't know that the recurrent word laban (milk in Egypt) means yoghurt in Lebanese. This was a very useful piece of information, since we were about to leave when we read in the menu about something called aubergines and veal cubes in milk.

A few minutes after our orders were taken, a huge basket of fresh bread and manaqish came in, along with the overpriced mezze of our choice. The labna was a little too salty but the tomiya (garlic paste) was good. In fact, it was delicious. It was the kind of thing that inspires people to write bad poetry. When the sambousek with cheese is dipped into the tomiya, all one wants to do is snatch the two plates off the table and run to the lowest depths of Jaita to devour them.

Unfortunately, the vegetable soup with meat cubes was too much. Not the kind of dish to eat before or after anything. It is a meal in and of itself, with an inch of grease floating on the surface.

The main dishes were a different story. The Jaita Fish with Calamari, Shrimp, Mushroom and Cheese Sauce was good enough to make you weep. Not too spiced, every sea creature had a distinct taste, yet they all melted together into a Mediterranean flavour one dreams of finding on seashore restaurants in Cyprus or Crete. The Grilled Shrimps in the Oven were swimming in a sea of lemon, tomato and onion, the leftovers of which deserved to be taken home in a silk pouch.

The Leg of Lamb Buried in Lebanese Rice was, thankfully, cut in small pieces of meat instead of the usual sight associated with leg of lamb, reminiscent of historical films like Fagr Al-Islam. There was nothing really Lebanese about the rice except perhaps the cinnamon, and the quantity.

Time for dessert, time for Umm Ali and Lebanese Bouza. The Umm Ali was excellent: warm, sweet, and milky but without any nuts. It was the perfect way to end such a heavy meal because anything lighter would have been too inconsistent. As for the bouza, it was just right. The overpowering taste of mastic of that stretchy cold white mass covered with pistachios almost makes one hysterical and seriously wishful that all loved ones could have a taste.

A very complete meal with fresh juice and coffee came to LE230.

Jaita, 120 Al-Thawra Street, Heliopolis

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