There’s an exciting new dining option coming to Tivoli Dome in Heliopolis – the Outback Steakhouse. Located along the tram line on Ibn El Khatteb Street in Almaza, Tivoli Dome contains a variety of coffee shops and restaurants with seating set around a pleasantly manicured lawn and pond.
Various international and domestic chains have already opened there, including Crave, Burger King, Cilantro and the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. Coffeeshop Company, Noodle House, Cedars, Venezia, Pascucci and Starbucks are all on their way. The whole thing is still a bit of a construction site, and if you’re put off by the sounds of drilling while you eat, perhaps you ought to delay your visit by a few weeks. But the whole thing has the potential to be an attractive addition to the local dining scene.
Outback, an American chain started by restaurant entrepreneur, and enthusiastic horseman, Tim Gannon, has made a name for itself in the U.S. for its Australian motifs, its quality cuts of steak and seafood, and its fun, child-friendly, ambience.
Some of this charm managed to survive the concept’s translation over to Egypt. Outback at Tivoli has pleasant outdoor and upstairs seating. The décor is innovative and interesting; we sat beneath an enormous reproduction of a windmill. Idyllic ranch scenes from the Australian outback set in faux-windows and replicas of Aboriginal sculptures made us forget, for a moment, our true location in congested Cairo. The staff is well trained, and we were seated efficiently. Customers are given pagers that vibrate once their table is ready, allowing them to stroll around beforehand and minimizing the scrum of influence peddling that happens at most Cairo establishments when they’re full.
But much of Outback’s American charm was lost in translation. The tables were set much too close together, and the room was amazingly noisy. Even with some empty tables around, we could hardly hear ourselves think. They have nicely split the place into smoking and non-smoking sections, allowing families with children to dine with only the standard amount of atmospheric pollution. As it turned out, the smoking section was almost as full of kids as the non-smoking section, but that’s another story. Outback in Egypt, like most other new establishments, is not licensed for alcohol. It still maintains, however, a full “bar” area, and advertises a range of “cocktails” on the menu. I tried out an alcohol-free mojito, based on which I can assure you that rum is an integral part of the mojito recipe.
The menu suited my lazy ordering habits perfectly: scrumptious pictures of nearly every dish are provided. At times, these pictures were necessary: the menu is sprinkled with Australian jargon, and one is offered exotic, unpronounceable options at every turn: Kookabura wings, Toowoomba pasta, Walkabout soup, Bloomin’ onions and burgers.
To start, we tried Outback’s signature dish, the Bloomin’ Onion, a massive onion cut into wedges, still mostly intact, all somehow deep-fried. It was good, quite greasy, and enough for a large table, so don’t consider ordering it on your own. We also tried the chicken quesadillas, which were superb. The menu contains an great selection of American imported cuts of beef, including NY strip, prime rib, sirloin, filet, and rib eye. We tried the NY strip and prime rib. The strip was excellent, we ordered it medium rare and it came out juicy and succulent; the prime rib was also very good. Both dishes were accompanied by tasty fresh sautéed vegetables.
There is an appealing collection of salads—we tried the steak salad and it was good—as well as a variety of seafood options, including shrimp, salmon and lobster. For those of you who can’t decide, there is a useful list of “combination” platters, where you can combine shrimp, chicken, lobster and steak. Many of the accompaniments, in particular the tangy fries, were very good. Based on the beautiful picture in the menu, I was excited to try the burger, but it was not available on the day. There’s a decent kids menu, with the choice of macaroni and cheese, burgers, chicken fingers and grilled chicken.
Portions are massive, so we didn’t have much room to try the rather limited desert menu. Drawn, once again, to the spectacular menu picture however, we did try the rather grandly titled Thunder From Down Under, a pecan and chocolate brownie smothered with an enormous pile of whipped cream and ice cream. While it was bursting with pecan, and rather insufficiently chocolaty, at least the vanilla ice cream was delicious.
I got to know Outback founder Tim Gannon while living in Florida some years ago, and his restaurants there were low-key, consistently quality, discrete family affairs. They justified an excursion with family and friends. Somehow, its Cairo equivalent doesn’t quite carry the same feel. The dining room is overcrowded and noisy. The afternoon sun blasts through the partially shaded windows. The massively excessive plate sizes seem almost obscene, as does the rather hefty price tag a trip there entails. Even the kids’ menu options come spilling over a plate the size of large recreational Frisbee. Maybe things will fall into their proper place once the concept becomes better established. Certainly, the quality cuts of steak are a welcome addition to the Cairo dining scene. And the overall experience of Tivoli carries great promise of providing a quiet and tasteful food court experience.
Tivoli dome, Ibn El Khatteb St., Almaza, Heliopolis
Working hours: 1pm-midnight daily
Tel: 012 389 7278.
Dinner for two: between LE300-400.