This is a joint review of our dinner at the Athena Taverna in El Gouna, Egypt.
Here’s Erin’s take on the experience, where she discusses her Lentil soup and Samosa appetizer, as well as her main entrée, Greek pastisio:
Right off the bat, our waiter showed up with two complimentary shots of ouzo, which we declined, but appreciated the gesture. Overall, the service was very good, and the non smoking dining where we sat was pleasantly appointed.
Athena has the best lentil in all of El Gouna, hands down.
During the past few weeks, I have been to many restaurants that offer lentil soup.
While many are quite good, Athena tops them all. This version of this ubiquitous dish has subtly delicate layers of flavor, with just a little backbite.
Instead of being thick and lumpy and on the bland side, Athena’s lentil was light and breezy and was so good I even lifted with the bowl with both hands at the end to get every last drop.
Samosa is an Indian appetizer. It is triangular in shape, and usually dark brown in color. This Samosa was clearly homemade: it was magnificent! Light and crunchy, it was filled with delicious cheese, but did not contain any additional savoury fillings, such as spiced potatoes, onions, peas, lentils, minced lamb or minced beef, as I have experienced when travelling to Hong Kong.
Pine nuts were also missing, but the simplicity of Athena Samosa offering was arguably its most attractive quality, though this may have been a function of availability and economics.
Next came the Pastisio, which is the Greek version of lasagna.
Since we have been dining on such light fare of late, I indulged myself in the guilty pleasure of a calorie-laden meal. Athena’s pastisio is very heavy, despite being served in a rather smallish-looking earthenware bowl. The pasta used for this dish was penne, and it was topped with a thick layer of bechamel sauce. At the bottom is this mountain of bechamel was a small layer of tomato meat (beef) sauce, which I felt could have been far thicker. The bechamel itself was quite milky, and not the consistency of custard, which is more typical of this dish. I did not taste much by way spices: nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon — none of these traditional spices seemed to be in Athena’s pastisio.
I think that after the appetizers (including the soup), a more sensible choice would have been the Chicken kebab, or some other simple meat dish.
Athena’s pastisio was not up to snuff, due to the excessive bechamel topping, which also did not seem to contain much by way of cheese, and just milky and watery. The, skimpiness of meat sauce layer, which contained far too much pasta, and far too little meat, underscored the mediocrity of this dish. Not recommended.
Here is Gounaman’s review of his meal:
While I enjoyed the hummus plate, it was nothing that you couldn’t find anywhere else in Gouna.
However, the mushroom soup that I ordered was a complete failure. First of all, I did not expect a cream of mushroom soup, as this was not listed on the menu: it just said “mushroom soup.”
What arrived was essentially a greasy, boiled milk concoction, that had a few floating mushroom stems swimming in it, and did not taste of mushroom at all. It’s only virtue was that it was hot. By the way, the waiter did not offer a splash of sherry, which might have improved this meal’s bland taste, and is typically a welcome addition to real mushroom soup.
Next came the “moussaka.”
I had half-expected the Egyptian version of this dish, called mussa’a, which is rather delicious.
Failing that, I thought the fallback would have been the traditional Greek moussaka that is known around the world, is easy to make, and serves as a delicious though unremarkable comfort food.
Athena’s moussaka was neither of these.
Instead, this so-called moussaka dish was also served in an earthenware bowl. The serving looked like it had been been pre-made and micro waved or stuck under a broiler for a few minutes.
The bechamel sauce overwhelmed the thin gruel, meat-and-vegetable layer below, and actual slices of eggplant were few and far in between.
Moreover, I counted two measly slices of potato swimming in the “vegetable layer,” and beef had been skimpily added to the tomato sauce.
The bechamel topping was slightly burned here and there from the broiler, instead of being an overall golden brown, and I did not detect anything by way of interesting spices in this meal.
In conclusion, other than the samosa and the lentil soup, my wife and I agree that this meal was a real disappointment.
The entrées were too bland and watery to even qualify for what they were being called, and probably the best thing about this meal was that it only set us back 310 Egyptian pounds, or 17.5 US dollars.
We probably would have been happier passing on the entrées, and ordering stuffed grape leaves instead, avoiding the mushroom soup entirely, and calling it a day.
Overall, we would say that Athena has done nothing to change my mind that El Gouna is sorely in need of actual qualified chefs in its restaurants, and that the quality and freshness and completeness of the ingredients used needs vast improvement. Perhaps the hotel fare — which I have not tasted — is more up to European culinary standards.
Having said that, we are now going to stick to simple, nutritious (and cheap!) eats from now on: breakfast of felafel (or ta’meyya , in Egyptian parlance) and fool sandwiches at Zomba’s (tell them to heat the bread, put the felafel and fool together, but not as a mix — you want actual round felafel balls — and lots of extra tahina and some salata, or salad tomatoes and lettuce, in the pita pocket itself), and stuffed grapes leaves, lentil soup, rice with sha’riyya, and okra (bamia) from Kan Zaman.
Such a diet readily agrees with us, is conducive to weight loss when coupled with one or two hours of walking a day, and is consistently nutritious while tasty enough not to become unduly boring.