Walk like an Egyptian

We have just returned after a week in the sun in Egypt – a week of 30 degree plus temperatures at Easter is one of the biggest treats of the year, with nothing to worry about other than making sure our pale asses don’t fry in the heat.

We’ve got a fair bit of experience of the big all-inclusive hotels at Taba. It’s a gated complex on the edge of the Sinai desert with all the major chains there – Marriott, Hyatt, Sofitel etc. If you’re looking for a total chill out with no hassles, I can heartily recommend it. We’d previously stayed at the Marriott and the Sofitel (the Sofitel  being the better), so we thought we’d try out the newest and biggest of the hotels, the Intercontinental.

The food story at these places is pretty straight forward if you’re all-inclusive: buffet. Done badly these can be absolutely awful (and I still get the shakes about a previous experience we had in Lanzarote) but I can report that in general the all inclusive packages at the hotels in Taba have pretty much got it right.

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Three meals a day at full board is pretty hard to keep variation going if it’s a buffet approach but in general I think they pull it off. I do think that after a week though, you’d be getting a bit bored by it.

The quality of the food is generally high – salads and fruit are good as you’d expect, with mains being a diverse (and oftend downright bizarre) mix of meat and fish, often drenched in old school sauces which don’t work for me in the heat. Egypt is predominantly a muslim country these days so pork is off the menu, but the things they can do with beef is impressive (beef bacon I liked).

The odd thing I did find is that the food is remarkably under seasoned and I suspect this more about the clientele and not middle eastern cooking in general. I struggled most days to find anything in the buffet that was vaguely spicy and interesting – they seem to be catering for the middle ground.

I think buffets are by their very nature hard to pull off – especially when you’re looking at 500 plus guests, but they do it pretty well. Our overall view of the all-inclusive food at the Inter was it was OK, but not as good as the Sofitel. To be fair, it’s all much of a muchness and writing this, I feel slightly harsh judging them so, but when you compare it to freshly cooked food for the table, there is no comparison.

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The Inter also has a couple of ‘non inclusive’ a la carte restaurants on its site and we decided that it would be a good move to try these out, particularly as one of them had the most amazing outdoor dining terrace, complete with lanterns. Of course, these were of a different class and the food here was absolutely beautiful.

The first was El Mar and the service and food was excellent and around £50 per head including wine, it was well worth the spend. The seafood and beef was of the freshest and highest quality with an assured touch in the kitchen. Special mention goes to the lobster and squid combo and the grass fed beef (a luxury in the parched desert of Egypt).

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On the last night, we ate at The Lagoon restaurant, which beautifully sat overlooking a man made saltwater lagoon (obviously). A lovely setting and we opted for mezze food (middle eastern tapas) which again was full of great flavours and freshly cooked, not served in a tureen, which was a bonus. Special mention to the fried liver – in a word, wow. We ordered lots of plates and it only costed £7.50 for two of us (although I think they charged us wrongly and to be fair, the service was pretty dire there).

Even though a la carte is always going to be good, the buffet food has lots to commend it – it’s fast, there’s lots of choice and everyone looked pretty happy getting stuck in. Even the French. No, scrub that, especially the French. For us, we just found that we needed a couple of nights off the buffet at the a la carte restaurants to keep our food mojo going.

We’ll obviously go again because we love the overall combination of all inclusive, luxury hotel and sunshine. And my view would be that overall, this is the best hotel we’ve stayed at so far – although J and I can’t quite agree on this point!

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