It’s said that when the first McDonald’s opened its doors in Cairo back in 1994 people lined up for hours under a – still blistering – October sun in order to get their hands on Big Macs, cheeseburgers, fries, milkshakes and generous servings of Coca Cola. Apparently these lineups continued for months on end until people realized that the international chain wasn’t going anywhere and they would be able to get their fast food fix at any time of the day (by delivery no less) for years to come. Some say the initial hype was due to the introduction of something novel into the Egyptian food chain while others argue that it had to do more with the whole “follow the crowd” mentality and wanting to be part of something new, hip, and happening. It was about seeing and being seen.
In some ways, not much has changed.
Mince, located on Ahmed Heshmat Street in Zamalek next to Arabica and Costa Coffee, is Cairo’s newest addition to the burger scene stoking 1994 fast-food fervor to no end. Still in its ‘soft opening’ phase, the small trendy grill has been ironing out logistical and administrative kinks as it makes a bid to blow customers away and be crowned Egypt’s best burger joint (the current title belongs to Le Garage in El Gouna).With a quasi industrial and contemporary interior – brick walls on one side, corrugated metal on the other, glass partition that separates kitchen from dining area and the menu scrawled in a medley of colours on an overhanging blackboard – Mince is off to a pretty good start.
The menu is all about freshly prepared burgers (Angus beef and locally sourced chicken) with an assortment of traditional (pickles, onions, cheese) and creative toppings (fried egg, avocado, raspberry jam, beetroot). For the Intolerants in the house, burgers can be ordered without the bun and several vegetarian and lactose/gluten-friendly alternatives are available (!veggie burger!, mixed veg salads and sweet potato fries). As a bonus, I was told that ingredients are received on a daily basis according to expected customer turnover. This is is done to avoid throwing away unused food or using stale ingredients the following day. It’s for these reasons, and the fact that the chef hails from the UK after already creating London’s best burger I’m sure, that the place has been packed day in and day out. Every time I make a pass by Mince there’s a line up at least 10 deep, with people waiting patiently to get their hands on what’s being touted “the best minced cow around.”
Right. Let’s see about that.
A couple friends and I rocked up to Mince after yoga last night because we were sweaty, hungry, tired and – most importantly – curious. The picnic table outside was full, as were the seats at the back of the restaurant, so we milled around the front door musing over the blackboard in the hopes that space would free up. Two opted for classic beef burgers with various toppings (honey mustard, goat cheese, grilled red pepper), one went for a chicken burger and I was all over the veggie burger. That is until the first frustration of the evening when I was told there were no more veggie burgers. Ok, no problem. I’ll have sweet potato fries instead. Nope…no sweet potato fries, they were all out. They were also out of the hand cut fries (with skin) and house fries. All that was left were the onion rings.
Not cool, and I only found out after the fact that you could order a burger without a bun (the lights on the blackboard don’t make it easy to read). Since I didn’t want to give anything else a try I settled on sampling what everyone else was having. We waited close to 30 minutes for the food since people kept arriving and the kitchen became increasingly overwhelmed with new orders and dealing with clients who were sending back their orders because certain toppings and dips were missing.
Admittedly, our food looked great when it arrived. I’m not a big fast-food person to begin with, shunning all Mc-related option unless it’s the only thing available in a 200km radius and I haven’t had any food in 48 hours. Yet, these burgers seemed freshly seasoned and grilled with care, and the buns looked how actual hamburger buns should: light, airy, slightly toasted and with a smattering of sesame seeds for added flavour.
The feedback on the food was mixed. In all, everything was enjoyed, though expectations might have been a bit too high. The beef burger with honey mustard had only a smear of honey mustard on it; the onion rings were far too greasy; the owner of the goat-cheese burger was not thrilled about bread, and the chicken burger could have used a few more lettuce, tomatoes and pickles.
Alas, critiques aside the group was pleased about the following:
- The burgers are made rare if requested.
- The harissa (hot sauce) was incredibly spicy and oh so good.
- Being able to select unusual toppings, such as grilled red pepper and goat cheese, is unique especially as a lot of them wind up going really well together and bring out the flavour of the meat.
- If you ask for something without cheese, you get it without cheese.
In all, it’s worth trying. As one friend remarked, “It’s 100 times better and 100 times healthier than McD’s or Burger King. Yes, I can probably make a better burger at home, but if want something relatively fast, tasty and easily accessible then Mince will be my go-to place in Cairo.” And there you have it. The modest feedback in combination with a reasonable price tag (3.5 people ate and drank for 160LE) means I’ll give Mince another try. Though I’ll probably wait a couple months until the service gets sorted and the hype dies down.
At least that way I’ll be able to have my sweet potato fries…and eat them too.