As much with food as with physics, fusion can be a tricky business. When done right, it can offer a crisply complementary sampling of the best flavours of several regions. When done wrong, it’s little more than an excuse to flail about through watered-down versions of several cuisines while looking as hip as possible. If its opening night on Friday was any indication, however, Zamalek’s new pan-Asian restaurant, Mirai, seems to be the former.
Snugly nestled between the ever-popular Sequoia restaurant and brunch destination Left Bank, Mirai manages to carve – or elbow – its own niche into what is becoming some rather crowded riverside real estate.
The opening was auspiciously timed with the Chinese New Year – the Year of the Horse – and the hostess was quick to offer us stylised red cards emblazoned with our birth years’ Chinese zodiac symbols. Each offered a detailed fortune for the year ahead, conveniently tallying each sign’s predicted “favourable” and “unfavourable” life events for the coming year – useful for all manner of premature gloating over Miso soup.
Zodiacs aside, the establishment does go to efforts to create a stylishly modern, pan-Asian vibe. White Buddha statues greet guests on the boardwalk outside, and white shaded lanterns provide the low, warm lighting inside, where floor to ceiling windows showcase a prized Nile view while freshly lit incense and pan-Asian lounge music add to the atmosphere.
The glass-encased beech tree growing through the middle of the room is another interesting touch, though it’s unclear if it’s intentional feng-shui at work, or just an eccentricity of the building code. Trees notwithstanding, other wood accents lend to the room’s earthy tones, set pleasantly against deep red hues. In China, red symbolises good fortune; so, too, in the restaurant business, because it’s said to stimulate the parts of the brain associated with appetite.
So what of the meal?
Service was attentive, providing us with cool washcloths – a Thai tradition, I’m told – and starting us off with hot (and sweet) lemongrass tea served in small tulip glasses. This was followed swiftly by prawn crackers and Thai sweet chili sauce, which together formed a nice crisp palette cleanser. The Miso soup came next, a traditional Japanese dish with tofu and scallions; it was nicely savoury but not over-salty.
The appetisers pleased across the board. The spring rolls were among some of the better I’ve had; the batter was light and flaky rather than deep-fried-cookie-crunchy as is sometimes the case. Like many of the dishes, they had a Thai spin to them, filled with chicken and peanut sauce, a welcome change from the usual cabbage and carrot, and refreshingly complemented by apricot and berry sauces. The dumplings, too, were finer than average fare, but this reviewer’s personal favourite was the satay, delicious in its chicken and beef incarnations but particularly tender and flavourful in the latter.
The main courses also impressed, but were somewhat less consistent.
The strips of Guy beef teriyaki, while somewhat chewy, provided a nice mix of salty and sweet – though not cloyingly so. Another popular dish was the green Thai curry; much creamier than usual but with a nice bite, it was an appreciated new take on the dish. Their unique take on Pad Thai was decidedly less welcome, as it seemed to eschew the usual peanut-based sauce in favour of an odd smoky barbeque concoction and over-slippery noodles.
That said, the shrimp with tamarind, with its unique blend of a light Japanese tempura batter and an Indian sauce, was a prime example of Mirai’s successful culinary fusion, and quite a treat.
For those with stamina, dessert was rewarding, too; both the fried banana balls with honey and vanilla ice cream, as well as the tapioca cantaloupe pudding were a refreshing epilogue to it all, and likely light enough for a warm summer evening.
Having enjoyed Mirai’s mix of new spins on Asian cuisine and refined presentation, I may have to test out this theory soon enough.