by Juergen Stryjak
Only some months ago, it arrived on Cairo's restaurant scene, but very quickly became the darling of the cheerful nightlife crowd: La Bodega. Almost everyone I meet that has dined at La Bodega, decides to visit again, if not become regulars.
La Bodega has become Cairo's latest culinary hotspot for many reasons, and not only for its food. It is perfectly located in the heart of Zamalek, an inner city upper class neighborhood, the Bermuda Triangle of the city's pleasure-seekers - a place where one can become blissfully lost wandering between the restaurants, bars and pubs. The home of La Bodega belongs to the Baehler heritage houses, hotels and mansions, which were initiated by the Swiss-born hotel manager, Charles Baehler. During the first quarter of the last century, he created a large number of beautiful belle poche landmarks in Cairo, for example the elegant Cosmopolitan Hotel downtown. La Bodega could be a monument to Baehler. The owner did not only renovate some rooms of the building, he transferred them into a lively witness of the Baehler epoch, the exuberant Twenties.
If you want to find the place, simply watch for the name Baehler above the building's main entrance, as nothing else on the first floor points to the existence of the restaurant. After climbing the stairs around the elevator cage, a large stone relief by the Egyptian artist Moataz Nasr welcomes you. Passing the little wooden reception desk, the guest dives into a world of exquisite taste, concerning the food as well as the stylish interior.
La Bodega offers not only an experience for the palate but for the eyes, too. It is a place arranged with much love for the detail, a love hopefully signaling a new trend in Cairo, that is, the will to preserve the more recent past of the metropolis, as we have witnessed with the recent reopening of the Caf Riche.
The walls of the restaurant La Bodega are murals of oil, copper and gold, illustrating revelers of the Twenties eating, drinking and laughing. These works of art are both Egyptian and Western inspired, created by artist Mira Shihada and the American Elizabeth Washburn.
The guests have many choices of seating, whether they prefer a cozy sofa in the alcove or the relaxed bistro-like atmosphere of the dining room with its stark geometrical lamps, or the always crowded and noisy bar. If you want to enjoy this variety all in one evening, just take your glass and move through all of the rooms, as in a museum. The window views of the romantic Nile are, of course, complimentary. And don't forget a visit to the restrooms! The sinks of colored glass are illuminated from below, with lovely little baskets alongside for collecting the discarded souvenirs of the evening.
La Bodega is a perfect place for playing the high-society game of "seen and be seen" without spending much money. The prices for the mostly continental food are surprisingly reasonable. For example, an excellent French onion soup, au gratin with cheese, can be had for 9 Egyptian Pound ($ 2.50) or a tasty ratatouille for the same money. The extraordinary homemade ravioli stuffed with mushrooms and topped with cheese sauce cost LE 24 ($ 7). Meat dishes are served for around LE 35 ($ 10) and the very interesting Duck la range, a roasted boneless duck with thin orange zests, served with duck and mushroom filo at LE 56 ($ 16) is one of the more expensive dishes.
Hours of operation are daily from noon until 1:00 am.
La Bodega. Bistro, Lounge, Bar. 157, 26th of July Street. Zamalek. Cairo. Telephone: +2-02-273 50 543. Reservation recommended.
Last Updated: June 5th, 2011