Some Cairo Cafes and Restaurants
by Lara Iskander
Cairos restaurant scene is looking better every year. In addition to the variety of Egyptian and Middle Eastern restaurants one can find at all price ranges, the city now hosts many other types of international cuisines that cater to all tastes. Cairo now is home to fine Italian, Swiss, French and Asian restaurants. There are even a number of American chains, such as Chillis and TGI Fridays.
On the other hand, the city offers a range of local coffee shops and cozy cafs, many of which are very unique, apart from international chains like Costa Caf.
In each zone or district one is bound to come across a variety of restaurants, snack bars, coffee shops and pubs, each and every one with their unique style and atmosphere. Zamalek Island is one of the places where you can find a wide range of choices, most of the outings are all within walking distance from each other, making it more agreeable and accessible for those who enjoy a stroll till they find a suitable place of their choice.
To start with, there are several cozy and relaxed spots where you can enjoy a delicious breakfast on an early morning. Of course there is the well known Marriott Gardens, or the Promenade Caf, shaded by large umbrellas and larger trees; this is a very pleasant outdoor place in the city. Early risers can go there and enjoy Egyptian, American or continental breakfasts including excellent Eggs Benedict.
The breakfast menu is served all day but for everyone else it has steaks, sandwiches, Egyptian snacks and excellent juices. Service can be a bit too relaxed, but it remains a favorite place to sip cold and fresh drinks. Given that it is after all a five star hotel, except to pay for that, nevertheless it is worthwhile. But beware of Friday mornings as it is usually overcrowded. Another choice would be to escape to the Marriott Bakery and enjoy freshly baked pastries or a delicious cheese salad sandwich, or one of many other choices on their menu.
Located just next to the Caf Promenade on Zamalek is another hot spot known as the Egyptian Nights Caf. It is a bit of a touristic Oriental cafe, but its a great place for the shisha (water pipe) lovers to sit about and enjoy a peaceful evening.. On the other hand, a regular caf will serve you equally appetizing dishes, and often in a unique setting. Quite close to the Marriott and to the Gezirah Sporting Club is Caf Beanos. This is a trendy caf and it is often crowded as it is an excellent choice for a lazy morning or an early lunch. It occupies two floors of a building with various spacious accommodations. There are also large windows that offer nice lighting and a good view of the the busy Cairo streets. Salads and sandwiches are fresh and well prepared but one should definitely leave room for dessert as they have a wide selection of sweet crepes and chocolate cakes. Prices on the menu are moderate and the service is quick, consistent and friendly.
Another place not as casual but equally as comfortable is Maison Thomas, which is famous for being authentic with a welcoming and friendly atmosphere. However, most importantly, it is also well known for being very consistent. This small restaurant has been serving Zamalek residents since 1922 and it has built a reputation on its delicious food and efficient delivery service. The menu offers choices ranging from Croque Monsieur, French Baguettes sandwiches to any kind of pizza one might desire. There food is so delicious that is is often very difficult to make up ones mind on what to order.
A full breakfast of eggs, sausage, croissant, juice and tea or coffee is served until noon. One is never disappointed in their service, and and the quality of their food is excellent. They are well known for an unrivaled creamy cheese cake that absolutely must be tried, and for being one of only a handful of restaurants in Cairo serving various pork dishes. Maison Thomas is open 24 hours every day and beer and wine are available. However, such beverages are not served inside the restaurant area.
Just next to Thomas on 26th July Street in the heart of Zamalek is another local chain famous for particularly good coffee, fresh juices and salads, known as Cilantro. It is also perfect for a quick snack or a stop after a long day around Cairo. The ambiance is very friendly and cozy though the place is rather small. Prices are slightly higher than the usual but nevertheless good for the service. It is also a perfect place to buy fresh French bread or fine coffee beans to take home.
Tucked away on the first floor of the same building where Cilantro is located is a very unique and fancy restaurant/lounge/bar called La Bodega. The restaurant is perfectly located in the heart of Zamalek in a beautiful belle poque landmark, Baehler building. This is one of a series of heritage buildings, houses and hotels (such as the Cosmopolitan Hotel downtown) built in the first quarter of last century by a Swiss hotel manager called Charles Baehler. The present owner of the restaurant set off a huge refurbishment plan for all of the first floor which achieved excellent results.
La Bodega is a place that has gained quite a remarkable reputation and a huge number of clients over the years. This is without doubt one of the hottest spots in town. It is composed of four parts; the restaurant, the bar, a cocktail lounge and the Barten, all of which occupy the whole floor and are spread on two large apartments. The restaurant or bistro is a series of elegant high-ceilinged rooms, which, with their dark wood and seductive lighting, evoke a mixture of Oriental and European style. Some of the walls are all decorated with al-Bahgoury paintings, a very well known modern Egyptian artist.
Views of La Bodega Restaurant
The Barten Section at La Bodega
The crowd is as hip as Cairo gets however it becomes overcrowded on weekends at late hours. The kitchen produces a number of specialties hard to find anywhere else, including homemade focaccia with rosemary or olives, honey-glazed duck, and tuna carpaccio. Reservations are a must, especially on weekends. The Barten is an enclosed section of the restaurant with louder music, large comfortable sofas more suitable for big groups and can be rented for private gatherings.
Another Section of La Bodega
The bar is, to say the least, as popular as the restaurant. The large brass bar surrounded by high chairs and tables has a definite French air about it. Be prepared to go early if you want a shot at getting a table. The lounge serves somewhat of a different menu revolving around well-prepared and impeccably fresh Mediterranean food and offers a more intimate or quiet sitting area as equally large as that of the restaurant. Though the place is rather expensive by local standards, it is still an amazing value for the service and quality of food and yet reasonably cheap by western standards. The elegance and comfort of La Bodega makes the hustle of Cairos noisy streets seem a world away.
Another attractive yet simpler place that has been well known in Zamalek for a very long time is LAubergine. This casual, mostly vegetarian restaurant is a rare find, with an airy Mediterranean-style ground floor and a darker, candlelit bar upstairs. With an always innovative menu that changes about every two weeks, it usually consists of a soup, a couple of salads, half a dozen vegetarian dishes, and four or five pastas, as well as a handful of meat and seafood specials. And yet, at the same time, the menu prices are very reasonable.
Favorites from the L'Aubergine menu include the mushroom quartet, salmon ravioli in a creamy dill sauce and pan-fried halloumi cheese. The bar upstairs is wonderful. It is a modern and stylish venue with good music, and it is therefore no small surprise that it is a very popular hangout all week long. Laubergine is open from 10am until 2am and is a place well worth a visit if one happens to be in the neighborhood.
Various Views inside L'Aubergine Restaurant
There is usually a standard 12.5 percent service charge and 5 percent tax built into the bill, but you are expected to leave a little change all the same. In most places, major credit cards are accepted, but its a good idea to call and make sure first.
Cairo Marriott Hotel, Zamalek
Tel: +20 2 340 8888
157 26th of July Street
Tel: +20 2 735 0415
157, 26th July Street, Zamalek
Tel: +20 2 736115
El Sheikh El Marsafi Sq. Zamalek
Also in Heliopolis and Downtown.
Tel: +20 2 7922328
5 El-Sayed el-Bakri St, (off 26th of July Street)
Tel: +20 2 735 6550
La Bodega - Bistro/ Bar/Lounge
157, 26th July St., Zamalek
Tel: +20 2 7350543/ 7356761