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San Stefano, Alexandria, Egypt.
Fresca Café and Gelateria: Cool Drinks in Alexandria with a Front Sea View
As the second-largest city in Egypt, Alexandria certainly doesn’t lack in Corniche cafés and restaurants; though it does suffer in terms of quality, classy dining options.
Located on the ground floor of the Four Seasons Hotel Alexandria, Fresca is a café/gelateria that offers pricey snacks and drinks in a cool, classy atmosphere. With a frontal view of the Mediterranean Sea and bustling Corniche of San Stefano, the café itself is shaped in a curve with black cushioned seating lining one side of the restaurant amid the occasional burst of colour in large yellow, green and red cushions.
Large flat-screen TVs on the wall usually play classic Charlie Chaplin films on mute, and the café’s music is barely discernable as waiters flit back and forth quietly; though you may have to make some noise to get their attention on a crowded night.
Due to the Alexandrian Governate’s new anti-smoking laws, the dining space is divided into smoking and non-smoking sections; but shisha can still be consumed out on the terrace, though with it comes a front-row view of the always crowded Alexandrian Corniche and constant traffic jams.
Most patrons come to Fresca for a quick bite or drink, though it does offer a respectable menu of pizzas and main courses. For appetisers, we recommend the Tuscan salad; a pleasant mixture of arugula, tomatoes and caramelised onions with artichokes, parmesan, black olives and balsamic dressing. For sandwiches, the club sandwiches and grilled beef burgers are standard in size and taste, with a side order of French fries.
It’s best to bypass the food and stick to your drinks or desserts. The latté and cappuccino may be too weak for caffeine connoisseurs; so ask for an extra espresso shot. The hot chocolate is supposedly made with real Belgian chocolate and garnished with whipped cream; though in this reviewer’s experience, it’s a case of hit-and-miss and perseverance for the waiters to get it right. When in doubt, order the Fresca cooler (around 25LE), a cocktail glass of berry juice with lemon and ice; or for a discreet alcoholic cocktail, try the lemon squash.
Desserts are laid out in bite-sized portions in the glass display, beside the selection of homemade ice creams and sorbets, which include lemon, caramel, coffee and hazelnut–a particular favourite among many regulars. While many of the desserts are pretty and colourful; they’re often prettier to look at than they are satisfying to eat.
While Fresca has one of the chicest dining spaces in the city, prices are sky-high for Alexandrian standards: 25LE for a juice cocktail is ridiculous, especially since it comes in a small glass. High hotel taxes and service charges mean that an evening at Fresca usually surpasses 100LE, even if you just have juice and an appetiser. Since weekends are the busiest times for Fresca, a minimum charge of 75LE is implemented.
A decent meal in a good location with good weather is an unbeatable, if often unattainable, combination. Ramadan, however, moves the goalposts; the food of a traditional sohour is neither complicated nor difficult, making the whole experience dependant on many other factors.
At Kahwet Leila in Maadi’s the Platform, you get just that. The Lebanese restaurant serves a set sohour menu at 100LE per person; that package includes Ramadan drinks, manakeesh, eggs, foul and falafel, plus a selection of desserts.
The great thing about the Platform is its breezy Nile-side location, paired with its chic aesthetics. Kahwet Leila also serve very decent shisha.
Shami flat bread is served with thyme and olive oil for you to snack on until the food arrives. From the sohour menu selection we opted for a Mouajanat Cocktail, Eggs Mfarakeh, Foul with Homos, Foul with Vegetables, Labneh, Falafel and Osmanliyet Leila from the desserts.
Frustrations flared almost immediately; the flat bread was cold. Seriously, small things like make a world of a difference.
The Foul with Homos didn’t particularly stand out –neither did the Foul with Vegetables – and after a few bites we realised why; they both had the artificial taste of a canned product.
The Labneh, an excellent dish to cool your stomach after heavy and oily foods like foul, had more salty cheese than labneh, which unfortunately took away from the cooling effect.
The Eggs Mfarakeh – scrambled eggs with cut up potato cubes – was equally as lacklustre ,but the Mouajanat Cocktail was the saving grace; around a dozen pieces of different dough and pastries, filled with either cheese, spinach or meat, all fresh, warm and delicious.
The Falafel was also much better than the other dishes, made the Levantine way with homos instead of foul, and served hot and crispy.
After a brief coffee break we proceeded to the dessert, which we believe may be the best thing on their menu. The Osmanliya – konafa topped with pistachio ice cream and syrup – was the definite hit of the night, and a definite must try for any sweett0othed Cairene.
Despite the inconsistency of the quality of the food itself, Kahwet Leila’s strengths in sohour lays primarily in its location – perfect for sohour with family or friends.