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Downtown, Cairo, Egypt.
Rithmo: Good Cocktails at the Semiramis Intercontinental
Sometimes, it’s easy to forget the numerous hotels in Cairo and their large array of restaurants, bars and nightclubs. With the current economic situation in Egypt, many of these dining venues are empty after having been popular destinations for years. One such venue is Rithmo, located inside the Semiramis Intercontinental Hotel on the Garden City Corniche.
Rithmo is hidden inside the hotel, with a discreet side entrance that you reach via the lobby; turn left and then right near the toilets. There is a bouncer, yes a bouncer, who will ask you if you have a reservation. We had no reservation because we expected the nightclub to be empty. If it would have been full, it would probably be Cairo’s best-kept secret.
After walking through an unfinished corridor, you enter a large room with a high ceiling and dim, red-hued lighting. At the time of this reviewer’s visit, the venue was, as we expected, empty. In the middle of the room is an oval bar. Benches with cushions line the walls, and low tables with comfortable chairs are arranged in the centre of the room. The decor could be described as modern/kinky with chains, yes chains, hanging from walls and sometimes between tables, functioning as a division. There is a small stage and a balustrade above it with a weird-looking man-sized puppet, yes a puppet.
The drinks menu consists of your usual cocktails such as margaritas and daiquiris. There is an extensive wine collection listing wines from Italy, Australia, America, Argentina and Thailand, in addition to local and Lebanese wines. Local wines cost 35LE a glass, while most imported wines are only available by the bottle and not by the glass. We were presented with a selection of nuts and sliced apple pieces by the attentive and friendly staff. We love free stuff, especially when it is healthy free stuff. Whiskey is available at 55LE a glass, cognac at 75LE and above, and aperitifs like Tia Maria cost around 45LE.
We decided to try Rithmo’s hand at cocktails by sampling the mojito (45LE) and the Long Island ice tea (60LE). Expecting the worst, we were actually pleasantly surprised. The mojito and the long island were perfectly mixed and served within five minutes. Yes, we were the only customers, but five minutes for two cocktails is still pretty fast. The drinks came in big glasses and were filled to the top, unlike other bars where you get a tiny glass that is half empty, making you wonder if the waiter lost half of the contents on his way.
The music was perfect, and r&b lovers will love Rithmo. Other venues around Cairo might be famous for their r&b nights, but the music at Rithmo was actually noticeably better.
The waiter informed us that Thursdays are usually quite busy. We were there on a Friday night and in the end, there were perhaps no more than twenty customers. However, if you are an r&b and cocktail fan, then give Rithmo a chance; just for a change of scene at least.
Since first gracing the city’s fine dining scene in early 2009, Tamarai Restaurant and Bar has successfully kept itself a class above Cairo’s most elite venues. Just over a year old, the restaurant has swiftly gained a reputation among Cairene socialites as the place to see and be seen, and has found a place as a proud favourite of celebrities and business moguls alike.
Located in Nile City Towers’ North Tower, Tamarai brings a splash of elegance to the city. In summertime there is a festive outdoor patio, with an elaborate bar and ample room for dancing—and Tamarai tends to draw a crowd that likes to celebrate. This also caters to the venue's elite edge, a prime function of the Tamarai buzz. The balcony shows off a captivating view of the Nile, and although the restaurant is only on the third floor, it gives the impression of being elevated high above the city lights below.
A recent weekday visit to the winter lounge proved that for all the glitz and glamour that precede its reputation, Tamarai can be equally satisfying as a low-key place to mingle. The lounge offers a cosy setting (legendary elegance intact, of course), complete with plush couches laden with silken pillows. A gold colour scheme, along with dim spot lighting, lends an over-all glow, making for an atmosphere both dazzling and intimate. A handsome mahogany bar goes well with dark high tables, replacing the previous formal dining seating.
For those in search of a cocktail, innovations to the common martini include the Tamarai Martini (a blend of strawberry and guava, accented with hints of lime and cherry liqueur) and the Nile Martini (a bold concoction of grape, apple and Peach Schnapps infused with vanilla). If you prefer a non-alcoholic refreshment, cocktails of berries and tropical fruits pack a refreshing punch.
You can’t escape the attention to interior design—from asymmetrical wood lattice mouldings to raw granite walls that invoke Egypt’s ancient history—and the menu offers a classic-with-a-twist selection, created by French chef Jimmy Hurtebise. Appetisers range from fresh greens adorned with pine nuts, slivers of apple or beef teriyaki, to lightly fried vegetable spring rolls that melt on the tongue. For more substantial fare, a classic fillet mignon is surprisingly delicate, complimented with sautéed greens or the indispensable, and artfully sculpted, mashed potatoes.
The staff is friendly and efficient, yet by no means overly attentive. As one would expect, prices are on the high end, reservations are generally a must, and a substantial minimum charge of 250LE applies on weekends.