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Zamalek, Cairo, Egypt.
Aperitivo: Designer Makeover and A Little Bit More
Let’s face it; good nightspots are hard to come by in this sprawling metropolis that is Cairo, especially if you’re picky about where you spend your evenings. Open for a few months now, Aperitivo has been deemed one of the must-go-to places by the so-called glitterati crowd. It is now so high-end; don’t be surprised if you get shunned a little by your peers if you have yet to pay the bar restaurant a visit.
Aperitivo is the newest venue in the La Bodega family and designed as a throwback to the classic Italian eateries in a relaxing, intimate and elegant setting. This reviewer decided to venture into the capital’s ‘in’ spot for two reasons: a good friend’s birthday and being in the mood for a great cocktail.
As with most places, reservations are a must and unless someone’s name is on that list, there’s no way you’re getting past the burly minder guarding the entrance. Décor-wise, Aperitivo is all swinging 20s and 30s with its art deco wall motifs and beautiful crystal ball chandeliers reminiscent of disco lights without the flashing bulbs.
Aperitivo’s two bars are a great idea as that means less crowding, and the service is very good: the waiters make sure your orders are taken and are always there whenever you need to ask for something. They didn’t make a fuss when we requested extra chairs and a larger table; in fact, they went about their business with smiles and minimal fuss.
Though the whole notion of cocktails has been slow to arrive in Cairo, most places are finally picking up on the trend. Unfortunately, this is where Aperitivo loses points. The pina colada was meant to have some rum, coconut and pineapple but was more of a watery, sugary concoction in a Martini glass. The peach daiquiri was no better, but high marks for at least getting the colour of the drink right. Our orders of a margarita and Long Island iced tea were similarly disappointing. The campino, a cocktail of Campari, vermouth and champagne, was too bitter and, for the first time ever; this reviewer’s flute remained half-full.
However, in defence of Aperitivo, it was a Friday night; the place was packed, and perhaps the bartender was having a bad day. Furthermore, in comparison to the majority of the Capital’s night spots, prices here are seriously low – 40LE for a cocktail is a bargain.
Cuisine-wise, the menu looked promising and the feedback from those who tried some of the dishes was glowing – look out for our upcoming review of their food menu.
It’s clear why many have laden Aperitivo with superlatives; it’s really one of the top spots in town. Visually pleasing to the eye, it may be best if you decide against ordering the cocktails and stick to the wine, classic spirits and soft drinks instead. Even though the ventilation is seriously poor, especially for non-smokers, it’s still worth the visit.
There’s a general feeling across Cairo that suggests that the city’s restaurateurs haven’t quite figured out how to bring nightlife into the already complex dining equation; an equation that has been the death of many initially promising ventures that tried to do so. Alchemy is one prime example; though praised from all quarters of both their dining and nightlife attributes, the two elements were never really able to find some kind of point of synchronisation in the minds of discerning Cairenes.
But the Tap, which opened a new branch in New Cairo this month and will be opening a third in Sheikh Zayed’s Westown Hub towards the end of the year, has shown that it can be done and so has Cairo Capital Club, but with a very different approach to the more gastro-pub-insipred Maadi bar.
Outrageous minimum charge aside, Dos Canas was the first to open at the Garden City-located huddle of venues, though Loft21 has been threatening to take the reigns as the CCC’s premiere spot.
Though it took some while to fill up with guests at the time of our visit, Loft21 certainly boasts a unique atmosphere – one reminiscent of hip, overpriced Manhattan bar. The key to that are two things; the stunning Nile view that frames the evening lights of Cairo almost idyllically; and the fact that Loft21’s general aesthetic is chic, sleek and, most importantly, simple.
If there’s one word to best evaluate the feel of Loft21, its subtle; nothing jumps out at you, or is even necessarily memorable, but this very deliberate approach fits what the guys behind the scenes like to call The Loft Experience.
And an experience it is. Not unlike its neighbouring Dos Canas, prices are very much entrenched on the expensive side of the scale; Beef Carpaccio and Salmon tartare starters set us back 103LE and 108LE, respectively. The latter was zinging with the fresh, raw, sharp flavours of a seafood tartare – but is it worth 100LE-plus? That’s open to interpretation, as is the price of the carpaccio, which was clearly of a good sirloin cut and generous on the parmesan.
Mains, meanwhile, are just as elaborate and spectacular as you’d expect – none more so than a 215LE scallop dish. The four large pieces each sat on a mound of champagne risotto, topped with caviar and indiscernible foam that gave each bite a nice acidic touch to the otherwise rich components. The scallops themselves were slightly overcooked and were a little chewy, though the perfectly cooked risotto did maintain its sharp champagne kick to great effect.
A slightly simpler, but no less delicious, dish is the Honey Roasted Chicken Breast (118LE). Grilled to a perfect outer crisp and tender centre, the dish was made more interesting by a delectably sweet raisin sauce and a serving of barley, as well as a whole roasted garlic – which is worth the hassle of trying to dissect.
As with any respectable evening-time haunt, cocktails (90LE-100LE) are aplenty, as are wines and beers; we enjoyed a couple of Sakaras at 40LE a pop and there was even Corona (100LE per bottle) available at the time of our visit. The prompt bar staff whipped us up a perfect Chinatown - apples, ginger, vodka, and pomegranate - while other creative cocktails include The Ellis (Cardamom, Whiskey, Pineapple, Orange Juice) and The Yellowstone (Whiskey, Cranberry, Apples, Mint, Lemons) amongst a list of twenty overall cocktail options.
Essentially, The Loft Experience is whatever you want it to be. It works as a casual drinking hangout, but can also cater to a more formal dining experience. But even if the latter is what you’re looking for, you’ll invariably find yourself unshackling any kind of formalness to take in what is a smart, elegant and easy package of food, drinks and socialising.