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Heliopolis, Cairo, Egypt.
L'Aubergine: Infusing Life into the Heliopolis Bar Scene
The neighbourhood of Heliopolis has a lot to offer when it comes to shopping, dining and general comfortable living. Unfortunately, that is more or less where it stops since in terms of nightlife there aren’t too many options. Enter L'Aubergine. Zamalek’s old favourite has extended its reach, all the way to Heliopolis.
The interior of L’Aubergine Heliopolis is fresh and funky keeping with a modern style; large windows look out on the street and open the space up. With seats placed directly by these windows, it’s a novel and enjoyable experience to go out for a drink in Cairo and enjoy the outside view with the occasional tram passing by.
L’Aubergine is divided in two different areas. The first one has a seating area where you can have dinner; the Plexiglas chairs are quirky yet comfortable. The other area, more suitable for just having drinks, is at the bar and includes the area behind it. However, if you choose to sit here you will miss out on the view since you’d be tucked behind a wall.
Apart from beer and wine L’Aubergine only serves non-alcoholic cocktails - though we're told that management is working on bringing hard liquor to the equation. We tried the virgin Bellini (20LE) but were quite disappointed. We’d expected a peachy drink but ended up with bubblegum-infused water. Perhaps for this reason it’s better to stick with a glass of Cape Bay (47LE).
The food menu is extensive, ranging from smaller snacks to full meals. The tomato, mozzarella and basil salad (24LE) was refreshing and came in a relatively big portion; we were especially pleased with the real basil which was in it – often a rarity in Cairo. The mussels with lemon (38LE) were also quite generous in portion and while the mussels themselves were tasty, the lemon was undetectable; some of the mussels were pretty stuck to their shell and were impossible to extract. If you want to try something a bit more exotic, the Yakitori shrimp with pineapple (76LE) is a good option. Drenched in Yakitori sauce, the addition of pineapple makes for a very refreshing dish.
In the evening, L’Aubergine hosts a busy crowd of locals yearning for a drink or a meal. On the weekends it’s best to make reservations. The staff are accommodating but were a bit slow when it came to the drinks, whereas the food on the other hand was served quite swiftly.
If you’re in the area and are looking for a safe place to grab a drink or snack, then L’Aubergine, just like its Zamalek counterpart, will most likely hit the spot.
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.