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Giza, Cairo, Egypt.
Library Bar: Marvellous Tapas at the Four Seasons Cairo
More than just a lounge or bar, this is the Four Seasons First Residence’s crown jewel. Seemingly conceived in design by a grand lover of life, Library Bar constitutes everything a mature drinker would want in a space dedicated to enjoying a tipple in Cairo.
It’s actually for this reason that the idea of a tapas menu had Cairo 360’s eyebrows raised. Said menu is decidedly un-Spanish; the dishes are split into sections, none of which have any hint of the concepts’ origins. Yet for all the options before you, this will be easily forgiven, maybe even applauded.
At 100LE, the seafood konafa is amongst the most expensive of the dishes, but what arrives in front of you seems so much more valuable. Presented with tomato salsa, sweet chilli sauce, and miso sauce, six distinctively shaped konafa-wrapped pieces of seafood are piled up; two shrimp, two crab, two scallop.
Unless you have an aversion to the brittle crumble of konafa, each piece is better than the last; cooked perfectly, both inside and out. The three shot-glass-held sauces do pose a conundrum, though. The miso sauce, for instance, tasted very alike tartar sauce and the scallops, for example, were far too delicate to cope with it. Each sauce is completely inoffensive, but it does take a shrewd tongue to create the right combination.
A little less complex, the Angus beef balls also offer very different options. For your precious 90LE, the beef can be eaten either with a thick and bold-flavoured tomato salsa or a light and appetising broccoli chicken consommé. The latter in particular is outstanding; full of chicken stock and broccoli flavours.
Proceedings get even more austere with the mushroom risotto, which stands at 75LE. A simple serving of mushroom risotto comes with a generous ration of fried mushroom balls. Both rather plain in comparison to the prior two dishes, the risotto was slightly overcooked and the coating of the mushroom balls was denser than it should be, considering the delicate mushrooms inside.
The variety of the dishes is impressive, with other options ranging from mini burgers and spring rolls, to curry cakes and satay skewers. Prices are a little steep, but it all pays towards an already unique dining experience.
The inspiration behind this menu has repurposed tapas as high-end bar food in the most wonderful and natural of ways. Library Bar’s tapas are unequivocally like anything to be found in Cairo; big flavours delivered delicately.
On a quiet square, off the busy Mohy El Din Abu El Ezz Street, a mysterious, dark, basement door conceals the loud buzz of excitement from the crowded bar beyond it. The gold walls contrasted with deep reds and blacks exudes a majestic aura and the large mirrors and gargoyle type masks adorning the walls continued to add to the otherworldly atmosphere.
We swiftly headed to the monumental, fully stocked bar and picked up one of the thick, maroon and gold menus. The pages were printed on textured, organic paper and the writing was accompanied by detailed, supernatural illustrations. The first page was dedicated to an introduction, comparing the chef's and barmen to alchemists as they are able to transform standard, raw materials into 'gastronomical gold'.
With the intention of ordering food, we decided to first order a couple of cocktails; one fruity Cinderella (30LE) and a slightly bitter Virgin Mary (30LE). As their hot drink section is almost non-existent, Alchemy is not the place to haunt if you're hoping for a cosy cup of tea – not that we're complaining.
The food menu is full of inventive, avant garde dishes with an assembly of 'brews' (soups), 'sprightly greens' (salads), 'virtuous temptations' (small bites), 'golden fantasies' (mains) and 'heavenly sins' (desserts).
We requested vols-au-vent (30LE) to start, followed by veal chops (140LE) and stuffed chicken breast (75LE). Although a little tepid, the vols-au-vent were superb; crispy, soft and smooth in all the right places. The chicken also arrived slightly cold, but the stuffing exploded with a medley of flavours. This dish was served with a fresh, spicy salad which was indeed, too spicy to consume.
The veal chops didn't materialise for a long time, either because they were forgotten about or because of the kitchen was overwhelmed with orders. However, when the dish did arrive, we were impressed by the colossal, tender veal chop and the tasty dressing but dismayed that its bed of chunky chips was stone cold.
Alchemy is an original, incomparable and bewitching venue which is unquestionably worth visiting. This places encourages a young, vibrant and sophisticated crowd and would be a great place to socialise at the weekends.