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Downtown, Cairo, Egypt.
Stage One: Conrad’s Modern Edged Night Spot
Cairo's nightspot selection can feel a little limited: either you go all out with the glitz and glam and pretend that you don’t mind blowing wads of cash, or you revel in the gritty charm of some streetside ahwa or low-key bar.
Located a few floors up in the Conrad Hotel, Stage One is easy to find; just follow the rhythmic beats of the music. The decor is sleek, with a glass wall that reveals an captivating view of the Nile, stainless steel bar tops, low tables and plush couches. The decorator seems to have gone with the tried and tested modern-edged, minimalist theme.
In spite of its efforts– which include atmospheric chandeliers and a glass DJ booth – Stage One continues to draw a modest crowd on most evenings.
Soft mood lighting reflects off decorative crystal strands. While the music playing throughout the evening was tasteful, the volume was somewhat jarring for a lounge, with the speakers pumped up to a volume better suited for a night club or a concert. After much shouted exchanges and frantic hand gestures, we managed to convince the DJ to take it down a notch; he was a good sport about it.
Patrons can order from the Stage One bar menu,which features appetisers of burger and sandwich samplers, or the neighbouring Oak Grill or Kamala restaurants. The mini burgers (around 55LE) from the in-house menu are juicy and flavourful; each of the three small paddies has a gourmet twist of Shitake mushroom, blue cheese, or caramelised onions, served in soft miniature burger buns. The accompanying stack of four large fries made for a comically dainty display. Most of the appetisers range from 50LE to 100LE, and arrive in modest portions.
The steak tenderloin (around 90LE) was served elegantly with a mushroom garnish and looked appetising, but sadly the quality of beef was not top-notch, and involved much prolonged chewing.
The chicken satay appetiser (around 50LE) from Kamala’s South Asian menu is packed with mild spices and ginger flavour, while the spring rolls is served with a tasty sweet chili sauce for dipping, and is hands down some of the best that this reviewer has tasted in Cairo. Prices for appetisers fall in the range of 50LE to 150LE, while and main dishes cost between 100LE and 200LE.
Overall, the food was elegant and tasty, and the layout was pleasing. While Stage One needs a few adjustments to make it a stand-out addition to the Cairo scene, we do plan to return for more. Marketing for the Stage One may prove its biggest downfall; as we’ve yet to see the crowds pour in – maybe it just needs a little time.
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.