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Heliopolis, Cairo, Egypt.
La Casetta: Mediocre Italian Cuisine in Heliopolis
Italian cuisine is undoubtedly one of the most popular cuisines in Cairo. There are pasta restaurants all over the city and pizzas are just as commonly found as koshary. Cairo is full of Italian restaurant chains, including La Casetta, which has several branches all over town. The restaurant’s branch in Heliopolis is located at the end of El Merghany Street close to Alle Botti.
The interior of La Casetta is like that of a tavern with brown wood used throughout the restaurant.The decoration comes close to being hilarious with antique ironers on side tables and wooden forks on the walls next to replicas of famous paintings. La Casetta is appropriate for big groups with tables serving from two persons up to twelve persons.
The menu is huge with lots of different meals ranging from pastas, pizzas and meat to fish dishes and curries as well. On a healthy spree, we sampled the tuna salad (24LE) as a starter. What looked like melted cheese was actually dressing all over the salad. Aside from the enormous amount of tuna, there were tomatoes, onions and olives but only two leaves of lettuce; so much for our healthy eating. While the salad was filling enough to be a main meal, the garlic bread that arrived as a side was strong, and appropriately buttery.
For our main courses, we had the pasta salmone (40LE) and the vegetarian pizza (35LE). The salmon pasta’s white sauce was a bit sour and not even the capers could make it taste better. Although the salmon portion was disappointingly small, the pasta was cooked well and because of the creamy texture of the sauce the meal was very filling.
Unfortunately, the vegetarian pizza wasn’t satisfactory: its base was very thick and hard to bite through. Although it was topped with an abundance of cheese, the mushrooms, peppers and onions were scarce. All in all, the food wasn’t terrific.
However, service at La Casetta was very fast. The waiter memorised our orders, which arrived exactly as we had requested them and within fifteen minutes of ordering them, even though the restaurant was packed at the time of our visit. The background music is your typical elevator music; think Peter Cetera and the Eagles.
If you are in the area and need a quick bite, La Casetta is a great option for fast service: you can be in and out within half hour with a full stomach. However, this restaurant definitely doesn’t serve authentic Italian cuisine; so go elsewhere if that’s what you’re looking for.
Even though we have an endless amount of Italian restaurants in Cairo, we can all agree that only a few are able to do it justice – to make it truly authentic. Not only does Tavolino achieve this, but it goes a step further.
From the outside, the Zamalek restaurant, which is located off of Aboul Feda Streey, might seem very small, but it’s surprisingly spacious. Interior wise, it has a very simple yet chic appearance; white brick walls with a touch of wood, black and white frames, and triangular mirrors stand out, despite the almost overly yellow lighting.
Moving to food, we started our meal with Cannelloni (70LE) from the restaurant’s ‘New Italian Cuisine’ menu, which adds twists to Italian classics. Six pieces of perfectly cooked cannelloni are stuffed with chicken and spinach, covered with melted mozzarella cheese and then topped with marinated tomato – similar to marinara sauce – and pesto sauce. A side of creamy gorgonzola sauce added a nutty flavour with a fantastic deep aftertaste and the dish showed Tavolino to be masters of art of flavour matching.
Another item we tried from the ‘New Italian Cuisine’ menu was The Tenderloin in the Wood (235LE); a perfect medium-well tenderloin steak laying on a phyllo-like pastry that’s filled with sautéed mushrooms, spinach and onions, and served with sweet garlic sauce and an exquisite sweet and savoury blueberry-and-onion jam. This dish left us speechless; not only was the steak on its own bursting with Italian herb flavours, but the addition of the crunchy texture from the mushroom pocket with the unique sweetness of the jam merged with the sweet garlic sauce created an outstanding dish.
Deciding to go back to the basics with our last choice, we went with Risotto Alla Pescatora (120LE). Rich, creamy, and well-seasoned, it had spot-on al dente texture; mixed with well-cooked shrimps and mussels, the dish was close to perfect, but for the overcooked, mushy crab and rubbery calamari.
Another thing that kept Tavolino from getting a perfect score was the fact that, at the time of our visit, only the Ice Cream & Sorbet (50LE), which is 3 scoops of Movenpick ice cream, was available.
But that was just a side note to a great meal; we were surprised by Tavolino’s one-of-a-kind flavours, particularly those on the ‘New Italian Cuisine’ menu, which certainly helps separate it from the crowd with a unique identity. Tavolino isn’t just another Italian restaurant.