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Zamalek, Cairo, Egypt.
Faraya: Fetar at the Hilton Cairo Zamalek Residence
Formerly known as the Safir Hotel, this Nile-side hotel in Zamalek is the newest addition to the Hilton Branch and is now known as the Hilton Cairo Zamalek Residences. Located on the hotel’s terrace facing the swimming pool is the latest Ramadan nightspot, Faraya.
View-wise Faraya has a lot going for it, unfortunately that’s about as far as it goes.We encountered our first problem when trying to make a reservation. It took hours before someone finally answered our calls and we were told this was because they have issues with their phone line. Since sohour was already fully booked for the coming days, we opted for fetar instead.
Faraya is laid out like a lounge with pink and grey dominating the furniture’s colour scheme. Around the swimming pool, a few low tables and poufs are set up. If you’re not in the mood for lounging; take one of the tables by the wall as they have either seats or couches to sit on. The problem that you will encounter here is that either the seats are too low or the tables are too high. Half of the venue is furnished with rather unattractive looking chairs that are also used in the indoor restaurant, where Faraya’s buffet is laid out. Entertainment is provided by a large screen showing Ramadan TV series.
The starters buffet offers standard appetisers such as hummus and baba ghanough and some salads such as pasta salad and tuna salad. We sampled the chicken cream soup but weren’t really excited by it as it contained way too much cream. On the other hand, the dolmas were delicious, as was the baba ghanough. The hummus was a big disappointment; the dip was very dry and without any taste whatsoever. The nicoise salad with potato, egg and paprika was a nice variation of the original recipe. Don’t bother with the pasta salad; it lacked flavour.
The main courses fared better. We were absolutely infatuated with the potato gratin: the sauce was creamy, the potatoes were firm and the subtle cheese layer on top gave just enough flavour without being overwhelmingly heavy. The roast beef was good too but the mushrooms that came with it were a bit slimy. The rice with peas was a nice alternative to the standard plain rice, but it wasn’t that exciting either. The deep-fried cod was a bit too greasy to our liking, whereas the grilled chicken was prepared well, cooked perfectly and full of flavour.
The dessert buffet consists of konafa, basbousa, mahalabeya and other Oriental sweets. The baa’lawa with cream was awesome; very sweet yes, but oh so tasty. It had the perfect right amount of honey and cream. Expect it to get messy, though; the dough is very crunchy and if you take a bite, the honey drips out. There were some Western desserts as well such as chocolate cake and coconut cake. They are better left untouched as both cakes were very dry and tasteless.
The service wasn’t that terrific either and we found our table still piled up with empty plates after returning back from round number two at the buffet. The fetar buffet costs 140LE ++ per person and for what you get, this is far too high a price to pay.
When Zamalek institution, La Bodega, closed down at the beginning of 2014, it left a hole in many a heart. While a beachside iteration has since popped up on the North Coast during Sahel Season, its closure has certainly left a gap that not even its replacement, the phenomenal U Bistro, has been able to quite replace in the same way.
But remnants still remain in the form of sister venue, Aperitivo, located on the same floor of the same building. It’s by no means similar in appearance or, one could argue, atmosphere, but La Bodega regulars have adopted it as a replacement and the spirit is very much cut from the same cloth. For those not familiar with Aperitivo, the bar and restaurant maintains a classic element in its décor and design (think wood and glass cabinets displaying various piece of crockery and ornaments) while also using various more modern pieces (the chandeliers are very cool).
Divided into two sections – the bar and the restaurant proper – there isn’t a lot that will jump out at you in its appearance; but that’s the best way to be for a venue of this standing – demure and unpretentious.
There’s been something of a revolution happening at Aperitivo as of late, including the launch of a new menu; one that walks the line between high-end culinary delicacy and the kind of wholesomeness you get with bistro food.
The concise but varied menu covers soups, salads, meat and poultry dishes, as well as pastas and seafood, which is where we began our evening.
We rarely give up the opportunity to try a dish with scallops in it – not only because it’s a rare commodity in Cairo, but because it’s also often mishandled, which felt like the case with Aperitivo’s seared scallop starter (155LE). While it was a creative and enticing dish, the scallops were slightly overcooked, the accompanying black truffle was too little, though the spiced apple puree that also accompanies the dish gave a pleasant sweetness to every bite despite tasting more like a beetroot puree. Meanwhile, four sticks of asparagus were cooked and seasoned perfectly, while a faint balsamic reduction did little to elevate the rest of the ingredients.
Among the menu’s salads, we were seduced by the camembert salad, which brought together generous chunks of deep-fried camembert cheese together with mixed greens, roasted pears, sundried tomatoes and walnuts. The greens were fresh, the sundried tomatoes added a sweet acidity to thick, pungent cheese and the walnuts gave the whole dish an earthy touch. However, the pears were undetectable, which is a real shame as it could have been the ingredient that brought everything together.
While various mains are included in the new menu, we decided to test the kitchen’s mettle with meats. Despite being served with far too much uncooked fat, a medium-cooked sirloin steak (150LE) was full of flavour and served in a very big portion, alongside some perfectly made oven baked vegetables. Our second dish, the roast veal fillet, was also of a noticeably good quality and served in a large portion, though it was unevenly cooked, meaning some pieces were a little tough and others had a perfect pink interior.
Unfortunately, there was not much else to talk about with the mains, despite the menu promising more; the veal dish, for example, should come with roast pumpkin ad soft polenta, but both were missing from the plate, as was the roasted garlic on the steak dish.
This, actually, defined our meal; what we were served was well-made, but with so much missing from both mains – as well as the missing pear from the salad – severely dwindling what promised to be a fine evening of fine dining. Would we go again? Absolutely – the new menu reads fantastically; but maybe the kitchen needs a little more time to perfect it.