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Downtown, Cairo, Egypt.
Saigon Bleu: Elegant Vietnamese Fusion Cuisine
The Capital is full of high-end eateries guaranteed to impress us as surely as they will break the bank; but even the fanfare of exquisite French, Italian and Japanese cuisine can start to sound repetitive. Leave it to the Fairmont Nile City, then, to mix things up a bit with something new for us to savour: Vietnamese fusion cuisine.
Saigon Bleu is a decadent new dining option inside the elegant hotel. The kitchen serves nouveau Vietnamese-French cuisine, and has a reputation for fine and freshly caught seafood and authentic, imported Vietnamese ingredients. The food is elaborately prepared by Vietnamese culinary experts, bringing unique tastes and a classy atmosphere to Cairo’s dining repertoire.
For the most dazzling dining experience, reserve a table that has an all-encompassing view of the stunning Nile, the lobby waterfalls and artwork, and the window into the kitchen, from which you can observe the chefs prepare their sophisticated Vietnamese delights.
The vegetable spring rolls appetiser is lightly fried and crispy in a paper-thin pastry sheath. The rolls are served with a small bundle of greens. Between all courses, rolls of fresh bread are whisked to the table, along with unsalted butter and a complimentary garnish of duck pâté.
One of our favourite entrées offers three large and deliciously fresh scallops served over sautéed greens with sprigs of lemongrass and a light citrus sauce, capturing quintessential Vietnamese accents and spices.
The main course of sea bass is served with a mountain of fried rice flavoured with shrimp, mushrooms and vegetables. The generous two-piece fillet is complimented with a colourful array of diced carrots, peppers, garlic and greens. Sadly, the marinade can be overpoweringly salty, making us wish the chef would add less flavour to the ensemble. The fish itself is brazed to perfection, and is light and flaky with a ginger garnish.
As far as finales go, the desserts at Saigon Bleu are a huge success. Options include sorbets, custards, tarts and exotic lemongrass flambées. We recommend the passion fruit crème brûlée; the fruit makes the traditionally rich confection surprisingly light and it is accompanied by a dollop of lemon sorbet.
The one chocolate dessert option on the menu comes with no less than four varieties of chocolate treats: chocolate mousse served in a shot glass; a chocolate-and-orange-layered concoction; a slice of rich, flourless chocolate cake; and a to-die-for dark chocolate sorbet. Desserts are by far the most elaborate pieces served, with drizzles of raspberry, chocolate sauces and decorative chocolate shavings.
The restaurant clocks in at the upper price range, and offers an imported wine list that is at least as substantial as the food and dessert menus. Without wine or beer, expect the bill to tally up to almost 900LE for a meal for two. An evening at Saigon Bleu is bound to spice up the usual dining experience if you're in the mood for something off the beaten path.
With Ramadan almost over, are our appetite for Oriental cuisine is, too. And with so many set menus trying to put an Oriental twist on the restaurant’s original cuisine, we thought we’d try something completely unrelated to the usual malarkey.
Cairo 360 Editor’s Choice Award-winning Asian restaurant, ZENTRO, is a personal favourite, so we were excited to find out that the Maadi restaurant was offering a Ramadan Set Menu (150LE) that consists of Pumpkin & Coconut soup, an appetiser tray of Money Bags, Spring Rolls and Fattoush, a main course of either Stir Fried Beef with Oyster Sauce or Honey Plum Chicken, and Steamed or Fried Rice with Vegetables. You can also order a la carte, should you prefer.
The beautiful thing about ZENTRO is the serenity. The simplicity of the decor, the solid block colours and very stylish utensils and plates combined with the very relaxing down-tempo music come together perfectly to immerse you in your meal.
Served first in a large white bowl, the Pumpkin & Coconut soup was tastefully sweet, generous in portion and a great start to the meal.
Next came the appetisers in small cube containers lined in a long rectangular tray. The Money Bags were simply brilliant; delicious and hot, they remain our favourite of ZENTRO’s appetisers. The Veggie Spring Rolls, unfortunately, paled in comparison. The Fattoush – note the ‘Oriental twist’ mentioned earlier – never really came together.
As for the main courses, we opted for one of each, the Stir Fried Beef with Oyster Sauce and the Honey Plum Chicken. We had raved about the Honey Plum Chicken in an earlier review, and were curious to see how ZENTRO handled quality control in Ramadan. They passed with flying colours.
The Honey Plum Chicken was the same fresh chicken cubes in the perfectly executed honey plum sauce with sesame. Combining both flavour and crunch in an immensely enjoyable experience, it overshadowed the Stir Fried Beef, which was very tasty and cooked to a perfect tender, but not as complex in flavour.
The Rice, however, was a hit-and-miss. Two of our fried rice orders were great, combining fried vegetables, mushrooms, and eggs into a decent complimentary dish to the main course. But the other two orders had an unordinary pungent aroma of egg, which was very off putting. We expressed our aversion and the waiters swiftly replaced them.
Overall, we were pleased with our meal and experience at ZENTRO, which seemed almost unscathed by the pressures of Ramadan. As a relative newcomer to Cairo’s dining scene, ZENTRO seems to be really coming into its own.