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Maadi, Cairo, Egypt.
Little Swiss: A Taste of Fondue at a Cairo Restaurant
Of all the cuisines available in the Capital, fondue has yet to make a substantial impression; perhaps due to its laborious methods of preparation, or the fact that a fondue meal is more of a stylish snack than a substantial meal.
Little Swiss is intimate, authentic and bafflingly charming all at once. Inconspicuously hidden on a quiet, tree-lined side street in Maadi Degla, this small restaurant brings fondue to Cairo in a big way.
Expect to be greeted warmly by an enthusiastic display of bovine figurines and pictures. Dressed head to toe in a blushing shade of pink, owner Charlotte Tinter warmly greets each of the dinner parties. With a firm handshake, she elucidates: ‘All of our ingredients come from Switzerland,’ before pointing to herself and adding with a wink, 'And so do I!’
Fondue is served both with and without wine, and the solitary waiter (more than one server to man the seven tables in the tiny restaurant would be calamitous) is careful to clarify which you prefer. The cheese fondue without wine is an excellent choice for 120LE; we recommend you request the cheese and tomato combination for an especially flavourful edge. The fondue is presented in a red pot atop a gas heater plugged into the nearby outlet. As hazardous as this may sound, the service is attentive enough to avoid any mishaps. A small salad of lettuce, shredded carrots and vegetables arrives with the fondue, along with sauces of garlic and mustard, a bowl of plain rice and three small baked potatoes. Skewers of bread are provided; we would have liked to see a few more fresh vegetables to counteract the rich fondue, and ended up ordering additional salads.
We opted for the grill beef fillet for 110LE, which arrives in delicate slices, along with yet another grilling device. This requires considerable attention as the meat must be placed on the small grill and turned periodically until cooked; you may need a few gentle reminders to not get too lost in conversation.
Don’t let your fondue adventure stop there; chocolate fondue is made of Toblerone and is available in dark and milk chocolate. We enthusiastically tucked into the dark chocolate (40LE) with skewers of dense sponge cake, mini-marshmallows, diced apples, pears, melon and canned pineapple. Again, we craved something fresher; the chocolate was excellent quality, but the consistency was so thin that the dipping process was a little clumsy.
Our light but satisfying meal tallied up to a little over 300LE. After the cosy repose at Little Swiss, we were ushered out by the cuckoo clock on the wall, which fittingly had a spotted cow mooing the hour, rather than the customary chirping bird.
Over the last year or so, new restaurants in Cairo have been introducing more and more exotic cuisines to the dining scene, be it Mongolian or even Peruvian with a Japanese twist, leaving classic favourites like Italian and Asian last week’s news. However, recently opened restaurant, Akli, has gone against the tide and specialises in not only one cuisine, but six, across everything from soups to desserts.
Located off Meccas Street in Dokki, Akli is divided into two zones; the ground floor, which has a exposed glass-wall baking room and shawerma station that wasn’t working at the time of our visit, is made for take-out orders, while the top floor is for dining-in. Besides the unfinished ceiling – which doesn’t seem like it will be finished because the AC duct has already been installed - the interior of the restaurant is on the classic side, with olive green, traditional panelled walls behind ruby buttoned couches. The setup of its tables is also pretty basic, but it actually has a cheerful view of a mini garden. If we were to compare it to another restaurant, Akli has the same spirit of everyone’s favourite, Bon Appetit.
Now let’s talk about the food. Our first flight was to Italy with Spicy Arancini Di Manzo (25LE). Starting from the spot-on creamy texture and the scrumptious golden brown crust, to the melted mozzarella cheese and minced beef, which was bursting with Italian herbs flavours, those four fried Italian rice balls were rather tasty.
Our second stop was at our beloved country with Sojouk (42LE). Lying on a bed of chopped parsley in true 90’s style, the grilled sausage was seasoned well, but it was a bit tough and dry. Overall, though, the appetiser seemed incomplete and needed some kind of a sauce or a dip with it.
Moving to the mains, we opted for the Greek Shrimp Saganaki (120LE). Made of perfectly cooked jumbo shrimp in tomato sauce and topped with feta cheese, the dish was a good one, but it wasn’t Saganaki. There was too little cheese to the flavour and the tomato sauce didn’t have any Greek flavours and tasted like Egyptian vegetable stew. One the other hand, the side of lemon rice added a good zesty flavour to the dish.
We also tried Adana Kebab (89LE) from the Turkish side of the menu. Two pieces of kofta laying on Lebanese bread and served with tahini dip and basmati rice topped with nuts, the dish didn’t capture anything particularly Turkish. Although the kofta was seasoned well and the rice was light and fluffy, the dish was overpriced – it’s almost exactly the same as Shawarmaister’s Kofta Halabi Platter which costs 45LE.
We finished our meal with the French Nougat Glace (27LE) for dessert; a rectangular slice of flawless vanilla ice cream filled with mini bits of pistachio and dried fruits. It was served with sour cherry syrup with a very sticky consistency, but the dessert as a whole was light and well executed.
There’s something about what Akli is trying to do that you can’t help but appreciate – but it’s not an easy job to perfect six different cuisines in one kitchen. The ambiance of the restaurant will take you back in time when you used to dine in a sporting club with the family and the food was, overall, good but there’s nothing remarkable about it.