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Maadi, Cairo, Egypt.
La Rosa: Old School Italian Restaurant in Maadi
The small interior is made up of old Chianti bottles now covered in candle-wax and framed pictures of Rome and Venice. The owner of La Rosa is known to have spent years living in Italy, only to come home and open a small plot for himself. The atmosphere is casual with just as many Egyptian couples dining as expatriates. Bring a bottle, bouchon free, and they’ll even wrap it in a checkered red and white napkin. It’s a small sort of place where you get to see every pizza go into the oven.
The Pizza Primavera, (34LE) comes with artichokes, spinach, peppers, mushrooms and olives. We also ordered the Pizza La Playa with onions and chillies (22LE), to which we added pineapple and arugula, bringing it to 32LE. It was delicious; both spicy and sweet. Both pizzas came out bubbling and cheesy. And as many toppings as there were on the Primavera, it still somehow kept its shape, even in the face of getting eaten.
Their pizzas are large, with a thin crust, crispy enough to hold a slice in the air without flopping, but still chewy. The toppings are fresh and piled high (try the arugula). But the best is that La Rosa’s pizzas range from just 19LE to 34LE. And if you want to add something, extra cheese will set you back 4LE, vegetables 5LE, and meat 7LE. If you aren’t in the mood for pizza, then one of La Rosa’s pastas will still keep you under-budget. Their meat dishes however do get pricey. The Filetto La Rosa, a beef filetto with four cheeses, mushrooms, and peppers, is 80LE.
According to multiple Italians’ input, the Farfalle La Rosa (32LE) is as good as a salmon pink-sauce gets. Parsley tops the al-dente bowties that come with pieces of smoked salmon, tossed and served with Parmesan cheese.
A 3LE cover charge per person affords you bruschetta and garlic bread that come before every meal. Also a large bottle of water (12LE) is opened in front of you unless otherwise prompted. If we had had any more room for dessert we would have ended with a tiramisu (19LE); lady fingers soaked in espresso and layered with mascarpone and cocoa. But alas, La Rosa’s mains are just too filling.
Competition amongst restaurants in Cairo is nothing short of brutal. The rent of most of these venues alone can be a deal-breaker, so when a restaurant manages to keep a prime spot in an area like Road 9 in Maadi, they must be doing something right.
Mermaid has been a favourite of Maadi residents for years. The venue itself hasn’t changed a bit except for a make-shift outdoor area featuring a plastic white and blue tent with a couple of tables and chairs.
Inside, it’s the same American diner decoration you’ve known for years. It's till a little too stuffy, with the rigid wooden booths separating the tables and seating not leaving much room for sitting. A pleasant waiter greets you at the door and shows you to your table. He will hand you a menu and you probably won’t see him again.
No waiter came back, in the tiny restaurant, for fifteen minutes. One only showed up when we called out.
The menu hasn’t changed much over the years either, so we figured we would try some of the famous dishes and see if they were still up to par.
We opted for an order of Garlic Cheese Bread (17.40LE) from the appetisers and Veal Escalope (92LE) and Beef Stroganoff (108.5LE) from the mains. We also ordered drinks, but after receiving the wrong drinks three times, we gave up.
The Garlic Cheese Bread arrived very early on in the chaos and put a brighter note on proceedings; it was very strong in garlic flavour, which was complimented very nicely by the mozzarella cheese and a nice dash of oregano. The mains came about twenty minutes later. We ordered the Veal Escalope with a side of Pasta Bolognese and Sautéed Vegetables and the Veal Stroganoff with a side of Rice.
The Veal Escalope is slightly smaller than we remember it, but just as pleasing to the palate. It was cooked perfectly and seasoned well, though the pasta was average at best and was severely lacking salt, while the sautéed vegetables were essentially just boiled zucchini and carrots with no sort of seasoning whatsoever.
The Beef Stroganoff, which came in a generous portion drenched in deliciously and densely flavoured gravy, was the highlight of the night; like the veal, it was cooked and seasoned well, but once again, the small portion of Basmati Rice was plain in taste and was served in a meagre portion, not fitting of the beef.
Ultimately, while Mermaid still serves decent food, there's been a distinct drop in service and value-for-money since our last visit. Prices have practically doubled and, while one can appreciate external factors like costs, we don’t see anything being spent on the restaurant itself, which looks exactly the same as it did in 2007.