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Heliopolis, Cairo, Egypt.
Les Amis: Warm & Welcoming Dining Spot in Heliopolis
The name gives a sense of comfort and we wouldn’t be exaggerating when we say that you can spend most of your day there. It’s comfortable, cosy and relaxing; it has a friendly atmosphere thanks to the waiters who are extremely polite, quick and professional.
The place is quite modern with dark wood furniture and walls clad in either contemporary wallpaper or light beige stones. There are few large plasma TV screens hung on the walls as well as some paintings that an art appreciator would commend.
However, what really got us interested were the big sliding windows which when opened give the feeling of being on a rooftop, complete with a soothing light breeze. Although it’s on the ground floor, a couple of steps up to the indoor area conveniently help with the exposure to the street. Even the outdoor area is surrounded by a fence and some tall plants to ensure your privacy.
Les Amis usually plays relaxed music which is appropriate if you want to study or work on your laptop with no distractions. If indeed that’s what you’re looking for then it is advised to go in the daytime since it is usually quite crowded in the evening; on most days it is difficult to find place if you’re a large group. The outdoor garden is ideal for the evenings.
They have an extensive food menu and a special breakfast menu. We started our meal with mushroom soup (16.99LE) that was delicious and creamy; the vegetable spring rolls (22.90LE), which were crunchy and hot; and the fried mozzarella (25.99LE) that came with a spicy dip and was very good but could use more heat.
The chicken Caesar salad (33.90LE) came with a tasty dressing but it was literally soaked in it; the Greek salad (23.90LE) was just like any homemade salad and not worth the price. Although we love blue cheese the blue cheese salad (36.90LE) was so bad that no one could finish it; the cheese used was way too bitter.
The chicken alfredo pasta (40.90LE) was served with grilled chicken and mushrooms, and it was satisfactory. The Fiji pizza (30.90LE) was thin crusted and perfectly baked with pepper, mushroom, corn, and olive toppings. They also serve meat dishes where the fillet and seafood dishes ranged from 60LE to 70LE and chicken dishes from 50LE to 60LE.
Coffee lovers can indulge in the variety of choices of the frappuccinos that come in different flavours (15LE to 20LE); the coffee beans are of quality and would get you well energized, especially if you're coming to study or work in the morning.
There's something about this place that combines different moods; every time you visit it’s a new and enjoyable experience, making it likely to become one of your regular spots.
When it comes to Cairo restaurants, the city’s hotels are usually safe bets for an evening of fine dining. Incorporating the original Palace Al Gezira into its design, the Cairo Marriott Hotel in Zamalek remains one of the most beautiful hotels in the capital. Built in 1869 by Khedive Ismail, and once used as a temporary home to many European monarchs, the intricate neo-classical architecture is still as breathtaking as it once was.
Saraya Gallery, a restaurant on the ground floor of the main palace building, is both impressive and dazzling with shining oriental chandeliers, giant golden mirrors, patterned wood wall panelling and intricate plaster work adorning the mile-high ceilings. Such a majestic setting brings on a sense of nostalgia and expectations of a meal fit for a king. Arriving in the evening, our dining experience was accompanied by the sound of soothing – and slightly romantic – live harp playing.
Soon after we were seated, the menus were delivered, and we ordered the chef’s recommendation of the French onion soup (45LE) for our starter, the 10oz certified black Angus New York sirloin steak (315LE), and the pasta e risotto Tuscany tour (130LE) – a dish that combined three pasta and one risotto preprations.
The drinks menu was vast, filled with an infinite variety of imported wines, liqueurs, whiskeys, spirits, cognacs, beer, cocktails and non-alcoholic concoctions. One red berry iced tea (28LE) was ordered, along with a couple of large glasses of Cape Bay white wine (105LE/each). The white wine was served chilled in two enormous wine glasses, whilst the red berry iced tea was slightly tasteless, but we were afforded the chance to sweeten it ourselves with a side of syrup.
To start, a complimentary bowl of delicious bread arrived alongside a butter dish. The food took a while to arrive, but all was forgiven when the plates were finally delivered underneath grand silver cloches.
The onion soup was covered with a thick layer of stringy cheese which we cut through to reach thinned, flavourful soup with sweet onion pieces and the soggy bread immersed at the bottom of the bowl. The steak, meanwhile, was a colossal piece of quality meat, and happened to be our favourite of the meals. It was perfectly cooked to our medium-rare specifications and the pepper sauce was well balanced, while the side of vegetables remained a little crunchy, but was lacking seasoning. Our second side of parmesan fries was also sub-standard; undercooked with a measly cheese topping.
In the creative four-pasta dish, the ravioli all’aragosta, penne all’arrabiata, spaghetti di mare, and the risotto del giorno were each unique, but some more delectable than others. The spaghetti di mare was positively al dente and sported a handful of tasty, fresh scallops and small shrimp, all rolled in a delicate tomato sauce. The penne all’arabiata, served with a generous amount of spicy tomato and basil sauce, was unfortunately undercooked, while the ravioli all’aragosta was vividly flavoured by pieces of lobster and baby shrimp. The risotto, meanwhile, was full of flavour, but the rice was slightly harder than we were expecting, which meant it didn’t hold together like most risottos. On a brighter note, though, the rich mushroom and cream flavour was quite moreish.
Overwhelmed by the fabulous sounding desserts, we ended our meal on a high note, ordering the chocolate croquant (70LE) to share. Despite the exotic promises of chocolate dacquoise, sable Breton and caramelised hazelnut, it was effectively a delicious log of milk chocolate mousse, with a filling of dark chocolate, covered in coco powder, with a side of scrumptious strawberry compote.
We’re not sure the quality of all the food entirely justifies some of the high prices; however, Saraya Gallery undoubtedly provides a magnificent setting for a formal dinner, hand in hand with some of the most professional waiters we’ve been lucky enough to encounter.