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Heliopolis, Cairo, Egypt.
Cortigiano: Family Friendly Restaurant in Heliopolis
Upon entering the restaurant, it dawned on us we must have chosen one of the busiest restaurants in the area as it was filled to the brim with hungry families. Surprisingly, noise was not a problem – we thought perhaps because everybody was too busy enjoying the food.
At the time of our visit, Cortigiano was naturally lit with the afternoon sun and the atmosphere was both comfortable and inviting with warm, wooden panelling, traditional lamp shades and art work. We weren't neglected by the staff either and were shown to a table within minutes and presented with their detailed, diverse menus.
For drinks, we opted for Sunshine (14.95LE) – a cocktail of Grenadine and lemonade –and a peach iced tea (9.95LE).
After pondering over their interesting selection of starters, we chose the one that intrigued us the most; Involtini Primavera Con Carne (24.95LE), described as pies stuffed with meat and cabbage, served with a 'special sauce'. Because there was so much to choose from, we had difficulty deciding on the mains so we reeled the waiter in for his recommendations and he assured us that the Filleto Alla Pizzaiola (79.95LE) – beef with mozzarella cheese and black olive sauce – was the way forward. We also chose the Pollo Alla Americano (55.95), chicken with sweet pepper sauce, tomatoes and onions.
A complimentary basket of crispy, buttery garlic bread was brought to the table, making a change from the usual bread usually presented at restaurants. The starter arrived quickly, and, rather than the small pies we were expecting, they turned out to be just meat and cabbage spring rolls. Despite the un-originality, we couldn't complain; they were hot, crispy and finger-lickingly juicy. The special sauce on the other hand was an incredibly sweet, fruit jam, more suited to breakfast toast than a savoury starter.
The priority on such a busy day was the food and, eventually, after we had finished the starter, the drinks arrived. The iced tea turned out to be a safe choice as it was a popular, canned brand. The Sunshine cocktail, although not difficult to mix, was scrumptious and refreshing with extra added lemon, making it the best we’ve tasted.
Once the starter had been cleared, without delay, the main courses were brought to our table. As promised, the large portion of beef fillet was delicious and tender with a large amount of sauce to eat with the smooth, creamy mash and fluffy white rice.
The chicken dish was equally, if not more delectable. The tomato and pepper sauce was wonderfully sweet with large pieces of onion and fresh red and green peppers to add to the flavour. The side of mixed vegetables was well cooked – although nothing out of the ordinary – and the mash just was as pleasant as with the first dish.
To satisfy our sweet-tooth, we chose chocolate fudge cake with vanilla ice cream to end our meal. You can imagine our joy when it turned out to be literally a small, sticky cake, perfect for sharing, covered in chocolate sauce.
Taking into account the business of this place at the weekend, we were continuously impressed with the swift and polite service and thoroughly enjoyed our large meal. In our opinion, it's a great place to go with the family and good value for money.
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.