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6th of October City, Cairo, Egypt.
Al Bahar: Sensational Seafood Restaurant in 6th of October City
Good seafood restaurants in Cairo are, unfortunately, few and far between. Our target for the evening, Al Bahar, happens to be the only seafood restaurant in the prestigious Motamayez district of 6th October City. Being in close proximity to the Cairo-Alexandria Desert Road, the ease of delivery from the coast means that seafood in the area is even fresher than in the rest of the city.
Striding past the outdoor seating area, we found ourselves in a brightly lit, spacious hall adorned with charming, aquatic themed mosaic walls. While two LCD screens kept us up to date with Egyptian politics, we were seated on grand, wooden chairs with leather padding, tucked underneath marble topped tables.
Humorously, countless spelling mistakes in the menu brought down what was otherwise a promising introduction to the restaurant. We came to learn that 'Al Bahar Rise' was in fact, rice served with mixed 'C food' including, shrimps, mussels and crabs. The harah dip – tehina and hot chilli pepper – was simply titled 'warm'. Though such mistakes were a little disconcerting, the level of cleanliness and the polished demeanour of the staff kept our hopes high for the quality of the food.
The waiter suggested we choose our fish before making other orders, in order to make up for its lengthy cooking time. Agreeably stepping to the varied, fresh fish display, the patient assistant dutifully pulled on a pair of gloves before patiently answering all of our questions about the different types of fish and cooking styles which included frying, grilling or baking with citrus and oil. As with most fresh fish vendors, prices vary slightly on a daily basis.
We proceeded to order shrimp molokheya (16LE), seabass (110LE/kg), mullet (51LE/kg), half a kilo of mussels (90LE/kg) a plate of shrimp kofta (25LE), tehina (5LE), harah (5LE), baba ghanough (5LE), egg plants (5LE) and kamouniya (5LE) – tomatoes covered with cumin and diced onions. On the side we shared a plate of their signature Al Bahar rice (65LE).
Despite being one of two groups of guests, the food took an incredibly long time to prepare; we were left to wait up to 35 minutes before being served our soup and salads, never mind the seafood. Eaten with steaming hot balady bread, the salads were a wonderful appetiser to our meal. The tehina was thick and bitter tasting, while its harah counter part was refreshingly spicy. Boiled to perfection, the eggplants were stuffed with diced vegetables before being drenched with oil. Our baba ghanough was consistently thick and slightly sour with vinegar. We particularly enjoyed the kamouniya since the tomatoes were generously juicy topped with a wild mix of spices.
When our meal finally arrived, the long wait was almost instantly forgiven. Each fish was deliciously fresh, soft and effortlessly broke apart, served on its own plate and elegantly decorated with cuts of tomatoes, green peppers and grilled onions. The portion of deep fried shrimp kofta was generously made up of five fingers of minced shrimp. They were only made better when dipped into each of the flavourful salads or the scrumptious garlic-celery sauce of the mussels, which was another highlight of our meal.
Impressively, none of the food was excessively salty nor over cooked. When serving us the aromatic Al Bahar rice, we were charmingly given an extra generous portion; amongst a medley of the flavours, the dishes' most striking ingredient was the crab, which was small but full of chewy, pink meat.
When it came to dessert, we were informed that they offer fresh fruit dishes or Om Ali (15LE). Ordering two bowls of the latter, another long wait and confirmed that the dessert is made fresh for individual orders. Unfortunately, however, it transpired to be a little too sweet and far too full of raisins, but satisfying nonetheless.
And so in the end, the most impressive thing that Al Bahar leaves you with is that an esteemed member of Cairo's seafood dining collective can replicate Alexandria's seafood prowess – despite the long waiting times.
When Zamalek institution, La Bodega, closed down at the beginning of 2014, it left a hole in many a heart. While a beachside iteration has since popped up on the North Coast during Sahel Season, its closure has certainly left a gap that not even its replacement, the phenomenal U Bistro, has been able to quite replace in the same way.
But remnants still remain in the form of sister venue, Aperitivo, located on the same floor of the same building. It’s by no means similar in appearance or, one could argue, atmosphere, but La Bodega regulars have adopted it as a replacement and the spirit is very much cut from the same cloth. For those not familiar with Aperitivo, the bar and restaurant maintains a classic element in its décor and design (think wood and glass cabinets displaying various piece of crockery and ornaments) while also using various more modern pieces (the chandeliers are very cool).
Divided into two sections – the bar and the restaurant proper – there isn’t a lot that will jump out at you in its appearance; but that’s the best way to be for a venue of this standing – demure and unpretentious.
There’s been something of a revolution happening at Aperitivo as of late, including the launch of a new menu; one that walks the line between high-end culinary delicacy and the kind of wholesomeness you get with bistro food.
The concise but varied menu covers soups, salads, meat and poultry dishes, as well as pastas and seafood, which is where we began our evening.
We rarely give up the opportunity to try a dish with scallops in it – not only because it’s a rare commodity in Cairo, but because it’s also often mishandled, which felt like the case with Aperitivo’s seared scallop starter (155LE). While it was a creative and enticing dish, the scallops were slightly overcooked, the accompanying black truffle was too little, though the spiced apple puree that also accompanies the dish gave a pleasant sweetness to every bite despite tasting more like a beetroot puree. Meanwhile, four sticks of asparagus were cooked and seasoned perfectly, while a faint balsamic reduction did little to elevate the rest of the ingredients.
Among the menu’s salads, we were seduced by the camembert salad, which brought together generous chunks of deep-fried camembert cheese together with mixed greens, roasted pears, sundried tomatoes and walnuts. The greens were fresh, the sundried tomatoes added a sweet acidity to thick, pungent cheese and the walnuts gave the whole dish an earthy touch. However, the pears were undetectable, which is a real shame as it could have been the ingredient that brought everything together.
While various mains are included in the new menu, we decided to test the kitchen’s mettle with meats. Despite being served with far too much uncooked fat, a medium-cooked sirloin steak (150LE) was full of flavour and served in a very big portion, alongside some perfectly made oven baked vegetables. Our second dish, the roast veal fillet, was also of a noticeably good quality and served in a large portion, though it was unevenly cooked, meaning some pieces were a little tough and others had a perfect pink interior.
Unfortunately, there was not much else to talk about with the mains, despite the menu promising more; the veal dish, for example, should come with roast pumpkin ad soft polenta, but both were missing from the plate, as was the roasted garlic on the steak dish.
This, actually, defined our meal; what we were served was well-made, but with so much missing from both mains – as well as the missing pear from the salad – severely dwindling what promised to be a fine evening of fine dining. Would we go again? Absolutely – the new menu reads fantastically; but maybe the kitchen needs a little more time to perfect it.