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Heliopolis, Cairo, Egypt.
Leonardo: Luxury Italian Dining at the Fairmont Heliopolis & Towers
Hotels are notorious for housing some of the most high-end restaurants in Cairo and the Fairmont Heliopolis and Towers is no exception, housing an impressive 18 restaurants, bars and cafes, catering to every style of cuisine for discerning palettes.
Tucked away in the old Fairmont building, Leonardo's dining area is placed in a small enclosure open to the hotel, but gated by indoor plants and clear plastic vases filled with fresh apples. Each table has delicate, glass place-settings stained in elegant peacock colors that were removed once we were seated. Returning with the menus, the waiter filled our glasses with chilled water and left us to our own devices with the strictly Italian menu.
The menu is easily navigated with sections marked for appetisers and soups, pizza, pasta andrisotto, seafood, meat, and of course desserts. Upon placing the complimentary breadsticks and tray of cheese pastries, the waiter patiently awaited our order while we struggled with pronouncing the names of our dishes.
To start, we selected the Penne Arrabbiata (85LE) and a Long Island Iced Tea (105LE). While waiting for our starter, we whetted our appetites with the savory cheese sambousak and mini quiches. Though a tad oily, the rich texture and salty interior of the turnovers quelled our rumbling stomachs just in time for the Penne's arrival.
The pasta in our Penne Arrabbiata was cooked with a perfect al dente bite and was mixed in a light tomato and chili pepper sauce with a mild drizzle of pesto accenting the vivid red of the pasta beautifully. Incredibly spicy, the flavours were positively explosive and were highlighted by the intense kick of the peppers. The parmesan delivered alongside the dish helped to mute the heat of the sauce, as well as provide a savoury balance to offset the sweetness of the tomatoes. Presented in a tall glass, the Long Island Iced Tea was a powerful concoction that proved a little too strong for the casual constitution of the pasta.
Coming highly recommended by our enthusiastic waiter, we decided on the Seafood Risotto (160LE) from the mains section. Moving the decorative shrimp heads to the side of the plate revealed an aromatic mixture of creamy risotto bubbling in red sauce cooked with the delectable marine broth present in the dish. With pieces of shrimp, mussel, flakes of lobster and delicate white fish, every mouthful was a chewy delight of incredible textures and flavors from the sea.
Moving to dessert, a gorgeous Tiramisu (50LE) was presented in a cocktail glass and was layered with light cream, ladyfingers and rich chocolate espresso filling. Covered with a generous helping of powdered chocolate, the Tiramisu was a decadent ending to a very hearty meal.
Although prices are a bit steep, Leonardo provides great Italian dishes with rich flavors and generous portions which won't have you walking away disappointed.
Even though we have an endless amount of Italian restaurants in Cairo, we can all agree that only a few are able to do it justice – to make it truly authentic. Not only does Tavolino achieve this, but it goes a step further.
From the outside, the Zamalek restaurant, which is located off of Aboul Feda Streey, might seem very small, but it’s surprisingly spacious. Interior wise, it has a very simple yet chic appearance; white brick walls with a touch of wood, black and white frames, and triangular mirrors stand out, despite the almost overly yellow lighting.
Moving to food, we started our meal with Cannelloni (70LE) from the restaurant’s ‘New Italian Cuisine’ menu, which adds twists to Italian classics. Six pieces of perfectly cooked cannelloni are stuffed with chicken and spinach, covered with melted mozzarella cheese and then topped with marinated tomato – similar to marinara sauce – and pesto sauce. A side of creamy gorgonzola sauce added a nutty flavour with a fantastic deep aftertaste and the dish showed Tavolino to be masters of art of flavour matching.
Another item we tried from the ‘New Italian Cuisine’ menu was The Tenderloin in the Wood (235LE); a perfect medium-well tenderloin steak laying on a phyllo-like pastry that’s filled with sautéed mushrooms, spinach and onions, and served with sweet garlic sauce and an exquisite sweet and savoury blueberry-and-onion jam. This dish left us speechless; not only was the steak on its own bursting with Italian herb flavours, but the addition of the crunchy texture from the mushroom pocket with the unique sweetness of the jam merged with the sweet garlic sauce created an outstanding dish.
Deciding to go back to the basics with our last choice, we went with Risotto Alla Pescatora (120LE). Rich, creamy, and well-seasoned, it had spot-on al dente texture; mixed with well-cooked shrimps and mussels, the dish was close to perfect, but for the overcooked, mushy crab and rubbery calamari.
Another thing that kept Tavolino from getting a perfect score was the fact that, at the time of our visit, only the Ice Cream & Sorbet (50LE), which is 3 scoops of Movenpick ice cream, was available.
But that was just a side note to a great meal; we were surprised by Tavolino’s one-of-a-kind flavours, particularly those on the ‘New Italian Cuisine’ menu, which certainly helps separate it from the crowd with a unique identity. Tavolino isn’t just another Italian restaurant.