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New Cairo, Cairo, Egypt.
Sophia’s Garden: New Restaurant & Café Dazzles in Cairo Festival City Mall
When it comes to Cairo's eateries, all the tricks and trends seem to have been tried and tested; so much so that it has become harder and harder for Cairene foodies to be truly impressed by any of the venues that keep popping up.
Sophia's Garden, at first glance, struck us by its sheer simplicity. Looking quite limited in size and all sorts of cosy, the restaurant-café hybrid emits optimistically positive vibes due to its colour scheme comprising of shades of white. A waiter welcomed us in, offering us an outdoor table, as requested.
Our menus were placed on the immaculate table and that is the exact moment we knew we were in for an unexpectedly dazzling experience. The menu does not focus on a certain cuisine, but rather gourmet-fied dishes from all sorts of cuisines, including the French, Egyptian, and Italian to name a few.
Perhaps the dishes that struck as the most unique were the Camembert Salad (65LE) which involved so many toppings and protein variations that it seemed more like a full-on main course, the Foie-gras Burger (90LE), featuring mushrooms, foie-gras and truffle oil, the Seabass Casserole (118 LE) and finally Sophia's Pigeons (195LE), which takes the signature Egyptian dish and adds some foie-gras stuffing to it.
Opting for the Chorizo sandwich (48LE), the Beef Burger (65LE) and the Chicken Papillote (65LE), we were informed that our order will take at least 30 minutes to arrive. Wanting a taste of the venue's signature drink, we also opted for a round of Lavender Lemonades (25LE), which arrived within 5 minutes.
A purple concoction of sorts, featuring shredded coconut, sliced lemons and freshly picked lavender, the Lavender Lemonade struck us as perhaps the most delicious lemonade we've tasted in quite a while, with the coconut contrasting the sourness of the lemonade and the tinge of the lavender elevating its overall taste.
Our main dishes made their way to our table in thirty minutes as advertised. The Chicken Papillote, which came with our requested side of creamy mashed potatoes instead of rice, comprised of half a chicken roasted with mixed vegetables in papillote wrapping and tasted almost homemade, yet lacked seasoning.
The Chorizo sandwich, however, was equal parts messy and finger-licking delicious, consisting of a toasted loaf of parker bread filled with paprika-spiced veal sausages, beef bacon and mustard, whereas the Beef Burger featured a juicy, well-done beef patty topped with pecorino cheese, beef bacon, fried onions and roasted tomato sauce. Both of them came with a side of hand-cut fries, which were impressively non-oily.
The dessert menu, featuring items like the Caramel Burger (50LE) and the Hot Chocolate Peanut (50LE), made us curse at our stomachs for being too stuffed from the main courses.
All in all, Sophia's Garden was quite the delight, with its intriguing menu, and gourmet dishes. The service, perhaps, wasn't quite its strongest point due to the waiters appearing a tad lost when it came to explaining some of the more exotic dishes. You'll definitely, however, catch us heading back there to try out some of the desserts.
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.