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Giza, Cairo, Egypt.
La Gourmandise: Four Stars for Four Seasons at the First Residence's Ramadan Tent
The Four Seasons at the First Residence's annual kheima, La Gourmandise, is, without a doubt, one of the grandest Ramadan experiences available in Cairo this year. While many Ramadan tents have embraced a kitschier, and occasionally, whimsical side to the month, La Gourmandise has stayed faithful to the casual-chic approach that has made it so popular.
Having enjoyed fetar there last year, we were eager to test the mettle of a formula that hasn't changed all that much for its 2015 set-up.
This year, the price per person for the tent's open buffet menu is 320LE++, which roughly reaches 400LE per person with service and tax. Although one of the more expensive offers of its kind, the tent's popularity hasn't waned – we recommend that you make reservations a day earlier, while we were also told that larger groups are required to pay a deposit.
Arriving a good hour before fetar, a quiet hush washed over the space inside the First Mall, lead by the sophisticatedly simple decor characterised by airy, white fabric draped from the centre to the edges to take the shape of a tent, all bathed in surprisingly tasteful pink lighting.
Adding to the hushed anticipation of breaking our fast were the staff, who were both professional and friendly as they made sure everything was prepped. In between their sharp, efficient back-and-forth, we were offered the standard Ramadan drinks – sobia (sweet milk with coconut, amar el din (peach nectar with rose water) or erkesous (liquorice).
Heading into the buffet, which is located in the centre of the tent on a stage of sorts, we were immediately met by the smell of soup – we had to make the tough choice between duck or mushroom. We chose the latter, which provided a good, soft first eat/slurp of the day.
Said smells only bettered one other; the molokheya station in action, as the assigned chef prepared the 'taqliya' – an integral part of any molokheya that sees garlic lightly fried in olive oil, salt and pepper.
Overall, the buffet offered several well-executed varieties, especially in the way of meat and poultry, while became rather fond of the versatile food stations, including the Shawerma and pasta stations, the latter of which offered an excellent range of sauces. Amongst all of that, however, the food that jumped out the most wasn't the perfectly homely mahshi, the succulent shish tawouk, or even the juicy kofta – it was, in fact, a deliciously crisp olive and tomato bread, which we unashamedly take responsibility for finishing that night.
Unfortunately, the buffet was lacking in the salad department, but what it lacked in greens, it more than made up in desserts, with both traditional Egyptian desserts – think konafa, etc – and more contemporary ones – think mini-cheesecake, etc – available.
Overall, we were left with few complaints; the food was good, the atmosphere was pleasantly unpretentious and, if you can forget the fact that you're essentially sitting in the middle of a mall, you might well find yourself staying for post-fetar shisha and tea.
Going out for fetar in Ramadan might not be everyone’s cup of tea – including yours truly. You see, there’s nothing quite like mama’s homemade food and Cairene restaurants tend not to offer much variety in their selected set menus and buffets – you either like them or you don’t.
But there are restaurants and kheimas which offer an exceptionally unique fetar experiences and make breaking the fast outside the house worth the hassle; one of these is La Gourmandise, located at Four Seasons First Residence hotel in Giza.
Occupying the ground floor of Four Seasons Nile Plaza’s First Mall, La Gourmandise boasts a casual-chic atmosphere with Oriental touches. The main dining area is embellished with dark pink fabrics hanging from the ceiling, Oriental lanterns on the tables and by the buffet and a quirky tree decorated with small golden copper lanterns at the restaurant’s entrance.
La Gourmandise’s fetar buffet (345LE++) is as eclectic as it is impressive, with dozens of well-organised stations between soup, molokheya, salad, grills, pasta amongst others.
The soup station fares with two choices between chicken cream soup and vegetables lamb soup, while the salad bar is a fiesta of colourful salads including taboula, fattoush, roca, hummus, labneh, potato, pickled veggies, as well as slightly more complicated items like tuna salad and salmon rolls.
We kicked things off with some fattoush, hummus and watermelon and beet salad from the salad bar. The fattoush was fresh, tangy with an overpowering onion kick, while the hummus was extremely smooth and creamy.
Our favourite was the watermelon and beetroot salad; a peculiar combination that worked thanks to a vinaigrette that added a sour, salty flavour to the watermelon, which cut the sweetness of the beetroot and complimented the overall taste.
There was also a fried food station where we tried some spinach and cheese sambousek which were both quite tasty and enveloped in incredibly fresh dough.
Then we headed to the grilled meat station where we opted for a mishmash of grills from lamb, chicken, kebab, kofta which were all masterfully executed.
Though a little chewy, the kebab was tasty, well-seasoned and had a smoky flavour. The quail, meanwhile, was grilled to perfection and tender to the bite, while the kofta was tasty with a subtle and pleasant sumac flavour. Seasoned with rosemary and boasting a tender herbal flavour, the chicken was another hit at the buffet.
We paired our grills with some brown rice with mixed nuts which had a remarkable cinnamon flavour, a welcomed sweetness and crunch from the sprinkled raisins and pistachios.
Our final stop at the grills station was the hawawshi, which was crunchy, perfectly seasoned and had a delicious spicy kick.
Just when we thought we were done with food, the chef responsible for the shawerma station casually placed some beef shawerma wrap into our plates which stood out with a smoky and lamb aftertaste complimented by small pieces of pickles.
With barely any room left for dessert, we found all sorts of Oriental desserts; from cream-infused atayef, mango konafa, balah el sham and freshly made lokmet el kadi, to a selection of Western desserts including gâteau soirée and crème brulée. But our eyes were fixated on one thing; Om Ali.
Sweet, juicy, moist and warm the Om Ali was perfect. The serving of crushed almonds and pistachios gave the whole ensemble a complimentary and delightful crunch, making for a perfect ending to an extremely satisfying fetar.
The fact that La Gourmandise is one of the most expensive options for fetar this year – one that reaches 442LE after taxes – goes without saying; but the perfectly executed food, the well-organised buffet and the excellent and amiable service demonstrates what top notch quality should be like and proves why we go there for fetar every year. If you’re looking for lavish fetar in the remaining Ramadan days, this is exactly where you should go.
Photo: Four Seasons First Residence/Facebook