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New Cairo, Cairo, Egypt.
IKEA Restaurant: Simple, Easy Dining While Shopping
A true foodie can find food wherever they go; but only finding good food is what requires digging on the forever unpredictable restaurant scene. After a long shopping spree in New Cairo, we headed over to IKEA's restaurant on the store's second floor at Cairo Festival City.
Designed to look like a cafeteria, IKEA's restaurant has a simple grab-a-tray-stand-in-queue setting, introducing a huge variety of simple meals, snacks and drinks for those who want to have simple readymade meals on display.
Eager to try out as many as we can get hands on, we opted for an assortment of appetisers comprised of vegetable spring rolls, chicken tenders and kebbah (2L-3LE per piece) and as our mains, we went for two classic Swedish dishes; the Swedish meatballs (34LE) and salmon lasagne (48LE).
After having a little too much fun mixing soft drinks together at the soft drinks machine (15LE for refillable cup) –and embarrassing ourselves in front of everyone – we were ready to eat.
Starting with the appetisers, the spring rolls had a flaky crust, soft from the inside, but were largely mediocre in taste; the mix of vegetables only came together for a generic veggie flavour, with nothing really standing out. The chicken tenders, on the other hand, had the crunch but were very dry and not completely fresh, while the kebbah was stuffed with juicy minced beef and had a light crispy crust on the outside. Overall, the appetisers were well cooked but they felt more of frozen food which didn't have any unique flavours.
With flavourful gravy but a rather mushy texture, our meatballs had a mediocre taste and were not packing the meaty flavour we'd hoped for; the mashed potatoes were delightful nonetheless. The salmon lasagne, however, was our favourite. Perfectly cooked and loaded with creamy béchamel sauce, the dish was the best kind of rich, with the spinach adding a fresh flavour and colour. As for the salmon, it was generous, fresh, aromatic and incredibly moist.
For dessert, we ordered what turned out to be a mouth-watering almond chocolate tart (20LE). With multiple layers, including almond crust, custard and whipped cream, IKEA's tart will make you drool. The almond crust worked really well with the custard, the whipped cream lightened the sweetness and that last layer of melted Daim chocolate full of crunchy caramel almond bits was perfect; it was the best choice we made all day and we include the aformentioned shopping spree in that.
We also came across IKEA's fast food station selling shawerma and hot dogs; yes, we were full, but we couldn't possibly leave without having some chicken shawerma (11LE) on the go and a soft ice cream cone (5LE).
Served in Lebanese bread instead of the popular Syrian saj, the chicken was full of flavours; the garlic mayo was light and worked really well with the pickled cucumbers, while we loved how the lettuce gave the overall taste a fresh element. The ice cream cone, meanwhile, was creamy smooth, creamy and the consistency was perfect.
Perhaps the lack of authentic Swedish dishes – especially with the appetisers – was rather disappointing but overall, eating at IKEA's restaurant isn't as strange as many would have you believe; yes, you're essentially eating at a department store, but the prices are quite reasonable and the atmosphere is as quirky as the shop's reputation.
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.