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New Cairo, Cairo, Egypt.
Vapiano: Global Serve-Yourself Italian Restaurant Chain at Cairo Festival City
With over 150 branches around the world, German restaurant chain, Vapiano, arrived in Cairo in July of last year with the promise of authentic Italian food and its unique, trademark ambiance.
As a concept, Vapiano stands out with a novel smart card system; a serve-yourself approach where you're given a card that keeps track of your orders and saves you the trouble of asking for the bill.
As soon as we entered, a friendly host greeted us and explained how to use the smart card as we took in the restaurant's four main stations serving pizza, pasta, salads and desserts.
Vapiano's menu is divided into three categories 'Vapiano Della Casa' – offering the restaurant's specials- 'Classico Italiano' –a selection of classics from the Italian kitchen – and 'International Inspired' – Vapiano's picks from various international cuisines.
After some thinking, we decided to opt for some of Vapiano's specials; with Insalata Al Funghi (55LE) as an appetiser, Pesto Rosso (Italian for red pesto) Pasta – (55LE) with additional chicken (18LE) and Pesto Con Spinaci Pizza (60LE) with additional Scampi (27LE) as our mains.
Roasted on the grill, our warm Insalata Al Funghi salad had an earthy flavour, thanks to the three types of mushrooms used, which in turn were complemented by the sweetness of the onion and the corn, as well as the smokiness of the beef bacon. The lamb's lettuce – also known as corn salad – cherry tomatoes and radish, on the other hand, gave the dish a brighter, zingier taste that was made complete by a perfect slice of Grana Padano cheese. Overall, it's a must try, considering the concept of a warm salad is quite unfamiliar across the Cairo dining scene.
The pesto rosso, meanwhile, was excellent, though not perfect. Sprinkled with roasted pine nuts and tender well-seasoned chicken cubes and infused with homemade sundried tomatoes with a hint of spicy flavour, our pesto rosso was delicious; only the dish needed more tomato flavour, in spite of the generous amount of cherry tomatoes.
We were also expecting big things from the pizza and we weren't disappointed. Boasting a chewy and crispy crust with puffy edges, the creamy pesto sauce worked perfectly with the fresh baby spinach, scampi and marinated tomatoes, which all came together to form one of the best pizza's we;ve tried in some time.
With barely enough room for anything more, our last stop was at the desserts station, where we opted for a simple Crema Di Gragola (40LE). Served in a cup full of homemade mascarpone cream – which had perfect consistency and just the right amount of sugar – slices of strawberry that added freshness and fruity flavours that worked perfectly with the richness of the mascarpone cream; overall, it was exceptionally creamy, but still somehow light.
Even though the restaurant's serve-yourself concept might be a little inconvenient for some, we there was little to complain about at the time of our visit. The food was fresh, excellent in quality and who doesn't enjoy watching chefs in action?
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.