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Bella: Cairo’s Corporate-Cosy Brunch
Lunching at the Four Seasons Nile Plaza’s resident Italian restaurant Bella almost feels like dining in New York's posh Upper East Side. The hotel restaurant emanates a feeling of crisp business luxury, with grand dining chairs, banquet decor and glass table tops. This is the sort of restaurant where a bottle of Aquafina water is whisked to your table in a silver ice-bucket, like any distinguished bottle of white wine.
While hotel dining generally threatens to border on sterile, Bella is just charming enough to provide a refreshing lunch spot. The stunning Nile view gives the illusion that Cairo is nothing but scenic and serene, with a gently flowing river snaking through. The service is impeccable, though we were not partial to the Four Seasons uniform, which is reminiscent of 1950s stewardess attire without that vintage edge.
Bella offers a business lunch set menu for 175LE, which includes an antipasti, a main course and dessert. With added drinks and service charges, expect the set price to increase somewhat.
Starters include roasted eggplant and buffalo mozzarella served warm on a bed of baby greens. The Four Season's notoriously fresh ingredients, reportedly imported from select international markets, make for captivating flavours in even the simplest of dishes. The lightly cured mozzarella contrasts divinely with the tart greens and tangy sundried tomatoes. The bruschetta of fresh tomatoes is light but full of flavour, while the salads have varied greens of arugula, endives and spring lettuce, light olive oil dressing and garnishes of toasted pine nuts. The beef carpaccio is served in slices that are more substantial than usual, and the salt of the meat is balanced with a balsamic dressing.
Main courses offer a range of gnocchi, pastas, risottos and fillets. The heavenly honey-and-black-pepper-crusted salmon is cooked to perfection, with a brazed crisp exterior encasing the tender texture of the fish. The dish was accompanied by an impressive potato mille-feuille layered with tomatoes and eggplant. The New York steak was cooked to our medium-rare specifications, and marinated in rich sauce with a tasty side salad.
The coffee at Bella is excellent; the well-brewed espressos and cappuccinos prompted sighs of satisfaction around our table. With dessert, we encountered our first worry: the quartet of crème brûlée tasted oddly artificial; with a selection of vanilla, coffee, berry and pistachio crème brûlées, a few even sadly lacked the crisp brûlée surface, and instead were sub-par mousses. Our tastebuds were rescued by the chocolate molten cake, which was a dark chocolate enthusiast’s delight, while the panna cotta with berry ice cream hit the spot.
Bella brings lunch in Cairo to new heights by combining gourmet dining with casual dishes in a way that gives lunch among friends just the right among of sophistication without being stuffy.
Cairo isn't exactly an easy city to navigate, especially when trying to find a place in unfamiliar terrotory. Every now and then, you’ll see a random menu or neon sign that you haven’t seen before and you’ll either be instinctually intrigued, or completely put off.
In one such case, we came across a neon backlit sign that said Piccolo. Looking through the glass the restaurant had decent decor with cushioned chairs and plant pots with spotlights at the entrance. A waiter greeted us at the glass door and led us to an empty table, laid out the menus, and retreated. Upon inspecting the menus, which is heavy on Italian dishes.
Historically speaking, there have been many that have labelled themselves as an Italian restaurant, only to dissapoint; they don’t necessarily have to be high end to serve good pasta, but generally, the odds are against them because of how localised most of Italian cuisine has become.
The menu offers salads, sandwiches, pizzas, pastas, a few mains and desserts. We started with a Pollo Salad (22.50LE) and moved onto a Piccolo Pizza (42.5LE) and Piccolo Meal 1 (45LE) from the main courses.
The Pollo Salad featured grilled chicken, arugula, cucumbers and tomatoes with balsamic dressing; while the chicken was cooked and seasoned to decent flavour, the balsamic dressing, sadly, overpowered all other flavours, giving the arugula even more of an undesired kick.
The Piccolo Pizza, which is topped with salami, chicken, turkey and sausage plus vegetables, olives cheese and basil sauce, was very disorienting as a pizza. The crust was very thick, while the tomato sauce was minimal, with the cheese taking up most of the flavour. We appreciate the use of oregano, but it was more of a turkey and cheese sandwich than a pizza.
The Piccolo Meal 1 consists of a grilled chicken breast and pasta. We opted for their Napoli pasta which is simple spaghetti with tomato sauce, basil and oregano. The chicken breast was, one again cooked and seasoned well, but rather plain in taste. The pasta, on the other hand, was surprisingly better than we expected, albeit a little greasy. The use of oregano really adds to the complexity of a tomato sauce and the restaurant's use of both basil and oregano extends across much of the menu.
While the food, especially the pizza, could certainly use some revision, the venue is clean, the waiters attentive and the prices are very decent.