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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.
In the few and far moments when Cairo's weather is both sunny and breezy, there's nothing better than dining outside. One of most popular spots to do exactly that in also happens to have an excellent Nile view; Maadi’s the Platform.
Having worked our way through almost all of the cafes and restaurants there, La Pietra was beckoning. While enjoying good weather and a great view is a plus that all the Platform venues enjoy, it also brings a lot of traffic and, more often than not, the Platform is packed. Service time is generally slow and you may end up changing which restaurant you’re going to eat at rather than wait for a table to clear up.
The outdoor decor in the Platform is almost universal across the venues. At La Pietra, simple yet elegant dark cushioned chairs and glass-top tables suit the general ambiance of the Platform quite well.
We browsed through the menu and opted for the Mushroom Soup (22LE), Chicken with Honey and Mustard (56LE) and Beef Escalope (75LE) - all of which we were really made to wait for.
It took thirty minutes to serve the soup and it arrived cold - cold enough, in fact, to send back. In fairness, however, once re-heated, the soup was actually better than most efforts across Cairo's restaurants, being extremely dense in ground mushrooms rather than just cream.
About fifteen minutes later, our main courses were served. The Chicken with Honey and Mustard is a dish we’ve previously tried before, and thankfully, they didn’t shatter our good memory of it. The dish was hot, the chicken was tender and the sauce was brilliant and deep in flavour. The fluffy side of rice was particular tasty with the sauce and the smooth mashed potatoes with sharp spring onions completed the ensemble.
The Beef Escalope, served with a creamy mushroom sauce and sides of pasta with tomato sauce and French fries, was equally as successful and this reviewer would have no qualms in recommending it to anyone. The generous strip of beef was well marinated, cooked right and coated with a crunchy breading. Dipping it in the rich sauce was the cherry on top. The side of farfalle pasta with red sauce was without fault but unspectacular, almost forgettable and futile, and the French fries were pleasingly crispy.
Cold soup and slow service aside, La Pietra's food is as good as any other’s at the Platform and manages to do something that few restaurants around Cairo do - keep things simple.