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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.
Located in Sheikh Zayed’s Tivoli Dome, La Pizza Alforno is another Cairo restaurant claiming to offer pizza at its most authentic. One of the other, slightly peculiar, reasons for the restaurant’s increasing popularity is the novel half-moon shaped pizza on offer.
Bringing Italian tradition to Tivoli Dome, Alforno's wooden chairs, wood-fired oven and stereotypically Italian, red and white tablecloths bring an air of authenticity to the place. While the venue is split into an outdoor and an indoor section, the indoor area seems a little tight in space. Taking precedence over seating, the wood-fired oven and pizza bar are placed proudly in the centre of the restaurant.
Despite directly overlooking the street, the outdoor area is much more spacious, and being located far from all the other cramped cafes, the restaurant benefits from a secluded, private ambience that you rarely get at these types of strip-mall-food-courts.
Our meal begun in pleasant style, when we were served a complimentary dish; three small slices of garlic bread, topped off with olive oil. Alongside the bread came two different dips – tuna and mayonnaise paste, and olive paste mixed with anchovies. Although this kept us busy while we waited for our appetiser, the traditionally salty olive paste and anchovies dip was just that little too bit salty.
We began our meal with the Insalata Di Racula (39LE); a mixture of green leaves, apples, walnuts and raspberry lime dressing. The Di Racula was simple and small in portion, making for a light and basic starter, before moving on to the main course.
As expected from a restaurant claiming to be authentically Italian, Alforno’s menu offers a variety of pizzas and pastas. We ordered the Alfredo Con Polo pasta (46LE) and the half-moon Funghi pizza (49LE). The pizza was immediately favoured over the pasta; while the Con Polo’s creamy mushroom sauce was lighter than most white sauces, the chicken was dry and over cooked.
On the other hand, the uniquely shaped half-moon Funghi pizza was crisp, boasted just the right amount and blend of cheese and a rich, homemade tomato sauce, all topped off with mushroom and infused with oregano.
While the dessert menu was full of inviting options, we decided to go for the Focaccia Alla Nutella (38LE). Baked with the same pizza dough and covered in Nutella chocolate, the simple, sweet dish was perfectly balanced in flavour thanks to a sensibly modest use of the rich chocolate spread.
Though the food was far from spectacular, La Pizza Alforno offer a creative, if superfluous, twist to their pizzas, complete with original homemade flavours in an authentic pizzeria atmosphere.