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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.
Despite Egypt’s maniacal love for pizza, it’s still – along with many other Italian specialities – one of the most consistently mistreated dishes amongst Cairo restaurants. In fairness, though, the last few years has seen a rise in pizza specialists – Pizza Mia, Vinny’s Pizzeria, et al – that have tried valiantly, with wavering success, to bring authenticity to it.
The latest to try its hand at the pizza game is delivery-only Pizzinia. After stumbling across its modest, and slightly crude, Facebook page, perusing the menus revealed that the Maadi-based kitchen also churns out traditional pastas as well as some unusual and acutely non-Italian items like Chicken-Shrimp Cajun and Mexican Chicken pastas.
The pizzas come in three sizes; we opted for a Large BBQ Chicken Pizza (40LE), as well as a Chicken Alfredo Pasta (27LE). We were told the food would arrive in twenty minutes – a rather ambitious promise by any standard. As expected, it didn’t arrive in twenty minutes, but thirty – which in fairness is still pretty fast.
The food arrived very neatly wrapped and in practical packaging. The pasta was served in a compartmented box that has separate areas for the pasta, extra sauce and pieces of garlic bread, which comes as standard with all pasta orders.
The Chicken Alfredo Pasta, topped with slices of chicken breast, parmesan cheese, mushrooms and cream sauce, was quite delicious. The portion of chicken was generous, seasoned perfectly and cooked well, while the amount of cheese was proportionate to the rest of the food. Our only problem was the sauce was a bit scarce, as well as being thin and watery.
The BBQ Chicken Pizza, topped with chicken, bell peppers, olives, mozzarella cheese, BBQ sauce and a special Pizzinia marinara sauce, tasted every bit as good as it looked. With an authentic, thin crust and a consistent layer of delicious, molten cheese, the combination of flavours was a simple one, but a satisfying one nonetheless.
While the very notion of BBQ Chicken leans more towards American-style rather than authentic Italian, Pizzinia can still lay claim to making the misleadingly simple dough-sauce-cheese combo that is pizza. The prices are pretty reasonable, the delivery time is fast and the staff are pleasant and efficient over the phone – they even called after the food was delivered to make sure was ok, welcoming our comment about the pasta sauce.