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Garden City, Cairo, Egypt.
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.
Founded in 1993, Cortigiano could well be considered a pioneer in Italian cuisine on Cairo’s restaurant scene. While there are other more, what you might consider, authentic Italian restaurants around these days, its versatile menu – anchored by several Italian classics – has cemented its position as a go-to favourite for a date night, or a friends/family outing during the weekend.
Cortigiano has preserved a rustic Italian ambiance throughout the years in all of its branches; brick walls, old metallic utensils, dim lighting and cosy atmosphere – none more so than at its Heliopolis branch.
Going through the menu during out last visit, we opted for Salmone Affumicato E Gamberi (83.93LE) as an appetiser – platter of smoked salmon with capers, shredded lettuce, slices of tomatoes, boiled shrimps smothered in shrimp cocktail sauce. The entire ensemble was full of bright, fresh flavours, but the amount of sauce overpowered, the shrimps and anything else you dipped into it.
Shortly after, our main courses arrived; Scaloppine Cordon Bleu (89.95LE) and Casserolla Cortigiano (95.95LE).
Served as two veal steaks covered in mozzarella and tomatoes, and stuffed with cheese, mushrooms, and roast beef served, the cordon bleu was well-cooked, fried evenly, with oozing cheese and mushrooms inside. Overall, it had balanced flavours, but it needed an extra seasoning kick, the roast beef was barely discernible and the sautéed vegetables were poorly cut and undercooked.
Our second dish, unfortunately, fared worse. The Casseroula Cortigiano is essentially diced veal and beef, served in gravy and topped with mozazarella cheese – a fine combination on paper, but despite being generous in portion and overall being cooked well, there were no real standout flavours and it soon became very one-note.
Our choice for dessert was the Apple Tart (41.95LE), essentially a slice of pie stuffed with cinnamon-soaked apple pieces and accompanied with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Though we had expectations of a warm apple tart, the tart was cold and tasted noticeably un-fresh.
We’ve been to Cortigiano many times and, personally, will continue to do so, because we are, of course, creature of habit. You know what you’re getting when you go there, but can it still be considered one of the best Italian restaurants in the city? On this visit, no.