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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.
With so few restaurants in Cairo offering a consistent balance of good fod and good atmosphere, any restaurants that threatens to do so is music to Cairo 360 ears. The latest competitor in Heliopolis is Firestone; one of three restaurants, including Byblos and Rossini, situated in a small food court of sorts on the quiet Omar Ebn El Khatab Street.
Firestone specialises in wood fired pizza, but also serves a range of soups, salads and pastas, as well as a selection of limited main course options.
The food court itself is rather elegant, utilising a small make-shift waterfall and plenty of greenery. With a dominantly white and reddish-pink colour scheme and mostly plastic and glass furniture, Firestone is both aesthetically and physically comfortable, though the atmosphere could have done without the pop music playlist.
With drinks and dessert menus already on the table, the waiter handed us a larger, one page menu containing all the food. First, there’s the pizza section, ranging between 50LE and 70LE with additional toppings ranging between 10LE and 20LE.
From the appetiser options, we went for fried meat balls (38LE), The four balls served were fried in a batter and came with a barbeque sauce. The meat itself was rather bland, through the seasoning was pleasingly sharp and gave it a tang.
From the pizza menu, we opted for a Diavola Pizza, made with grilled sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms and fresh tomato sauce (58LE). The pizza was very decent in size and the fresh ingredients tasted excellent, but the edges of the pizza were burnt from the wood oven, hurting the presentation and adding a scent of burnt dough.
From the main courses, we chose the Firestone Fillet (84 LE); a grilled beef fillet with mushroom sauce and spicy capers, in addition to sides of sautéed vegetables and potato wedges. This was probably Firestone’s best dish, and well worthy of holding the restaurant’s name. A generous portion of tender, fresh and cooked-exactly-as-ordered meat topped with an untraditional mushroom sauce with capers that was ingeniously put together and surprisingly tasty.
The dessert menu contains very standard international menu options, except for one; the Gelato Al Forno (32 LE) – ice cream served on a warm, freshly baked cake covered in a layer of biscotti and stuffed with fresh fruit. While it was extremely generous in portion, enough to feed 2-3 people, it was also extremely sweet, so be warned if you don’t have that strong a sweet tooth.
The service was great, the food was delicious and quickly served, the restaurant was extremely clean and the waiters didn’t hover, making themselves available only when needed. You won’t find any the next steps of culinary evolution at Firestone, but you certainly won’t leave disappointed.