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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.
Hotels are notorious for housing some of the most high-end restaurants in Cairo and the Fairmont Heliopolis and Towers is no exception, housing an impressive 18 restaurants, bars and cafes, catering to every style of cuisine for discerning palettes.
Tucked away in the old Fairmont building, Leonardo’s dining area is placed in a small enclosure open to the hotel, but gated by indoor plants and clear plastic vases filled with fresh apples. Each table has delicate, glass place-settings stained in elegant peacock colors that were removed once we were seated. Returning with the menus, the waiter filled our glasses with chilled water and left us to our own devices with the strictly Italian menu.
The menu is easily navigated with sections marked for appetisers and soups, pizza, pasta andrisotto, seafood, meat, and of course desserts. Upon placing the complimentary breadsticks and tray of cheese pastries, the waiter patiently awaited our order while we struggled with pronouncing the names of our dishes.
To start, we selected the Penne Arrabbiata (85LE) and a Long Island Iced Tea (105LE). While waiting for our starter, we whetted our appetites with the savory cheese sambousak and mini quiches. Though a tad oily, the rich texture and salty interior of the turnovers quelled our rumbling stomachs just in time for the Penne’s arrival.
The pasta in our Penne Arrabbiata was cooked with a perfect al dente bite and was mixed in a light tomato and chili pepper sauce with a mild drizzle of pesto accenting the vivid red of the pasta beautifully. Incredibly spicy, the flavours were positively explosive and were highlighted by the intense kick of the peppers. The parmesan delivered alongside the dish helped to mute the heat of the sauce, as well as provide a savoury balance to offset the sweetness of the tomatoes. Presented in a tall glass, the Long Island Iced Tea was a powerful concoction that proved a little too strong for the casual constitution of the pasta.
Coming highly recommended by our enthusiastic waiter, we decided on the Seafood Risotto (160LE) from the mains section. Moving the decorative shrimp heads to the side of the plate revealed an aromatic mixture of creamy risotto bubbling in red sauce cooked with the delectable marine broth present in the dish. With pieces of shrimp, mussel, flakes of lobster and delicate white fish, every mouthful was a chewy delight of incredible textures and flavors from the sea.
Moving to dessert, a gorgeous Tiramisu (50LE) was presented in a cocktail glass and was layered with light cream, ladyfingers and rich chocolate espresso filling. Covered with a generous helping of powdered chocolate, the Tiramisu was a decadent ending to a very hearty meal.
Although prices are a bit steep, Leonardo provides great Italian dishes with rich flavors and generous portions which won’t have you walking away disappointed.