There are few words that insight as much fear, panic and a cringe than that of 'date'. Wanting to impress and the potential of friendzoning are just two of the many figurative snakes that can penetrate and slither in the mind, leaving you a nervous wreck ahead of that first, fateful date.
Across Cairo, however, there a select few places that can ease the inevitable rampant insecurities and neuroses, providing a great mix of atmosphere, food and other notable date-worthy features – leaving you to sit back and look lovingly into the eyes of your companion as you lie through your teeth so that you can impress him or her.
One of the more unlikely additions to the list comes in the form of cosy Zamalek bistro, Antique Khana. Don't expect a masterclass of dining – Antique Khana's appeal is owed to the sum of its parts. Said parts include its unique, nostalgic and casual atmosphere that makes it just as suitable for a cup of coffee rather than a full-out dinner date and the occasional live music to the backdrop of what is a casually rustic venue.
For a less stuffy and formal date, look no further than the colourful Barbacoa. Maadi's Mexican Grill has been a revelation since it opened and one revamp on, it stands as one of the more entertaining dining experience you can find in Cairo. That's not to say that you should expect entertainment – but the food, the atmosphere and the occasionally DJ-manned downstairs area all give the place an intangible energy – maybe better for a second or third date when things have got a bit more comfortable.
Born out of the ashes of another popular Zamalek lounge-come-restaurant, many had dismissed Beetroot as nothing more than a repackaged Lemon Tree & Co. Contrary to that, Beetroot has come to take on a personality of its own, with markedly different features than the Lemon Tree. With excellent food and subtle, décor that doesn't intrude on the hushed atmosphere and a comfy Nile-side location, it's one of the better date options in Zamalek.
The first of two entries on this list to be located at Cairo Capital Club in Garden City, this taperia is effortless in its combination of high-end and casual, offering classic Latin tapas favourites, as well as little touches from other cuisines on what is a concise but varied menu. Functioning as a bar as much as a restaurant, Dos Cañas has a light, airy atmosphere that is made spectacular by its stunning view.
Every list-article has to have an unlikely underdog and this one comes in the form of Downtown's Eish & Malh. There are only a handful of places in Wust El Balad that one could realistically consider to be date-appropriate, but this Italian bistro is a reminder that quality often comes from simplicity. There's an easy, casual sophistication about Eish & Malh that's hard to find in Cairo and the restaurant's specials are phenomenal – there's live jazz on weekends, too.
A classic in Zamalek, not much has changed over the years at La Trattoria – but then that's part of its charm. It's an almost no-frills kind-of restaurant that seems to have organically developed its own unique atmosphere – it feels like a restaurant with character, with history, all the while churning out some magnificent, often simple, dishes.
If your idea of a perfect date is lifted out of something from an episode of Sex & the City – sorry this writer is in his early thirties and doesn't have a more modern reference of a picture-perfect version of high-end New York nightlife – then Loft21 is as close as it gets. Sharing the same view as its Cairo Capital Club neighbor, Dos Canas, but with the added benefit of all-glass walls and a much bigger space, Loft21 is sleek, chic and the food will make you shriek – with joy, that is. In fact, it's vague allusions to a Manhattan bar make it an ideal date restaurant.
As possibly Fairmont Nile City's best restaurant, Saigon Restaurant & Lounge is often bundled in with other hotel lounges. While the regular live entertainment is what brings the crowds in, what keeps them coming back is the Saigon's kitchen. Taking on the usually vague concept of Asian fusion with creativity and pizzazz, this is as good a choice as anywhere for the full date-package – dinner, music, drinks.
When it first arrived on Cairo's dining scene, the Smokery in Katameya Heights was banded around a 'seafood specialist'. For a country that loves seafood, that's certainly not a bad thing, but the restaurant has come to be much more – specifically one of the best dining experiences in the capital. With Chef Vincent Guillou pulling strings as the restaurant's 'Consultant of Gastronomy', the Smokery offers great food, a great view of the endlessly green New 9 Clubhouse grounds and a perfect choice for a summer date.
It was going to take something special to replace the widely-loved La Bodega, but U Bistro might just have done it. As an institution of dining and nightlife on the island the late, great La Bodega held a nostalgic sophistication that harked back to an old-Egypt. U Bistro has gone its own route, of course, but the space – which is fantastic – hasn't lost any of that sophistication. Creative, high-end, gourmet – call it what you will, U Bistro's quality has been among the best for the last six months or so and is ideal for a quiet, chic date.
Check out more restaurant features and review on the Cairo 360 restaurant section.