Alfi Bek: Eighty Year-Old Downtown Cairo Restaurant Still Has Some Magic
There’s nothing Cairo 360 loves more than a restaurant with a history and a story. Located on El Alfi Street in Downtown Cairo, this gem dates back to 1938 and is as much a historical monument as it was a hub for writers, politicians, artists and scientists.
Founded by Abdel Kawi Abd Rabbo, Alfi Bek was featured in Al Ahram newspaper’s 12th December 1938 edition – Al Ahram only consisted of a single page then – and was praised for its profound ability to attract the finest of social classes within only a month of its opening, because of its delicious food, excellent service and general cleanliness.
Today, the restaurant is still a family run business and is now under the watchful eye of Abdel Kawi Abd Rabo grandson. Having been passed downthrough generations, the restaurant still maintains the same charm and the staff continues to deliver this fine service. It’s because of this that we couldn’t help but feel a twinge of sadness at how few customers visit what was once popular and lively dining spot.
Upon entering Alfi Bek, through the large glass doors, we were greeted with glittering chandeliers hovering over a grand space filled with neatly set-up tables and walls decorated with Oriental tapestries and paintings of old Egyptian scenes. At the far end of the restaurant, you can find the aforementioned framed newspaper page featuring the picture of the restaurant when it first opened.
The waiters, who were dressed in old-fashioned red waistcoats over white shirts, were a delight; they recommended items from the menu and informed us of the most popular dishes and finest meats.
For appetisers, we opted for one Yoghurt Salad (7LE) plus a plate of Cheese Sambousak (15LE). For our mains, we went for a portion of Rice and Meat (13LE) and a quarter kilo of Kofta (30LE). Additionally, we ordered for an order of Dolma (15LE).
Served first, we found the Yoghurt Salad to be light, creamy and rather refreshing, though unfortunately, the Cheese Sambousak was actually a little on the dry side.
Meanwhile, the portion of Rice and Meat was quite small; the meat mixed with red sauce was tangy and flavoursome, although heavy on the stomach. If you are to order this dish, ordering a second dish beside it is recommended.
We had no such complaints – or complaints of any sort, in fact – with the kofte. The large rolls, served on a bed of parsley, were succulent and oozed with flavour, thanks to its subtle seasoning and perfecting frilling. In addition, the slight sourness of the vine leaves mixed with the mildness of the rice mixture inside was just perfect, making the Dolma also a success.
Dinner at Alfi Bek is definitely a pleasant experience when mixed with the history intertwined within it. The portions may appear small but the heavy ingredients filled our stomach leaving little room for complaint. As a whole, the spirit of the restaurant hasn’t changed all that much – and it needn’t. This paricular brand of of nostalgia is quickly disappearing from Cairo.