La Gondola: Quiet Italian Cuisine in Heliopolis
Sonesta Hotel, Tower & Casino Cairo
noon - midnight
Located in the quiet Sonesta Hotel Tower
& Casino in Heliopolis, La Gondola is an Italian restaurant that seems like
your standard hotel dining outlet at first glance. However, the restaurant does
offer freshly made and light Italian cuisine; a nice change from the usual oil-
and cream-heavy Italian restaurants that we often meet in Cairo.
Located in a sunny corner of the hotel, the
restaurant’s ceiling is covered in gazebo fabric, and the large windows overlook
a wall of plants. The tables are decked out in lightly coloured cloths and
spaciously arranged with their bamboo chairs. Towards the end of the room is a
counter in front of a semi-open kitchen, where you can glimpse the cooks at
work, while another corner holds a small keyboard piano and a mic that
threaten a live music act at any moment.
After taking your order, the waiter brings
a bread basket of assorted bread rolls, a tall vase of different breadsticks,
and a plate of three serving bowls of black olive paste, tomato dip and shaved
cheese. The black olive paste was sharp and the tomato dip was fresh, a pleasant
combination with the fennel-seed bread.
For appetisers, we selected the beef Carpaccio
with oyster mushrooms and parmesan shavings on a bed of rocket (55LE), the
mixed salad (25LE) and the buffalo mozzarella salad (45LE). The mixed salad was
exceptionally fresh but arrived without any dressing, so we made do with the
table’s olive oil and balsamic vinegar bottles. The beef Carpaccio came without
oyster mushrooms and was a little too raw for our liking, but tasted better
with a dash of balsamic (yes, this reviewer likes balsamic). The buffalo
mozzarella salad was definitely the best appetiser, with the freshest
mozzarella that we’ve tasted in Cairo perched on top of tomato slices with a
nice dusting of almond flakes.
For a main course, the lasagna (65LE) was a
filling and tasty dish with a thick tomato sauce, but it could have been better
with a stronger cheese, as the parmesan was barely discernable. The beef fillet
(115LE) arrived medium-well as per our request with a side of roasted
vegetables including baby potatoes. The accompanying pepper sauce had an appropriately
thick and peppery texture, though their mushroom sauce was little too watery. The ossobucco di vitello (115LE), pan-seared salmon with grilled
vegetables (115LE) and pizzas are among the dishes recommended by regulars.
For dessert, the restaurant offers a
selection of Italian staples, including the ever-present tiramisu, as well as a fruit
platter (30LE) and a selection of cheeses (45LE) to go with your post-dinner
drink, including hot and cold coffee options such as the Italian coffee with
amaretto coffee cream (55LE) or the cappuccino (18LE). Alcoholic beverages are
also available, including cognac, brandy and liqueurs, with a glass of
Courvoisier selling for 65LE while a glass of Tia Maria sells for 42LE.
Feeling boring, we opted for the tiramisu
(35LE), which came from the Fauchon café next-door. Presented in a chocolate
bowl, the tiramisu tasted sweet and smooth with its layer of coffee dust, but
was a little watery at its base. A side scoop of vanilla ice cream was lapped
up with the drizzle of raspberry sauce on the side, though neither went
particularly well with the tiramisu itself.
Though it’s not the most elaborate or
delicious Italian meal you’ll ever have in Cairo, La Gondola must be commended
for its impeccably fresh ingredients, and delicious cuisine that has a homemade
quality to it.