O.Liv.O: Charming Pizzeria & Bar in Zamalek
20 Taha Hussein St., (inside the New President Hotel)
Certain types of food are often – and almost systematically – corrupted in kitchens across Cairo restaurants, with that seemingly simple thing called a pizza suffering more than most. The eternal, and often unfruitful, quest for authentic pizza in Cairo has seen a rise in restaurants claiming to offer the real deal, with the latest being O.Liv.O in Zamalek – which also doubles up as a bar.
Located at the New President Hotel on Taha Hussein Street, the restaurant is almost hidden but for a sign above a white door to the left of the entry to neighbouring watering hole and sister venue, Bar D’O. There are no windows to peak through – the windows that do exist are frosted and obscured by greenery outside – and it adds to what is a pleasantly secluded dining experience.
If O.Liv.O is going for authenticity, it’s not reflected in the interior – and it needn’t be.
Instead, O.Liv.O. is a pastiche of different visual quirks. Andalusian-style tiling coats the bar behind which the brick-oven is placed and various pieces of contemporary art hang from the walls; the music at the time of our visit, meanwhile, swayed between Spanish and jazz covers – it was a little too loud for the hushed colours and lighting.
Seating across the small space is divided between long high-tables for larger groups, with a couple of smaller tables able to accommodate groups of four or less, giving the place the feel of a bar more than a restaurant – the influence of Bar D’O is evident.
Aiming to recreate the classic Neapolitan style of pizza, what comes out of O.Liv.O’s brick-oven certainly looks the part. Unfortunately, at the time of our visit, the pizza was riddled with small imperfections, the most affective of which was the sauce; although pleasingly plentiful, it was too salty. This was a particular problem with the pizza bufala (75LE); despite being topped generously with arugula (of the big-leafed, local variety) and cherry tomatoes, the saline sauce dominated the otherwise rich mozzarella – maybe an extra pinch of sugar during the sauce cooking process would have helped to neutralise it a little.
The same comments can be applied to the bresaola pizza (85LE), too. The imported bresaola – a cured beef – was draped in generous strips across the pizza alongside cherry tomatoes, arugula and (a little) basil. Though the combination of flavours is excellent on paper, the bresaola itself was lacking its subtle sweet and musty tang. To the kitchen's credit, though, the base is well made and surprisingly light.
Bar-wise, we’re told that Bar D’O’s popular cocktails will slowly but surely make their way over and the evening called for a pitcher of ‘Nigeria’ (210LE); white wine, white rum and pineapple juice, with plenty of sliced fruit, a la sangria – but, confusingly, it’s not a Nigerian Chapman, which is our Nigerian brethren’s version of sangria. Call it what you will, once again the influence of Bar D’O is evident; after a brief moment of confusion and a staff team huddle behind the bar, the pitcher was quickly made, delivered to our table and then very quickly devoured. Heavy on the rum and wine, it was a refreshing and lighter alternative to red wine-based sangria.
Of the concise dessert options, the lemon sorbet with limoncello (50LE) is the most intriguing. Unfortunately, however, it bore little resemblance to sorbet and was more like crystallised ice cream. Served in a tall Martini glass, the portion is small but suitably sized and its saving grace was that it was full of flavour; truth be told, it was eaten up all the same.
O.Liv.O is a welcome addition to Cairo and has certainly succeeded in riling up Cairo diners. The pizza is by no means offensive, and actually makes for a decent bar snack, but behind the posturing, the pizza ends up almost as a side-note to what is an overall novel venue.