Pier 88: Gouna Landmark Finds a Perfect Second Home in Cairo
Imperial Boat, Saray El Gezirah St.
If you’re an iconic dining spot like Pier 88 and you’ve made your mark over the years as one of the best – if not the best – restaurant in Gouna, comparisons will be inevitable when you open up a branch in Cairo. And so this reviewer spent doing just that for most of the night at the new branch located on the third floor of the Imperial Boat in Zamalek.
Having opened in May of this year, Pier 88 has just the design and layout you’d expect from a spot that has long attracted the pomp and flash in Gouna: dark walls and floors, sedated metal fixtures and an open kitchen bar in the centre of the space flanked by hues of black marble and muted copper. The venue is more spacious than its Gouna counterpart, easily seating a hundred on the low tables surrounding the bar, in addition to the high seats at the bar and two long balconies on either side providing outdoor dining.
As expected, the clientele was a mixture of old heavyweights smoking cigars and talking business, and young, trendy kids who seemed half the night posing for selfies and snapchats behind us – you know you’re getting old when this bothers you. The music was an upbeat playlist of old-school r&b and dance pop, which built up towards the end of the night and had people shaking and dancing in their seats. Just like its Gouna counterpart, you come for the food but stay for the dancing.
But enough about the place. Let’s get to the food. Yes, the menu is slightly different from Gouna, with different pasta dishes and the Pilpil shrimps served without their trademark garlic sauce, but other than that, our familiar and favourite dishes were all there.
For starters, we ordered the beef tartare (140LE) and the salmon carpaccio (130LE), which we washed down with a rather sweet Pier 88 cocktail (130LE) and an excellently sharp Fashion gin and tonic (130LE), which was mixed with juniper and a hint of rose petals.
The beef tartare was excellent, though its portion was remarkably tiny: served in three kobeba-sized mounds and blended with a mustard sauce that was deliciously tangy but a little overwhelming.
The salmon was a wrong choice of an order: although so thinly sliced it was more like a sauce than a carpaccio slice, the fish was overpowered by the salty olive tapenade garnished on top. We immediately had food envy when we saw a plate of beef carpaccio being prepared, and decided to opt for the beef instead next time – that is, if we can afford a next time.
For our mains, we had the risottino carnaroli (150LE) and the 250gm local beef fillet (230LE) served medium rare with a side of vegetables and potato wedges.
First, let’s start with the bad bits. We’ve always loved Pier 88’s fillet, so we were disappointed when ours arrived without seasoning and a flavourless Café de Paris butter, which didn’t have enough herbs to give the fillet the kick it needed. Also, the potato wedges were lukewarm and barely crunchy; they’d clearly been made hours ago and then pre-heated, which really didn’t win any points with us seeing as we’re sitting in front of an open kitchen and can see how easy it would be to make fresh wedges right before our eyes.
Now to the good news: the risotto was gorgeous – the kind of gorgeous you want to take home to meet your parents and plan your future with. Made with a lobster bisque and topped with a delicious foam, the risotto had traces of indecipherable herbs that made our palates tingle with excitement. Neither heavy nor excessively seasoned, it had the perfect lightness matched with the deliciously cooked lobster cubes.
Rounding up our pleasant evening, we went for gold and ordered the tortino al cioccolato (75LE) and the panna cotta (95LE), as well as an amaretto sour (120LE) and a chocolate bon bon cocktail (120LE).
Beautifully presented, our desserts were more like works of art, though we were slightly disappointed with the chocolate soufflé, which was cooked with too much egg and not enough chocolate. Our pana cotta was very interesting though, once again laced with traces of spices (we’re guessing nutmeg) and served in small cubes with homemade marshmallows, raspberries and cookie crumble. We weren’t expecting the marshmallow, so we liked how the dish defied our expectations but was still pleasant to experience.
Last of all, the amaretto sour was perfectly bitter, though we couldn’t taste the orange bitters, and the chocolate bon bon – a cocktail of Bailey’s and several other chocolate concoctions – was diluted by a lot of milk and water, making it a decent milkshake, but definitely not the delicious chocolate drink you’d expect.
For two starters, two mains, two desserts and four drinks each for a party of two, we paid a total of 1600LE, including service and tax, making one of the most expensive meals we’ve had in Cairo to date.
By far, the best thing about the new Pier 88 is its atmosphere and layout: this is the kind of restaurant you’d celebrate your birthday at or bring your significant other for a very important date. It’s the kind of place that makes you want to put red lipstick on and dress up for; we both left happy and vowing to come back for some celebratory experience, but at 1600LE (minimum charge is 400LE per person) for two, we can’t afford to come dine here on a regular basis.
And while we’re on the subject of inevitable comparisons, veterans of the Gouna branch may find faults with the Cairo one, but we have to hand it to them for their great atmosphere, décor, service and presentation.