Sandwiches, Eco-Building & the Endless Pursuit for Perfection: Khalid Khalil & Alaa Sharshar on Bistro No. 10
Sitting pretty on Maadi’s Road 256, Bistro No. 10 has slowly been carving quite the reputation for itself. Having opened in May of this year, what seemed like a modest, unsuspecting eatery against the one of the leafiest, calmest streets has revealed itself to be so much more – and even one of Cairo 360’s most discerning reviewers couldn’t help but be impressed by the unique flavour-combinations that have come to define the sandwich specialist.
“As you might have noticed,” reads the review, “the word ‘flavours’ has been used a lot; but that’s what it’s all about at Bistro No. 10. Every sandwich we tried had one or more ingredients that made us question its inclusion – but every single one worked.”
But what has come thus far has been but a precursor of what co-owners, Khalid Khalil and Alaa Sharshar, have had planned. Sharing both passion and experience in the field between them, this is very much a labour of love; everything about the restaurant, from the branding, design and social media marketing, to the menu and recipes, has been conceived and achieved by the two.
You might be thinking, well that’s all fine and dandy, and new restaurants and concepts are flooding Cairo’s ever-growing restaurant scene on the regular. But it’s just as much about how Bistro No. 10 has come to be formed of Khalil’s and Sharshar’s visions that all but cement its position as one of the best new restaurants of 2017.
“The pillars on which Bistro No. 10 is built on is adhering to the highest standard possible when it comes to the quality of our ingredients and introducing creative, flavour-matching recipes that are new to the scene, in addition to full attentiveness and professionalism to our customers,” Khalil says quite hardheartedly .
Though Khalil might lack the first-hand experience that former The Vegan Kitchen co-owner, Sharshar, might have, his journey to Bistro No. 10 has been a long, winding one that has had a few twists and turns.
“From 2012, I became more and more impressed with some of the new food concepts coming into Cairo and evaluating the business models that revolved around some of these great new businesses. I guess since then, I started subconsciously preparing myself to do something in the field.”
Though this led Khalil to explore food more, it was, ironically, his aversion to some foods that really changed his outlook.
“I developed food allergies and intolerances which propelled me to largely depend on myself to satisfy my appreciation for good food. Even though I had to eliminate many things from my diet I was also introduced to a whole new array of foods. With that came a new found appreciation for using clean top quality ingredients and the art of flavour matching.”
From there on, it seemed inevitable that he would do something in the F&B field and when he and Sharshar hit it off, things became serious.
“Khalid and I first became friends back when I owned The Vegan Kitchen,” Sharshar recalls. “We connected instantly over our shared passion for healthy food and fine dining, but little did we know that this would be the same bond that would bring us together for Bistro No. 10. When the idea first came to me, I shared my thoughts with several friends, but Khalid was the only one that met my culinary ideas with enthusiasm rather than scepticism, and even matched my innovations with plenty of impressive ones of his own!”
Both men point to an unexpected chemistry when recalling how Bistro No. 10 first came to be; Khalil recalls a chance meeting between the two at a mutual friend’s farewell party and what could have been a throwaway conversation turned out to be the foundations for Bistro No. 10.
While they both had their own visions, there was one thing that they both agreed on, as Sharshar explains.
“One of the most important lessons I have learned from my experience with The Vegan Kitchen,” he says unflinchingly, “is using premium and organic ingredients. When it comes to the quality of ingredients used there should be no compromise. I like to think of it like building a large structure. The better the materials used, the stronger it will be. With cooking, the same rules apply.”
This is one of the foundations of Bistro No. 10; the restaurant’s salad ingredients are sourced from Makar Farms, fresh, non-frozen, locally-sourced chicken is used and their premium selection of meats are imported – even the French fries are imported, too.
“Since flavour-matching is a big component of the Bistro No. 10 philosophy and is a delicate task,” Khalil says, “ensuring that we get the cleanest and freshest ingredients helps us in achieving this feature.”
Khalil is eager to point to the meaning of Bistro No. 10’s name; you’d think that it’s a name of convenience, since they are located at number ten on Road 256 – but in fact, what made this particular name stand out on the shortlist is that both men feel it represents its 10-out-of-10 – it’s a 10, which again feeds into the philosophy of using only the most premium ingredients and providing the best of service.
This base of thought also extends to other elements of the restaurant and makes good use of Sharshar’s other passion – eco-building. Sharshar’s experience has helped instil an environmentally friendly element into Bistro No. 10’s identity
“Environmental conservation has always been an important part of my values,” he explains. “So naturally I like to apply what I can to my own life and business in terms of giving back to the environment. The restaurant has all natural clay tiles for the floor, Alexandrian lime-based plaster for the walls as to avoid the unnecessary use of cement, LED lighting where applicable, the majority of our plants are native to arid zones and therefore have low watering requirements, and all our furniture is built out of recycled pallet wood. It may not seem like much to some people, but it’s the small things that make a difference. We have to start somewhere.”
The devil is, of course, in the details and Bistro No. 10 even incorporate cacti in its tables, using the low water consumption plant for air purification. It’s a philosophy that’s reflected in the kitchen, too.
“Being decadent doesn’t mean that you should be wasteful,” Khalil says assertively, pointing to the fact that the sandwiches at Bistro No. 10 are served on simple wooden boards and butter paper, again as part of its efforts to be as environmentally efficient as possible.
Eco-building, by its nature, is an ongoing process and, as a whole, Bistro No. 10 hasn’t stood still since its opening – Khalil and Sharshar aren’t the kind of guys that rest on their laurels.
“I learned so much about the ins and outs of running a restaurant, as well as a business in general,” Sharshar says of The Vegan Kitchen. “The biggest lesson worth mentioning is actually quiet cliché, but you really have to experience it for yourself to really understand it – ‘When you fall off the horse, you get back on again’. It’s OK to not succeed, as long as you walk away from your failure with a lesson well learned and even more motivated and driven than before. No lessons in life come for free.”
Failure might be a harsh word to use looking back at The Vegan Kitchen considering it was a two-time Cairo 360 Editors’ Choice Award winner and a key player in raising awareness of vegan diets; but Sharshar, together with Khalil, has looked at it as a building block for bigger and better things to come, channelling that into an approach that has, in a short few months, seen them continue to make adjustments and additions to the menu in an endless search for perfection, despite wide acclaim and positive feedback from customers.
“Our menu changes are mainly tweaks and us just filling in loose ends for our grand opening,” Khalil explains. “We also plan to roll out two new sandwiches to the menu.”
“The Catch No. 10 which is our new sea food addition,” Sharshar jumps in almost giddily, as his inner foodie kicks-in. “Deep fried fish fillet on a bed of arugula, topped with caramelised onion and sautéed mushrooms, then drizzled in a creamy goat labneh sauce and thyme infused olive oil.”
The twosome are also excited to mention a new, range of gluten, dairy and sugar free desserts on the menu, too, which will be sourced from popular local brand, Baked. What the future holds is yet to be seen and Khalil and Sharshar are wise enough to keep their feet firmly on the ground. They understand the potential bumps in the road.
“Although, if it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it is a great motto,” Khalil admits, “We’re always striving to grow and provide the best service we can to our customers. If it ain’t broke, why not make it better?”