Saraya Gallery: Royal Dining at the Cairo Marriott Hotel in Zamalek
Cairo Marriott Hotel & Omar Khayyam Casino
When it comes to Cairo restaurants, the city’s hotels are usually safe bets for an evening of fine dining. Incorporating the original Palace Al Gezira into its design, the Cairo Marriott Hotel in Zamalek remains one of the most beautiful hotels in the capital. Built in 1869 by Khedive Ismail, and once used as a temporary home to many European monarchs, the intricate neo-classical architecture is still as breathtaking as it once was.
Saraya Gallery, a restaurant on the ground floor of the main palace building, is both impressive and dazzling with shining oriental chandeliers, giant golden mirrors, patterned wood wall panelling and intricate plaster work adorning the mile-high ceilings. Such a majestic setting brings on a sense of nostalgia and expectations of a meal fit for a king. Arriving in the evening, our dining experience was accompanied by the sound of soothing – and slightly romantic – live harp playing.
Soon after we were seated, the menus were delivered, and we ordered the chef’s recommendation of the French onion soup (45LE) for our starter, the 10oz certified black Angus New York sirloin steak (315LE), and the pasta e risotto Tuscany tour (130LE) – a dish that combined three pasta and one risotto preprations.
The drinks menu was vast, filled with an infinite variety of imported wines, liqueurs, whiskeys, spirits, cognacs, beer, cocktails and non-alcoholic concoctions. One red berry iced tea (28LE) was ordered, along with a couple of large glasses of Cape Bay white wine (105LE/each). The white wine was served chilled in two enormous wine glasses, whilst the red berry iced tea was slightly tasteless, but we were afforded the chance to sweeten it ourselves with a side of syrup.
To start, a complimentary bowl of delicious bread arrived alongside a butter dish. The food took a while to arrive, but all was forgiven when the plates were finally delivered underneath grand silver cloches.
The onion soup was covered with a thick layer of stringy cheese which we cut through to reach thinned, flavourful soup with sweet onion pieces and the soggy bread immersed at the bottom of the bowl. The steak, meanwhile, was a colossal piece of quality meat, and happened to be our favourite of the meals. It was perfectly cooked to our medium-rare specifications and the pepper sauce was well balanced, while the side of vegetables remained a little crunchy, but was lacking seasoning. Our second side of parmesan fries was also sub-standard; undercooked with a measly cheese topping.
In the creative four-pasta dish, the ravioli all’aragosta, penne all’arrabiata, spaghetti di mare, and the risotto del giorno were each unique, but some more delectable than others. The spaghetti di mare was positively al dente and sported a handful of tasty, fresh scallops and small shrimp, all rolled in a delicate tomato sauce. The penne all’arabiata, served with a generous amount of spicy tomato and basil sauce, was unfortunately undercooked, while the ravioli all’aragosta was vividly flavoured by pieces of lobster and baby shrimp. The risotto, meanwhile, was full of flavour, but the rice was slightly harder than we were expecting, which meant it didn’t hold together like most risottos. On a brighter note, though, the rich mushroom and cream flavour was quite moreish.
Overwhelmed by the fabulous sounding desserts, we ended our meal on a high note, ordering the chocolate croquant (70LE) to share. Despite the exotic promises of chocolate dacquoise, sable Breton and caramelised hazelnut, it was effectively a delicious log of milk chocolate mousse, with a filling of dark chocolate, covered in coco powder, with a side of scrumptious strawberry compote.
We’re not sure the quality of all the food entirely justifies some of the high prices; however, Saraya Gallery undoubtedly provides a magnificent setting for a formal dinner, hand in hand with some of the most professional waiters we’ve been lucky enough to encounter.