FoodLife & Style

Cellar Door: Good, not quite great, in Maadi

Food critics in Cairo spend a lot of time in the middle of the road. It’s not often that we get to sample truly exemplary tastes. Whereas food critics in Beirut or Istanbul may find themselves spending much of their time distinguishing the delectable from the merely exquisite, Cairo’s food critics have a much less glamorous calling, spending considerable energy distinguishing the good from the merely acceptable.

A lot of places we visit are perfectly acceptable, perhaps even good. The temptation, without the sense of perspective provided by quality dining options on a par with a place like Beirut, is to start confusing these places with excellence.

Maadi’s Cellar Door is case in point. It is perfectly decent. In places it approaches excellence. The location is good, the service is prompt, the menu interesting and varied, the selections fresh, the price right, the décor fun, and the food decent. If I hadn’t recently dined at the superb La Maison Blanche, I might even be tempted to say all kinds of effusive things about it. A friend of mine said that it was good for Maadi, but I thought that a bit mean and disingenuously promised not to say so in my review. However it does appear, perhaps surprisingly, that much of Cairo’s culinary innovation is passing Maadi by.

Cellar Door is tucked away on the “business” side of the metro tracks in Maadi. It is conveniently located next to the station; we commuted from downtown by metro to eat there. It reminded me of traveling up and down Manhattan to dine, and made me think, albeit fleetingly, that Cairo could be a functional mega-city after all, with its diverse neighborhoods connected by efficient and appropriate public transit links. Cellar Door is just around the corner from the excellent Thai restaurant Bua Khao, thus creating a mini “restaurant district.”

The menu is promising: a good range of salads, interesting starters, diverse and eclectic main courses, combining Indian with Indonesian with international. It’s tempting to claim that Cellar tries too hard to be too many things to too many people. Having said this, I ordered aggressively, sautéed scallops to start and Indonesian beef strips to continue, both of which were well, if not beautifully, done. My companion’s caprese salad was disappointing; a raw slice of local cheese on top of a slab of tomato and shredded baladi salad. But just as he was about to write off the restaurant completely, his lamb chops came out superbly.

The Cellar Door is a very good restaurant. While perhaps not justifying a monumental excursion, if you are looking to dine well in Maadi, it is certainly worth considering.

Details: Road 9, 151 or 100 El Horreya Sq., Maadi; Tel: 2359-8328. Dinner for two: LE300. Open daily, noon to 11pm.

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