Dining in Cairo has taken on a new sense of urgency in the revolutionary age. In the spirit of abiding by the curfew, last orders at many of Cairo’s dining establishments until recently were not much later than 10:30. This was a bit of a shock to diners and restaurants alike. 10:30 BR (before the revolution, that is) would often find restaurants still awaiting their first guests. Restaurants would often be packed the rest of the evening, with several rounds of diners seated into the wee hours of the morning.
While the expansion of the curfew to a more locally-appropriate time (2 am) has improved things, it continues to impact Cairo’s restaurants. During a recent foray downtown, when the curfew was still set at midnight and restaurants had to make do with only a single seating, we arrived at Le Bistro, a relatively new arrival on the downtown dining scene, at 10:30 to find the place bursting with activity, and hardly able to accommodate our (admittedly large and rather boisterous) group.
Accommodate us they did though, and the experience was a delightful surprise. Downtown has long been known for its fine local establishments (Gad, Abu Tarek, Felfela) as well as its faded, fusty, gloriously Cairo-ancien options (Estoril, Café Riche, the Greek and Italian clubs). But it’s hardly been the center for gastronomical innovation, at least up until now.
Le Bistro is tucked away on a quiet corner of Hoda Sharawy Street just off of Falaky Square. It therefore perfectly suggests itself for an evening that includes a stop by the cafe and bar Horreya. An ornate ironwork sign outside establishes Le Bistro's elegantly retro credentials. It consists of two sides, a pub and a restaurant. Both are stylishly designed; the pub plush and warm with deep reds and cozy tables; the restaurant more modern and sparse, adorned in elegant soft blue décor.
The service and menu are appealing. The menu replicates a French bistro experience: salads to start, fish, chicken or steak to follow, crepes, mousse, crèmes or profiteroles to finish. We brought with us an army of hungry diners and sampled widely off the menu. The salads are excellent; the hearty mains are not to be outdone. I particularly enjoyed my steak medallions served with sautéed vegetables, French fries and garlic butter. The cuts of meat are among the best available from local sources in town. I’ve never been much of a fan of those overly-elegant establishments that resort to imported beef. Le Bistro's steaks confirm there’s no reason why local supplies can’t be excellent.
Le Bistro provides yet another attractive alternative for the burgeoning downtown dining scene. One of our guests that evening has made it his business to try to usher in the renaissance of downtown Cairo. It’s a compelling vision. Imagine wandering the gloriously designed and constructed streets of Ismail’s European downtown elegantly restored and upgraded: passing galleries, offices, residences, cafes and restaurants as you go, unimpeded by the crush of cars along pedestrianized alleys. While this might appear a far-off vision, with the ongoing arrival of elegant establishments like Le Bistro, it’s a vision that could easily be attained.
Details: 8 Hoda Sharawy St., Downtown. Open from 11 am daily. Tel: 2392 7694. Dinner for two: under LE300.