A piece of Napa in Cairo

Fairmont Hotels, a recent arrival on the Cairo 5-star hotel scene, has already had an impact on Cairo dining through its hotel in Heliopolis, with several well-received dining options. With its second local location now preparing to open, closer to downtown in the Nile City Towers along the Boulaq corniche, Fairmont is planning to extend its impact on Cairo’s dining scene.

The hotel sits in a beautiful location, river side north of downtown, looking back across the river toward Zamalek. The style of the hotel’s interior is grand to monumental, and three massive statues reminiscent of the famous Easter Island prehistoric statues greet you as you walk in.

The hotel is only partially open at the moment; it’s had a “soft opening,” with the full opening planned for March. Of the four restaurants ultimately planned, one is currently operational, the Napa Grill, serving, appropriately, a modern American/northern Californian menu. Hotel Executive Chef Matthew Gilbert is on the scene overseeing the process.

Walking into the Napa Grill on the mezzanine level, the first thing you’ll notice is the silence. Through the windows you watch the crowded street flow past, amplified by party boats plying along the river. By experience you know it should be making quite a racket, but no noise makes it through what must be impressively thick windows.

The interior is well done, as one would expect at the upper-end of the luxury continuum. The décor is stylish to modern, with tasteful red vases set back in mini alcoves along the walls. The place settings are hip, capped by elegantly tall wine glasses. I came ready to expect a world-class list. While many global wines are available, including many wines native to California, the California selection was a bit underwhelming, highlighting lots of lower-end Mondavi, though we did try an excellent Pinot Noir from New Zealand.

The menu provides a bold view onto contemporary Californian cuisine: lots of cuts of meats, including fish, steak, chicken, lamb chops, and duck; fresh grilled vegetables, including plenty of avocado; a big robust wine list. To start with, we tried the ceviche (a citrus-marinated seafood dish originating from the coast of Peru – or American/Latin American twist on feseekh), and vaguely oriental pot stickers. The ceviche was a noble attempt, nicely spiced, but the fish didn’t quite have the slowly pickled taste of great ceviche. The pot stickers were superb.
For the main course, we tried the lamb chops, which were wonderful, ample cuts cooked to perfection, nicely charred on the outside and served with excellent grilled vegetables in olive oil. We also tried the duck breast, which was good but not great – an excellent piece of meat cooked well, if not imaginatively. Another in our group tried the hamour, which was a bit disappointing. Sensing our displeasure, the well-trained wait staff, unbidden, quickly produced an alternate selection of grilled sea bass, which was perfect: flaky white fish, cooked simply, to perfection.
We were on our way to a movie at the next door Nile City Towers, and ran out of time for dessert, though the soft-centered chocolate cake sounded good. Napa Grill is an excellent new arrival, serving quality cuts of meat, with excellent service and preparation. We look forward to seeing what else the hotel has to offer.

Details: Fairmont Nile City, Nile City Towers, Corniche El Nil, Ramlet Beaulac. 02 2461 9494;; Dinner for two LE600-800.

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