Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
7 - 13 September 2000
Issue No. 498
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Issues navigation Current Issue Previous Issue Back Issues

 
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Almost like New York

By Injy El-Kashef

If you're planning an illicit rendez-vous, stay away from La Bodega. You will almost surely bump into at least a couple of friends who will make sure all of Cairo knows about it before the week is over. Indeed, there is no telling who you are more likely to encounter. In a very pleasant and refreshing way, you cannot put La Bodega in a box. It is neither old nor young, neither local nor foreign, crème de la crème or bottom of the pit, formal or casual. It is all of the above. A bit like New York: everything and everyone is represented, creating a rich and layered social atmosphere that one may find fascinating to observe from one's dinner table. We know we did.

Speaking of dinner, reservation is a must, especially on week-ends. No reservation, no dinner; no dinner, no joy. Some of the dishes on that menu are so enticing you can almost see them fluttering their eye lashes at you. They are not pretentious, merely sophisticated, and you are faced with a case of embarras du choix if you do not reach a decision quickly. Just order, and don't turn back or you'll never make it. One of the many many waiters floating about in their white aprons lit our candle and took our order in the most casual, pleasant manner. The waiters are very cool, their attitudes a little movie-like, taking dance steps between customers with a sweet sense of humour, not a forced training programme.

One should mention, however, that at times one senses slight discomfort due to the vigilant effort of men in dark suits, discreetly but noticeably eyeing every table, walking back and forth to ensure the prevalence of law and order -- or so it seemed. They make you feel something may go wrong at any moment, which is exciting, though also unnerving.

Now for the food. We started with chicken pâté and foie gras with Dijon mustard, fried onions and pickles on toast, and quails with hazelnuts Asian style. These did their job perfectly, as testified by the eagerness with which we awaited our main courses.

The quail was boneless, spiced with ginger and soy sauce, and utterly delicious on its bed of shredded vegetables. The foie gras was good, but I've tasted better, quite honestly. What lacked was that deep taste that sticks to the palate and goes up to the nostrils from the back way. This version stayed at the front, deliciously, yes, but controllably so. What followed was my beef fillet, which was perfect. Well done at La Bodega means cooked inside and out, not, as in many other places, burnt outside and raw inside. The meat was more tender than your mother on your first birthday, and the sautéed vegetables were savoured with an imposing garlic butter. The mushroom sauce was not thick and béchamel- like, but thin and almost invisible, with nice mushroom chunks sitting on the fillet. My friend's Algerian couscous with lamb was recommended by the chef: a huge plate of couscous topped with chickpeas and, in a separate bowl, a real leg of mouton in a rich vegetable soup. The sight was alarming. "Are you sure you can handle this in public with dignity? Because I wouldn't." It went perfectly. The lamb was like butter; carving the piece was totally effortless. The taste, well, is still being described to friends on the phone as I write this review. After our fantastic desserts (crème brulée and rice pudding) we joined friends at the bar, but as the crowds, the smoke and the volume were too much of a shock following the superb dinner for LE200, we preferred to call it an early evening.

La Bodega, 157 26 July St., Zamalek. Tel. 7356761/0543

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