Going it alone
Nyier Abdou chills in more ways than one
Cairo's hipsters would have known better on a chilly Monday evening, when I invited my unwitting companion to dinner at the Nile Hilton's enduring hotspot, High Heels. Under the cover of darkness, the spacious seating in the hotel courtyard serves as a twinkling garden-cum-lounge, but, clearly designed with warmer days in mind, the arrangement provides little in the way of shelter from the cold.
Low couches rim more traditional patio seating, making it easy to transform the place from stylish outdoor dining by day to a pulsing rave atmosphere by night -- something that proved popular last month, when the venue hosted Lebanese DJ Said Murad. On Monday, however, the restaurant was dead empty -- outdoor space heaters would go a long way here.
The international menu is heavy on starters, lending itself to drinks and munchies. We began with the smoked duck spring rolls with sweet chili dip and "High Heels" Caesar salad. Other combinations sounded intriguing, if not disturbing -- smoked salmon on ta'miya cakes with greens; grilled haloumi cheese with figs and balsamic reduction; "hearty" beef goulash soup. The spring rolls proved sizeable and crunchy, if stringy with the duck. The salad, while a bit bland, was crisp and inspiringly served with tasty shrimp cakes (supposedly Thai, but by what criteria, I'm not so sure).
Presentation was impeccable, though the industrial paint used on the tables makes them more than just noticeably sticky -- we found ourselves marvelling at the indentations one can make with one's bare fingers, let alone the utensils available. (Silent aside: never commit a crime here, your fingerprints are indelibly marked on the spot.)
As we waited for the main courses, conversation was hampered by the distance between us. Sitting back comfortably in the lounge chairs means having to yell across the table. If it is this hard when the place is empty, I can only imagine what it's like when it's hopping and the music is loud. That said, lounging in this modish setting is nothing to sniff at in itself. Well known lounge music, such as the Gotan Project and other ambient world numbers -- of which Murad's "Arab trance" is one favourite -- haunts this dark and decadent space, with its ice-blue lit bar and minimalist hanging lamps, intimating a sense of secret debauchery.
Well displayed on square, Asian-style plates, our main courses were impressive (if somewhat cold after the trip from kitchen to table). The grilled beef fillet with herb butter, served with a side of grilled vegetables, was thick, succulent and served as ordered: medium rare. However hard you tried, however, you could not locate a steak knife. The spinach and ricotta ravioli were piled invitingly in the bowl, nestled into dollops of chunky, fresh tomato sauce and parmesan. The thick, house-made pasta was perfectly al dente, but like the spring rolls, mean with the filling. And as I leaned in the tassels of my scarf, unfortunately, would keep sticking to the paint on the table -- an unpleasant distraction. A small survey of the surroundings revealed this to be a common problem.
Dessert, while pleasant enough, is not High Heel's forte. The chocolate brownies with chocolate chunks, served without adornment, looked lonely and dry on the plate. They were nothing to shout about and might have come straight from a coffee-shop shelf, where they were wrapped in plastic. The warm apple strudel with vanilla sauce was more inviting -- the pastry flaky, the sauce drizzling just so -- but it too turned out to be on the dry side.
High Heels is a feat of chic, modern design; it manages to make part of an open hotel courtyard -- just a stone's throw from the pool and the back entrance to the Hilton's shopping annex -- feel like a private club space. As a venue for lazy lunches or weekend excursions, seekers of fine music and drinks will also find solid food and a hip atmosphere. If you're looking for an excuse to snuggle up to your date and not be seen doing so, a wintry weeknight may be just the thing. This being the Hilton, however, don't think it comes cheap. Dinner for two came in at LE260.
High Heels, Nile Hilton Hotel, Tahrir Square; Tel. 578 0666/0444 ext.284 - Open every day from 11.30am to 2.00am.