The Marriott's treat riott's treat
Walk into a Japanese restaurant with a difference
Fresh food, friendly service in a dark and romantic setting -- the indescribable combination is absolutely enchanting. You step in and immediately you are acutely conscious that Torii lives up to its reputation as one of Cairo's highest-rated sushi hotspots. Mind you, the teriyaki is excellent, too.
An intense whirl of happiness stirred inside me upon entering, the memory of my last trip to Japan still fresh in my mind. And, I most certainly felt quite at home in a restaurant where ozeki karakuchi sake, served warm, is the digestif du jour. Of course, there is kenbishi sake, served cold. And, at LE40 a bottle, Japan's world famous Asahi beer is available, even though you can also guzzle down the local Stella -- but somehow they don't quite go with the Japanese ambiance. There were few concrete reminders of Japan, though.
Torii, which I am told by a Japanese friend, means a type of traditional Japanese gate, is a tastefully-decorated and ornate upmarket eatery. The place doesn't have the crisp, spare look of traditional Japanese restaurants. Torii, which opened in December 2004, is among the classiest of Japanese restaurants in Cairo today. The overwhelming feel is that of masculine brown and burnt sienna, overlooking the simply breathtaking panoramic views of the Nile. After a long day of frolicking in parks and gardens, my two sons were raring for a Japanese treat. Normally, I wouldn't take them to such a posh restaurant for fear that they might wreak havoc. But, I thought I'll take the risk. And they, in turn, were on their very best behaviour. Even my fastidious younger son loved the Japanese delicacies on offer. As for my elder son, he hungrily gulped everything down.
The presentation of the food was fine, and very Japanese. Or so it seemed to be. But in some ways, Torii appeared to be a Japanese restaurant for Egyptians. Indeed, most of the patrons on the evening we visited the restaurant were not necessarily Japanese. Torii is far from being a strictly- speaking authentic Japanese eatery actually. We were served the very Egyptian mint tea, instead of Japanese green tea, for instance.
In any case, authenticity hardly mattered for my boys. The steamed rice was promptly pronounced "too bland" and "not fluffy enough". They proceeded to pour all sorts of sauces to make it palatable. Not a particularly mouth-watering concoction, I thought to myself, but they dug in all the same.
I, myself, like a sauce with a bit of bite to it. However, I am rather suspicious when the food at a Japanese restaurant is not prepared by a native Japanese. In the case of Torii, Japanese master chef Masato Toida who was the restaurant's first chef, left the country last year. And the cooking was left to his successor, the Filippino chef, Marcello. He is most certainly talented, because the restaurant does get busy and it is definitely worth booking in advance.
The sushi was exceptionally fresh, though. The sashimi was divine -- eel, (ebi) prawn, seabass, squid (ika), salmon and (maguro) tuna. Sadly, salmon eggs, (toro) fatty tuna, (tako) octupus and (saba) mackerel were not available that evening. My favourite, though, was the most ethereal miso soup I have ever tasted in Egypt. Both innovative and authentic, it exuded heady fragrant bursts of garlic and was infused with strong hints of seafood. The seaweed swayed in the clear soup.
Judging from the clientelle, they were doing brisk business.
Smiling invitingly as they usher you in, the waitresses are especially friendly -- except for the prim headwaitress who was rather suspicious as I furiously took down notes. She came over rather skittishly and had the audacity to make enquiries about the nature of my scribblings. I smiled reassuringly at her interrogation. And tossed the rice with some sauce.
I glanced at the river's glistening blackness -- and somehow it didn't seem too foreign to the thought of Japanese food -- nigiri sushi, norimaki, rolled in dried seaweed -- on the banks of the Nile. In spite of the fact that it is quite pricey, I am looking forward to returning for another taste.
The Marriott, Zamalek
Tel: 735 8888
Dinner for Two: LE260