Al-Ahram Weekly Online   10 - 16 January 2008
Issue No. 879
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Restaurant review:

Gamal Nkrumah

Marvel by the Nile

Gamal Nkrumah stumbles upon a restaurant reminiscent of the carousal of Anthony and Cleopatra

"Where is my serpent of old Nile?" So wondered Shakespeare, the immortal bard. I think I found it in Garden City. Overlooking the blue-black waters glistening with the reflections of the glitzy city lights, Aqua's location is awe-inspiring. The dark wood interior and deep green and blue hues accentuate the sumptuous surroundings of this remarkable restaurant. A word of caution, however, Aqua is an exorbitantly expensive eatery boasting goose liver galore.

Although Cairo has an immeasurable choice of five- star hotels and their restaurants, a friend and I decided to stop over at Aqua, the exquisite seafood restaurant at the Four Seasons Nile Plaza opposite the Grand Hyatt. Al-Borg and Samakmak, for instance, are traditional Egyptian fish chains serving typical fare from Port Said and Alexandria respectively. Beefy waiters that look more like well-knit aquanauts usher you in. Aqua is a very different kettle of fish. It certainly has a decidedly distinct ambiance -- one in which fusion cuisine predominates. You can savour futo maki, rolled steamed spinach, pickled radish, shitake mushrooms -- very Japanese. The asparagus inspiration with Asian touches and the rich seafood bisquebouille are typical of the fusion fish of Aqua, with a decidedly French accent.

Waitresses, rather than waiters, attend to your every beck and call. Our waitress fetched us the newspapers -- foreign and local. The edibles on offer are nothing if not absolutely stunning. The seared salmon fillet with foie gras is clearly French-inspired; the succulent fish cooked to perfection.

At Aqua, you will not come across run-of-the-mill traditional Egyptian fish dishes. I scanned the menu for at least one, but there was none. I opted for the unagi (sea eel) and foie gras with glazed soy and sweet ginger peach salsa -- a heavenly combination. My only complaint was that for such an expensive eatery, I expected the peach to be fresh as opposed to tinned. I gave the Alaskan crab tartar and lobster salad and avocado-mango dressing a miss.

The range of fancy hors d'oeuvres is astonishing; not so much because of the variety of dishes on offer, but rather because of the unusual combinations of Asian and French.

I would not risk the wild mushroom cappuccino with seared scallops wrapped in zucchini and stuffed with marjoram risotto, accompanied by -- yes, you have guessed correctly -- more foie gras.

Service is snappy and comes with a smile, helping us escape the vicissitudes of daily Cairene life. "My name is Mohamed and I am at your service," the Nubian waiter flashed a toothy smile.

Aqua is a far cry from the fabled Alexandrian and Port Saidi fish outlets. It is worlds apart. The fish at Aqua obviously exuded the gastronomic savoir-faire of the Nile Plaza's flashiest restaurants, with their sumptuous arrays of gourmet indulgences.

Fish were long my victuals of choice.

If you happen to be in sunny Garden City, Aqua is to be heartily recommended.

I would have preferred roesti potatoes, but then Aqua is no place to fish for toothsome roesti potatoes.

There are no greasy treats at Aqua. Thick-cut and well seasoned with a spicy combination of condiments, the chunky aubergine melted in the mouth like butter.

I toyed with the idea of John Dory with cashew nuts, roasted pears, onion confit and ginger saffron sauce.

And for those lobster aficionados, there is the Four Ways Lobster: lobster prepared in four different ways -- foamy bisque and truffle cream, warm ravioli tartar with cucumber and mint, tempura with spicy sauce and roasted lobster with vanilla creamy sauce. Far too rich for me, I reckoned.

Oozing charm and panache, the aquamarine ensemble highlighted by paintings of bright orange crustaceans, Aqua is surreal. The refreshing sparkling water winging its way to our thirsty palates was a perfect accompaniment to the eel. The final flourish was furnished by even more foie gras.

Four Seasons Nile Plaza
Garden City, Cairo
Dinner for two: LE450
Tel: 2791 6876

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