Al-Ahram Weekly Online   21 - 27 October 2010
Issue No. 1020
Living
 
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Restaurant review:

Lovers in the lobby

Gamal Nkrumah notes that only simpletons would dissent from the maxim that atmosphere is more important than food

"The dominant ideas of every age are the ideas of its ruling class," Karl Marx mused. And, at Atrium, one is reminded that Marx was right.

I shouldn't tell you this, but a lick-smacking treat of chocolate raspberry mousse or chocolate tart with earl grey mousseline awaits you at Atrium, Conrad Hotel. For something less highfalutin, a classic opera cake or a doughnut will do.

At Atrium the philosophy is simplicity. It is a foyer, after all. The presentation displays a passionate approach to the dish, no matter how simple it is.

Atrium is no novel stated concept of chic. In the evenings, the Gulf Arab sheikhs drop in -- some bedecked in their traditional headgear, billowing snow-white garments and sandals filling the air with their captivating fragrance of frankincense.

Cocktail dresses vie for attention with extravagantly embroidered One Thousand and One Nights-inspired capes. Tuxedos and taffetas competing with eye- catching Chinese silk drapery, not exactly subtle, make a powerful case for classical music.

On the dark stage, lit with chimerical rose lighting, a pianist appears out of the blue, like a science laboratory for experimental music.

The cake arrives. The cake means many things at once, each of which deepens the drama of the design- friendly setting. To create a gourmet cake, at such a time of the year, requires a great deal of patience. The air is sticky outside; inside the air conditioner feels somewhat cool. Still the whiff of hot air outside makes you feel like the oven is a pit in the ground beneath your feet.

The cake on offer is a different proposition, however. It is alluring and matches the savvy atmosphere to perfection.

The creamy colour and nutty flavour are unmatched. They give mousseline a whole new meaning. You feel that you are under the spell of a sorcerer. The fruit are like meltable lumps of heaven.

At any rate, the atmosphere at Atrium seems to be mesmeric, flown in from fairyland. This season, however, renditions of Nilotic scenes dominate the setting.

Over a slightly disappointing dish, I could not help but notice that on the stroke of two o'clock, my date disembarks from her BMW. I wave and she comes over, with the air of someone throwing all caution to the wind.

The sorbet was as smooth as a 20-year-old scotch. Non-alcoholic, it nevertheless oozes an enervating perfume. It is a brew designed to lengthen the outdoor season. Though the décor value of old- fashioned French windows as focal points have long been acknowledged, as people the world over have wanted some way to lengthen summertime, a brief hiatus in October beckons. An Indian summer of sorts shows off clean lines and sophisticated shapes utilising stylish materials such as galvanised stainless steel. The River Nile sparkles in faint hues of silver and sterling. It gives insight into the world of smart Cairo cafés and a welcome relief from the heat and the dust outside.

Zamalek across the river, the island suburb's light- filled streets, glistens in the midday haze. There is not much choice of a delectable at the Atrium. This is not to say that food does not matter. But ambiance becomes the place in a façade of stainless steel and glass. A cake, some tea, coffee -- something soothing, something sweet -- softens the contemporary aesthetic.

Sacher tart, coffee walnut cake, cherry strudel and chocolate galore. And my companion reaches out for a piece of chocolate mousse. The tart is tart, but she does not flinch.

Atrium

Conrad Cairo

1191 Corniche Al-Nil

Tel: 2580 8000

Lunch for two: LE250

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