Deep inside me is a voice that wants to sustain everything old-school about Cairo.
If I have the choice, I’ll choose Downtown over City Stars, Groppi over Cilantro. In the realm of pubs, I’d much rather bask in the fusty, fading glories of Horreya or Pub 28 over the myriad of flashier options around town like Tamarai or 35. When it comes to restaurants, give me Abu Tareq or Rifai over Asiatique any day.
While Cairo has never been known as a destination of choice for fondue aficionados, whenever I’ve had a craving for it, I’ve
visited old haunts, including one Swiss restaurant where the fondue is good or the Swiss Club in Agouza, where the mildly toxic-looking mixture with the consistency of paraffin leaves much to be desired.
But the commitment to old-school is by definition a tad sentimental, and is therefore able to overlook such shortcomings.
As a result, when I approached the new addition to Maadi’s dining scene, Little Swiss, offering fondue of various shapes and sizes, raclette, and other traditional German/Swiss delicacies, I was bristling with skepticism.
Little Swiss is new, and everything charming in Cairo is, by definition, old. Little Swiss is clean and neat, with the attractive, if kitschy, décor theme of cows, right down to the cow-chimed cuckoo clock that rather disturbingly moos in your ear every half hour and the rather uncomfortably upright moo-upholstered chairs. Everyone knows that charming things in Cairo are dirty, shabby, and generally past their prime.
The waiting brigade at Little Swiss is efficient and friendly, yet everyone knows that the members of staff at old-school places are surly and inattentive.
My reserve softened somewhat when I discovered the rather interesting story behind Little Swiss’ creation. In a spot formerly occupied by the British restaurant, The Nook, (are we surprised that British cuisine can’t find a dedicated following here in the spicy East?), Little Swiss is the brainchild of a Swiss gastro-entrepreneur, chef and manager couple, Charlotte and Hans Peter, who recently relocated to Egypt.
Remembering an enjoyable stay in Cairo decades ago, they decided to return to spread the good news of melted cheese to the city’s uninitiated. Little Swiss’ clientele seem to be regulars, many of whom chat amiably with Charlotte during one of her regular trips around the restaurant ensuring that everyone was content, and able to use the rather intimidating cooking equipment that accompanies the meal to your table.
The menu is limited, dried and sliced meats to start; fondue, raclette or grilled meats for mains; and chocolate fondue or ice cream to finish. But I presume if you’ve read this far, then chances are you have one of these in mind.
The starters are OK, no better than what you could find at an upscale market. The fondue is excellent, all imported cheese blended into just the right mixture. If you’ve ever tried making fondue at home, you’ll know this can be a challenge.
The grilled meat, chicken, beef and sausage are on offer, is decent if unspectacular, but it’s fun to cook your own on the portable grill brought to the table. The table next door ordered the raclette, not the European-style machine where you peel away the drippings from a heated block of cheese, but a series of individual ladles where you soften cheese before eating under a grill and they looked quite content.
A friend of mine mentioned that Little Swiss would make the perfect “first date” restaurant, as there’s plenty of fidgeting in the food preparation to keep you occupied if the conversation lulls.
If you still have the energy for one more round of do-it-yourself gastronomy, then it is possible that Little Swiss has saved the best for last, at least according to my pregnant wife, who was in the midst of a serious chocolate craving.
The chocolate fondue comes in two choices, Toblerone or dark chocolate, into which you dip a range of fruits and sweets. We went with the Toblerone, and in between the bowl’s fairly rapid descent from full to finger-licked clean, I learned an important maxim: never come between a pregnant lady with a sharp implement in her hand and a bowl of delicious chocolate.
Little Swiss is a solid, if a tad expensive, option for high-quality European style fondue. It may not be the best place for kids, on account of the heated cooking infrastructure that arrives at the table. It’s open for dinner four nights a week.
Details: 21, Rd. 254, Maadi; 2519 7655/016 850 2236. Open Wednesday to Saturday from 5pm-midnight; open for private functions outside of these times. No alcohol. Dinner for two: LE325. Reservations accepted.