Imagine the scene. You walk up to the elegant display, with fresh baked breads overflowing from wicker baskets behind the counter. While pulling loaves directly from the oven, the nattily dressed pastry chefs expertly describe the various breads they offer. The restaurant manager, a rather dashing young woman in a moderately revealing gown, stands by attentively. Unable to make up your mind, the elegant manageress selects a few piping hot mini-loaves, of the same varieties you are considering buying, fresh from the oven for you to try. Tasting them one by one, you realize that the quality of the bread is on par with the service. Hooked, you buy them all.
Is such impeccable service an imaginary scene? Could it have taken place in Beirut, long-known for its service culture? Perhaps such service could only be found in America, where the customer is king. Certainly it couldn’t have taken place in Cairo, where restaurant patrons grow accustomed to fending for themselves, even in a room full of waiters.
Wrong on all counts. This level of service is now available in Cairo, at the newly opened Blackstone Bistro behind the Sofitel Hotel in Maadi. Egypt, never known for its high-quality service culture, is clearly making strides. Now, lest I mislead you dear reader, Blackstone is not all success on this front. With more waiters than tables, diners are still left to wait for things that should already have been brought. Otherwise an extremely family friendly place, with the main floor of the restaurant dedicated no-smoking, they still weren’t able to produce a child’s high chair. But clearly, at Blackstone, there’s an emphasis on quality that will delight and surprise local patrons.
The emphasis on quality is also apparent in the wonderful décor–wooden ceiling beams, modern comfortable chairs, pictures of old Egypt adorning the walls. The menu is replete with fresh interpretations of the American bistro experience. We sampled off the brunch menu, and thus delved into only the first few pages of a menu that weighs in more like a book. The latter pages are entirely promising, filled with exceptional sounding treats like grilled ahi tuna, flatbread sandwiches, unusual veggie pizzas. But these pages I’ll have to leave up to you to discover.
What we sampled ranged from good to great. The eggs benedict were superb, perhaps the best I’ve ever tasted. The herb-crusted potatoes and grilled tomato which accompanied the dish were flawless. We also tried the burger and the pancakes–both very solid. However, if you’re serving up American food in Maadi, you cannot help but draw comparisons with the much loved Lucille’s. And while coming close to Lucille’s on both counts–an impressive compliment in itself–neither the burger nor the pancakes quite achieved the rapturous splendor offered at that veritable American institution over on Road 9. The burger at Blackstone came in a ciabatta bun, which was an injustice to the tender patty inside; the pancakes, while gloriously fluffy, are a bit dry. The meal was accompanied by home-made fresh breads–on all accounts, these were excellent.
There is much else to recommend about the place. The American style filter coffee was excellent. This is a rarity in Egypt. Restaurants here seem to be comfortable with espresso, or Turkish coffee, but they rarely totally nail down the more watery American version. This may be the reason why the place is so popular with the expat community in the mornings. Following our meal, we had to be very disciplined to still find room for some dessert afterward. But we managed our way through a fruit tart, which was delicious. The take out breads and muffins are also recommended.
Blackstone has been open for a couple of months now, and I’ve been hearing about it from every direction. As a result, expectations were high, and I’m happy to report that Blackstone delivered. Blackstone is part of an ambitious Egyptian restaurant group titled, rather unusually, SJZ Lions. A second Blackstone branch is opening in Zamalek in the coming weeks, and a steak house and coffee shop are also in the planning stages.
Blackstone is not the first place I’ve seen to open with a zing. For now, it is clearly an exceptional dining experience. The challenge for management will be maintaining quality, especially when several other restaurants under the same brand are also competing for attention.
Details: 4 Ali El Kordy St., behind Sofitel Maadi, Tel: 2528 1661. Open daily 8am to midnight. Brunch for two: under LE200. Alcohol served.