Egypt Independent

Saigon Bleu: French-Vietnamese Fusion

If it were up to me, I’d never dine in Cairo’s hotels.  Too often, the food is over-priced and under-spectacular, set in an under-inspiring ambience.  In seeking out the very best of Cairo’s dining options for our readers, however, I do often check my bias in the lobby, and seek out quality hotel dining options in Cairo’s hotels.  With a very few exceptions, including the Bird Cage in the Intercon, or Kababji at the Sofitel, the results are usually disappointing.
A trip to the recently opened Saigon Bleu at the Fairmont Nile City did nothing to change my views.  As a testament to French culinary imperialism of centuries past, Saigon aims itself at the junction of French and Asian cuisine.  In many ways, it’s a success: the menu is sharp and innovative, and much of the food aims ambitiously at cross-culinary fusion.  The results are often as pleasant as they are starling: bananas with pigeon anyone?   The décor is modern and stylish.  The views across the Nile onto Zamalek are beautiful.  The staff are attentive and well-trained.
But the place does nothing to differentiate itself from the myriad of other tolerably innovative and tasty, yet horrendously overpriced hotel options around town.  First of all, the place is empty.  We went on a Thursday night, hardly an idle day on Cairo’s social calendar, and we had the place to ourselves apart from a lonely Gulf sheikh picking at food, not sure what to make of the kaleidoscope of tastes that came his way.  Saigon lacks a pulse, a vibe, and an edge that would distinguish itself over its rivals around town.
The food is good, often very good, but rarely spectacular.  Then there’s the price.  We brought along our own wine.  They charged LE150 just to open our bottles.  I completely understand corkage fees, but I’ve never seen anything over LE50, even at wonderful restaurants around town.  LE150 seems insulting.  Our group was large enough to justify three bottles.  Our investment in corkage fees alone could have provided a glorious afternoon at Andrea for a much larger group.
Lest you think me a stingy curmudgeon, let me say this: I have no problem paying for quality.  On my honeymoon, I spent hundreds of dollars for a basic lunch at a glorious restaurant overlooking the harbor in Portofino, and it would have been cheap at twice the price.  I am also entirely content eating for ten pounds in Abu Tareq, and have yet to fine a mahalibiya to compete with theirs.  For me, the important thing is value.  And places like Saigon Bleu, while serving up perfectly reasonable food, are a terrible value compared with other dining options around town.
On our visit there, we started with chicken and mushroom crepes (good though unspectacular), mango and asparagus spring rolls (delicious), banana flowers with pigeon breast (bold and decent), ravioli with goat cheese (interesting) and crab salad (excellent).  We continued with fried duck (underwhelming), scallops (tasty yet undistinguished), grilled prawns, and a Vietnamese version of Pad Thai (stick with the version at the Bird Cage).  Desserts were decent, though not a game changer.
If you’re looking for ambitious, upscale, decent food, and don’t mind putting a dent in the family inheritance, Saigon Bleu could be a good option.  But don’t go out of your way to get there.  Stop by on a whim; I’m sure you won’t need reservations.
Details: Fairmont Nile City Towers, Corniche El Nil, Ramlet Beulac.  Open daily 11am to midnight.  Tel: 02 2246 9494.  Dinner for two: approaches LE1000.