Egypt Independent

Sequoia: Is the darling of Zamalek diners worth the hype?



Reviewing Sequoia, a bastion of Zamalek’s dining scene, presents a problem. It has been endlessly reviewed in the past, in some cases by the world’s most talented writers. As members of the international press establishment struggle with their detailed and erudite analyses of revolutionary progress and regional politics, often, as a change of pace, they wish to write something a bit more light and fun on Cairo’s social life. Invariably Sequoia ends up on their itinerary, and a restaurant review is often the result.

If you travel to this perfectly poised restaurant, located on a delightful promontory at the northern tip of Zamalek, surrounded on all sides by the lapping waters of the Nile, you cannot avoid noticing these reviews, prominently displayed throughout the restaurant’s walls, as if daring patrons to think ill of the place when the cream of the international press corps has sung its praises.  

So, what is there still to say about this place, when outlets as prestigious as the New York Times, the Times of London, Lonely Planet, even British Airways have already concluded that the place is fantastic? Sequoia’s domestic critics are no less enthusiastic. Its management even makes available a press kit, from which the accompanying picture is taken, to promote good coverage. Relentlessly popular, Sequoia continues to attract a hip crowd of locals and expats. But is worth the hype?

The secret of Sequoia’s success is unlikely to be found on the drinks or food menu. Sequoia serves up a representative, though undistinguished, array of Egyptian and Mediterranean dishes. The food is by no means awful; however it does give one pause paying LE40 for hommous that is tastier at Gad, or LE45 for a shawarma better done on your local street corner. Having said that, the breads are fresh and tasty, and they do serve up a few unique dishes, like a molokheya with chicken dramatically served in a steaming cauldron with a ladle. Sushi lovers can now order Mori sushi as well.

Then there’s the price. With a LE150 minimum charge on the weekends, LE125 on weekdays, Sequoia represents a sizeable investment. If you throw in shisha and several courses, you’ll find that this amount is easy to reach or exceed. 

Mediocre food, prohibitively priced, but consistently popular; what are we missing? The answer is the ambience. In the ambience department, Sequoia is second to none. With its delicious Nile-side location, the cool evening breeze wafting off the river, the muted thwakety-thwak of Luxor bound trains rumbling over the steel bridge in the distance, the sparkling lights of the Nile towers shimmering across the river, comfortable, discrete dining corners, soaring white canvas sails fluttering picturesquely overhead providing shade to the diners below … the secret of Sequoia’s success lies in the overall deliciousness of the dining experience. 

 
This proves that to be truly great, a restaurant need only do one thing supremely well. Sequoia’s service is good not great; its food is adequate though undistinguished. Yet its ambience is superb. As such, it’s a runaway success. Beautifully located, well designed, elegantly poised; Sequoia will likely continue as one of Cairo’s destinations of choice for a significant slice of Cairo’s well-heeled local and expatriate dining set.
 
Details: 57 Abu El Feda St., Zamalek; 02 2735 0014; www.sequoiaonline.net. Expect to pay at least the cover charge (LE150/120 per person weekend/weekdays) if you’re eating. Fun brunches are available on Friday and Saturday mornings.