Now that you've RSVPed all your Ramadan invitations and your family and friends have already passed by your house for an iftar or souhor, its time to enjoy the holy month in the outdoors. Its time to treat yourself to the joys of an iftar meal that is cooked–and cleaned up–by someone else.
Bab al-Nil at the Fairmont Nile City, although off the map of my usual trips around Cairo, caught my attention with their pop icon ad campaign featuring photos of punk-dressed Um Kalthoom and green-haired Abdel Halim Hafez. The campaign drew my curiosity and reminded me most of downtown's Scheherazade Bar, which has portraits of famous belly-dancers photo-shopped to look like they hired the stylist for KISS.
While booking my table at Bab al-Nil, I voiced my concern that iftar-ing outdoors in this weather would be a less than enjoyable experience, but the guy on the phone assured me that the place was well-ventilated–and I reluctantly took his word for it. From now on, I will give people more credit; the restaurant is equipped with a number of enormous fans all across the dining area that overlooks the Nile, and the shadow of the Nile Tower shaded the area from the sun. The open buffet is strategically placed indoors to protect it from any elements of the weather.
As I was ushered to my table by a lovely hostess in a traditional galabeya, I couldn’t help but notice the huge lounges overlooking the Nile, designed in a way to make them look like small living rooms, each equipped with a plasma TV screen–the perfect private enclaves for people wanting to spend an extra couple of hours with after-iftar-time chitchatting. Or the people who want to pull an all-nighter in the beautiful place, while enjoying some hit TV series, amazing shisha, and the company of friends until souhor.
Minutes before the Maghreb prayer calling, glasses of different Ramadan drinks were passed around the tables according to the preferences of the diners. I wasn’t too impressed by the drinks, especially the Tamer Hindi which had too much sugar, and wished for better luck with the food menu. My wish was granted as I started exploring the open buffet.
The starters table was filled with traditional and nontraditional items. Cheese Atayef, Kobayba and a number of spreads and dips were presented side by side with sushi bites, spring rolls and cheese salads in a catchy, inviting way. Fatoush and Taboulah were a highlight; and while I was curious about the rest of the salad bar (which includes all kinds of strange and unmatchable choices), I decided to save those items for the next round. But after I saw the main dishes, I completely forgot about them.
I’m a big fan of Italian food, and the pasta bar in Bab al-Nil did not catch my attention. The pasta seemed to be made hours ago and I did not want to try something reheated, especially since the table next was filled with all kinds of different main dishes. The fish and chicken entrees, resting atop small stoves and garnished with lots of sauce and perfectly cooked vegetables, were interesting. Be sure to not miss the lamb rump–located indoors under a heating light–which was delicious and easily devoured.
I made the mistake, however, of being one of the first people to hit the grill table outside, which offers Kofta, Shish Taouk and Shawerma and other grilled items. The meat was cold and chewy–not a delightful experience.
The dessert bar was definitely the best part of my night at Bab al-Nil. Separated into three tables, the first one offered all kind of fruit cuts, including coconuts, peaches and apples. The second one was dedicated to traditional and Eastern desserts such as Konafa and Basbousa and, finally, you get to the Western usual mini desserts that include all kinds of fruit tarts, some chocolate cakes and creme caramel.
Be sneaky, however, and ask your waiter to bring you one of the Um Ali from the kitchen. The Egyptian dessert, which is by far not one of my favorites, managed to convert me into an Um Ali enthusiast with its perfect mixture of nuts and milk.
And Bab al-Nil is ideal for the after-Iftar food coma. Just lay down in the beautiful lounge and order your pick of the shisha. Then let your worries slide away into the Nile as you sip on your Turkish coffee or mint-flavored tea. What more can you ask from the world?
This little heaven of yours will cost you LE 188++ per person, excluding the shisha fee of LE 25.
Address: Cornishe al-Nil, Fairmont hotel.
Phone number: 02-24619494