Everybody loves cheese, but nobody loves cheese as much as one Sanabel Al-Najjar at the newly opened Fratelli la Bufala restaurant. You really can't top this love affair.
It’s a Wednesday, the weather outside is bloody gorgeous, and as I look outside the window interior of the office I envy the trees and their green leaves enjoying their freedom, as if rubbing it in my face. As I am trying to get as many words as I can out of my clustered brain before the end of the day, I find myself volunteering near the end of it to go and indulge at the exclusive opening of an Italian restaurant as part of my decision to discover every nook and cranky of this culture-overflowing city.
After many ‘Sanabel did you post it?’, ‘are the tweets ready?’ I then hurriedly grab a cab from the street heading to Cairo Festival City where the restaurant is located. I find it - it's the very last eatery by the dancing fountain. I finally read ‘Fratelli la Bufala’ and quickly walk down the stairs and jog towards it, fearing I might be late. As I walk in, I couldn’t help but feel a tad extra important as they opened the closed door after checking that I was ‘on the list’.
After setting down my gigantic backpack that felt so out of place from the Italian suburby feel of the restaurant, I finally got to just sit back and breathe, gathering my thoughts after a long stressful day. Instantly, the black densely-shelved unit with small little buckets with bread sticks and jars with lavender that caught my eye diluted the worries of the day. Just next to the corner was a food preparation station with a glass show area decorated with fresh vegetables and fruits.
Just as I was beginning to contemplate the earth oven, the organiser of the event came greeting me with a smiling face. As a (good) introduction to the restaurant, he tells me the story of the three brothers who, after the death of their father, came together to found the original Fratelli da Bufala in Italy.
The scent of freshly baked crust lures me in – again – as I turn around to find several Italian chefs kneading dough and feeding the fiery greedy mouth of the oven with rounds and rounds of perfectly shaped pizzas that made my fingers move of their own accord. It's a rarity in Egypt to find Italian food cooked by actual Italian chefs so I'm excited to experience the authenticity this will bring to my meal. The aroma rising from the oven is incredible but I try to compose myself and not to rush and yell ‘I want some of that, now!’ and instead go back to my seat, pretending not to be hungry at all, yet insanely craving whatever it is that was smelling so dramatically good.
I sit down and refreshments come in. The first sip of the cold orange moderately-syrup-fed drink makes me instantly grateful for accepting the invitation to the opening. After a period of waiting and gathering with others, the first serving comes in. The Focaccia Stella which arrived was essentially pizza but it surely did not look like normal human-level pizza. It looked like an abstract piece of art, which was an assumption confirmed upon having the first bite. Perfectly-cooked slices of dough topped with melting brown sour syrup (of what, I will never know), along with fresh rocca, delicate meat strips, and cheese.
And OH the cheese...
I think it is now perfectly established that I love cheese, but that white perfection sitting shyly and ever so delicately atop the out-of-this-world ‘pizza’ was a superior alien invention that sort of makes every kind of cheese ever known look bad. I tried not to stuff my face with cheese and leave some for the rest. But it is safe to say that it sent fireworks through my mouth and it was a pivotal moment in my life where I instantly knew that I will never look at other cheese the same way again.
I snap a quick picture and send it to my boyfriend, saying that I didn’t know where they got this cheese from but I am going to have a deep crisis for never being able to have the same one elsewhere after. And just as I was about to reply, another cheese pizza came in - this time an authentic Napoletana pizza - and was ever so gently placed right at my table, so I forgot about my boyfriend and life altogether. The smell took control of my senses again as I prepared my plate and carefully placed a slice in it, making sure I don’t interrupt the cheesy flow when separating the precious slice from the perfectly round mother-pizza. Of course, it was heaven. The lightness of the texture was contrasted with the vivid and fresh multi-flavoured taste of the pizza from which hot steam was rising to my nose, carrying a rare taste of freshness and dominating tastefulness.
As I'm taking another bite of the fried mozzarella wonder, I realise that it would be a good idea to take pictures of the pizza freshly pulled out of the oven. I put down my fork while the waiter places on the table a superior round ball of the cheese, otherwise known as one of their signature dishes, 'La Mozzata'. I, yet again, lost my head over it. It was one of the most beautiful sights my eyes have ever been set upon. No complications or flaws; a perfect ball of the best cheese I ever had in my life. What a lovely night. Just some more pictures and I will be able to sophisticatedly devour it. I really wanted to run in slow motion and snatch the innocent cheese ball before it had even left the waiter's hands, but remembering I am an adult, and moreover, a working adult, I suppress the urge and politely wait until it's placed on the table. A few moments later, lasagna is served with fresh tomato sauce that feels light as air to my stomach but a festival to my mouth. The gnocchi served afterward, stuffed with seasoned mashed potatoes and gentle sauce, makes me grateful for the entire Italian culture.Heartbroken that I have to leave before desert is served, I thank the organiser and, as I open the door and prepare to exit, that heavenly breeze that I had missed in the morning brushes my face. The dessert I missed, La Graffa, is essentially a sweet fried doughnut topped with chocolate sauce and cream, and I could feel my heart cracking into eighteen pieces over the fact that I was missing it. I console myself by remembering the myriad other amazing dishes i just got to indulge in.
I quickly call my boyfriend, rubbing it in his face until he says "I really wish I had come with you," to which I reply, "Yeah, you should have. This is never going to happen again, like ever. And you missed it." What can I say; good food turns you evil.
I head home, filled with gratefulness of having experienced food – as if for the first time – in a truly spontaneous and authentic experience. An Italian one, to boot.
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