Delectable Oriental food, intimate seating, the UEFA Euro Cup screening, and the best Om Ali in existence - we wanted to be glued to the couches at Four Seasons Cairo at Nile Plaza's Upper Deck Lounge forever.
The best thing about Ramadan is actually stepping outside the house and seeing what else the world has cooked up for you to feast on the moment iftar comes around. Sure, family iftars with mama's cooking are where it's at, but a little element of surprise is always nice. So, needless to say, when we got an invitation to go try out Upper Deck Lounge’s lavish iftar at the Four Seasons Cairo at Nile Plaza overlooking the Nile in Garden City, we were pretty ecstatic. These guys not only know their food, but they've got the cosy ambiance to boot.
As soon as we arrived, we were amiably escorted to the very private quarters that overlook the turquoise pool through a huge glass window on the 5th floor. We were surprised at how exclusive and intimate the setting was. Actually, the entire interior décor was gorgeous – large paintings of blue and yellow adorning the walls and the lighting, mainly coming from chandeliers from which gold coins dangled, was delicately cosy. As for the fancy furniture, the off-white couches and chairs specifically arranged in front of a huge television had cushions of Arabic calligraphy on them that just begged ‘sit on me, please’ – we were happy to oblige, made ourselves comfortable, and got ready for some serious devouring business.At first, noticing the big plasma TVs got us thinking ‘but why are we looking at a TV if we’re in a restaurant?’ We went back and forth before coming to the conclusion that this actually came pretty close to how Egyptian families have their iftar at home, anyway. True enough, as the food we ordered started piling in and tickling our noses, the family sitting at the table next to us had switched on their own TV to watch Ramez scaring the life out of others.
As the minutes trickled by, we found ourselves feeling more and more at ease and not at all constricted by the usual clumsy and uptight feel of many restaurants; we could actually hear each other talk as we relished the sight of our food because, at this point, our stomachs were making whale sounds.
Upper Deck had us covered in terms of immediate breaking of the fast: dates, drinks, and soups. We tried the lentil soup and it was magnificent; thick, a little sweet, and well-spiced, this was the first time we ever had lentil soup outside the home and not regretted it. Moreover, the karkadeh (hibiscus) and sobia were so perfectly refreshing and not too sweet nor watery; again, we broke our cardinal rule of never consuming store-bought or restaurant-made karkadeh and thoroughly enjoyed it as we guzzled down the drinks that brought our parched throats back to life. It's drinks like these that made us thank the heavens that we were, indeed, in the Middle East and not simply filling ourselves up with disgusting soft drinks.
While our main dishes were arriving, we were served, we were served fattoush, hummus, tahini, fattah, sambousek, macarona béchamel, moussaka, molokkheya, rice, and baba ghanoush, as well as a tray of bread, all in various small plates and casseroles. This was already the first reel-in as we sat there thinking about how it would be such a breeze for all three of us to finish all of these dishes – boy, were we wrong.
The food was beautifully served; honestly, no amount of enthusing could ever serve it justice. The baba ghanoush stuck out with its freshness and tasted exactly like it was supposed to – smokey, sweet and a little tart, it came with a delightful crush of pine nuts. The fattah was hands down one of the best we've ever had because the tomato sauce was thick and extremely flavourful as it was definitely made from scratch, and the molokkheya was just bliss. Remember how well your grandma makes molokkheya? Well, this is it; this is the taste of molokkheya that is prepared by every Egyptian mother and grandmother out there. It's to the point that, while devouring it, you’ll be mentally apologising to the women of your family for your molokkheya betrayal.For some reason, despite the amount of eating we were doing, the food simply wasn’t any closer to letting up, and by this point our main dishes had announced themselves on our table: grilled sea bass filets with a heaping of brown rice and grilled vegetables on the side. The faithful Egyptians that we are, we threw in a dollop of lemony tahini on the rice and dug right in. Cue going back to our childhood summer days in Sahel where fish was served fresh right as we came out of the water from a swim. The sea bass was lovely, a little on the crispy side, very light, and rightfully devoid of that fishy oiliness that other Egyptian restaurants can’t quite seem to get rid of. Also, the rice had cinnamon, which was totally worth brownie points, because anything with cinnamon deserves a stamp of appreciation.
It was 8 PM when a smiling waitress came and asked us if we wanted dessert. We looked up with big puppy eyes and told her we weren’t done eating, to which she laughed and reassured us she’d be back in a while with dessert. At 9 PM sharp she came back and asked if we were ready for some sweets, to which we answered affirmatively – never mind the fact that our jeans felt like they were about to rip; when someone says dessert, we’re always mentally, emotionally, and physically ready.
The Om Ali came pipping hot. One bite and we found ourselves in culinary bliss. It was like this sweet mushy goo of deliciousness and warmth to the point where we almost licked the bowl clean and missed out on the UEFA Euro Cup match that we were so keen on watching.
Time was almost etching to 10 PM and we were still there, in a food coma and with absolutely no energy to get up from the couches that had comfortably sucked us in. In post-iftar bliss, we were carried away by conversation and laughter until the epiphany struck: this felt oddly like home, like we were chilling out in our living room just making idle chitchat and watching TV as the moonlight peered in from the window.
Looks like this is what Upper Deck had in mind all along; comfort and some appetising Oriental homey food to indulge in so that, even during Ramadan, you felt a little at home outside the confines of home.