This week our resident foodie uncovers Alchemy, a new and much-anticipated restaurant and lounge from the brains behind Cairo Jazz Club. Have they turned the new venue into gold?
Alchemy is what? It’s ancient philosophy, it’s pseudo-science, it’s turning iron into gold, it’s the search for eternal life. It is also my new favorite restaurant.
On Friday it opens officially, but earlier this week I had the chance to hang out there for awhile and I liked what I saw. This place is golden. For real. The funky monks of Cairo Jazz have taken over and totally transformed the restaurant formerly known as Tabasco into a medieval fantasy with food and drink. Whether they actually found the philosopher’s stone or are just stoned philosophers, these guys have turned a once well-loved but aging and somewhat tired space into a golden shrine to art, music, food and what I can only hope will be a lot of foolish behavior.
Alex Rizk, who designed the room, began with the dark, haunting paintings of Akram Fadl and the eerie, nightmarish fantasies of sculptor Nathan Doss and built the concept from there. The effect is dreamy and surreal. Sitting at the bar at Alchemy is like being in a song by The Doors.
Although I doubt they’d let Jim Morrison into this place because he was an obnoxious, rowdy, redneck drunk, and this room shimmers with class. From the professional service of doorman Mahmoud (who could kick Morrison’s ass) to the hospitality of manager George and head waiter Amr, the atmosphere is laid-back, humorous, sophisticated. Even the bathrooms are gorgeously decorated which makes peeing after four or five cocktails even more of a quasi-religious experience than usual.
Come to think of it, they probably wouldn’t even play a Doors tune in this place. Well, maybe Snoop Dogg’s Riders On The Storm remix, but Portishead or Massive Attack is more like it.
Divided into sections called Apprentice Bites, Brews, Sprightly Greens, Virtuous Temptations and Golden Fantasies, the menu is trip hop too—and follows the Alchemy theme of Earth, Air, Water and Fire. Each dish is a combination of two elements. So, depending on your mood swings or your medication, you could go from the fire and water of a palm heart salad to the earth and earth of a grilled steak to the water and air of a mango soup for dessert. It’s fantasy, and it’s fun, and it shouldn’t be over-analyzed. Just enjoy. Remember, your body’s not a temple; it’s a playground.
With fourteen years experience in various international hotels in Egypt and abroad including most recently the Four Seasons and the Kempinski, Chef Ashraf Abdel Aziz is elated to have his own kitchen for the first time, and this is where the magic really needs to happen. We were there on the first night, so it’s way too early to tell. For now you can still feel a bit of the hotel background in his food. This is probably a good thing for most Cairenes who will have their meats and potatoes and salads and pastas just the way they like them—even their chicken pane in the form of Ashraf’s signature chicken crackers with pumpkin and goat cheese puree (earth and fire). For foodies, he’s still playing it a bit too safe and I’m waiting for the funky monks of Cairo Jazz to pimp his ride, which will surely happen if he hangs around this crowd for a few months.
What Ashraf wants, he says, is “to make people feel good by making something good.” The chocolate and chili fondant (fire and fire) made my hippie princess feel good, which means I was feeling good too. All the magic and mysticism in the world won’t save your sorry ass if your woman is not enjoying her time.
And ultimately, this is what makes Alchemy a good bet. It’s a fantasy garden for damsels who want to de-stress and their knights in black tees and jeans. You’d better look the part though, otherwise you’ll be slinking back to the pub down the street with Morrison and Snoop like a dog without a bone or an actor out alone. I hate when that happens.