We got to spend a weekend getaway, right in the heart of the city. And with the many, many cuisine options to choose from, the getaway quickly turned into a foodie adventure.
Whenever my family visited Egypt when I was a child, a stay at Sheraton Cairo was always a must. It's right there in the centre of the city with spectacular views of the Nile and the air always seemed cleaner and washed by the river, just a little bit. Perfectly suited to our Agnaby sensibilities. We could visit family living around the hotel and be close to all the Egyptian shopping and touristy stops the city has. But that was the 90s. Since then, the iconic twin towers of Sheraton Cairo have been put through test.
A lot of hotels fall into the trap of staying the same, playing on nostalgia, and keeping those red(ish) curtains from 1979 still hanging in each room and dated service and uniforms reminiscent of 80s kitsch extravaganza. Others cut their losses and shut down, and some even end up changing their name. Not the Sheraton.
After nearly six years of being closed, two of which on renovations, and countless questions about when the iconic hotel is going to reopen its doors and what it's going to look like, the Sheraton Cairo is back in business for a soft opening. And I was fortunate enough to get to relive some of my fondest Cairo memories by spending a whole weekend there.
Walking in, everything I once knew about Sheraton Cairo was replaced with something not only new to me, but new to Cairo too: A vibrant, chic, young luxury. Effortless and easy, yet oddly familiar. With all the stiffness and stuffiness that is in every corner of Cairo, the lobby alone was akin to walking to a different country. Think LED walls. Think contemporary decor. Think actual effort in design. All with that same fabulous panoramic views of the Nile I grew up stuck to the glass staring at.
As you check in, you can totally bask in the glory of that view - and design - as you chill at Bridge Cafe. A chic nook I came to learn got its name from being nestled between both towers. I was soon accompanied to my room on the 14th floor and without thinking, the first thing I did was walk onto my balcony. A view from Giza onto the Nile, with its famous fountain, the tip of the island of Gezeera, and many sailboats floating about, glistening in the sun. Once I was able to tear myself away from that view, I set out exploring the room. Little touches of luxury, like platter of tiny but dangerously delicious cake, dotted the space and would end up eventually punctuating my entire stay there.
The Ambassador Suite
I was told that the only remaining recognisable feature was the hotel's pool where I once jumped about as child and had club sandwiches to my heart's delight as a child. Naturally I rushed down there to try to relive some of these memories and get some much needed sun. While the view was familiar and the vibe was faintly the same, there was certainly an added element of a modern luxury that you feel upon stepping onto the second floor. The panels they'd installed all over, along with the landscaping that surrounded the pool and fronted the cabanas made the space ideal for city centre stay-cations. I was obsessed with the concept of a break from the city while you're right smack in the middle of it. Or maybe it was the pool-side club sandwiches, burgers, cold beers giving me all those vacation vibes.
The floor isn't just taken over by thee pool though. You're greeted by friendly staff who welcome you to try out massages, a world-class gym where you work-out with fantastic views of the Nile, and a deck to relax at once your fancy sweat-athon was done. I decided to de-stress and leave the workweek behind me and asked for a relaxation massage where my kinks were worked out and my week was far, far behind me. Afterwards, for a breather from "the workout", I decided to treat myself to the killer view from The Sheraton Club on the 25th floor. There's something to be said about a place that offers an amazing hangout spot with panoramic views of Cairo. Fellucas on the Nile looked so small and seemed to barely move from up here. I smoked a cigarette on the highest terrace I'd ever been out on and Rapunzel-ed my way back down to reality.
The view from Giannini's
Having renewed myself and now feeling like a brand new person with a new appetite, I knew it was time to explore the hotel's cuisine offerings. One by one, I made sure to try out each of the hotel's restaurants. Leaving my childhood ultimate go-to snack, the pool club sandwich behind, I had my eyes set on bigger game. I headed to Giannini's. Never would have expected to see a restaurant so specific and so utterly niche in Cairo. American Italians had brought with them a cuisine so rich and diverse to the US as they immigrated. And while Italian Italians would look down upon this hybrid kitchen,*tisk tisk*, Italian Chef Antonio Carrano has brought his country's finesse in cookery to Cairo for a type of fusion food that is sure to please even the toughest of Nonnas. And those nonnas are brutal. Do not miss the antipasto platter. Its hero to me were the shrimps, lightly tossed in butter and herbs with a slight crunch but still soft for a melt-in-mouth experience, and the carpaccio. Felt like a bit of a food mobster dining under pictures of famous American Italians. Who knew there so many.
As my weekend stay at the newly-redone Sheraton was coming to an end, I was officially starting to feel like an absolute glutton. At this point, I was literally planning the rest of my stay around the meals I was about to have. As unsexy as I was feeling, I managed to take my date for the evening to Rawi Restaurant. Not going to lie... Walking in felt a little like this wasn't the place for me as it was adorned with a sort of "Arabian Fantasy" brought to a futuristic 2017 decor. Rawi offers a huge menu of Middle Eastern food, so I suppose it made sense. In any case, we were seated by the window which basically felt like a watchtower over the Nile. Couldn't get more romantic than that. And as the bright, shining party boats passed by on the Nile below, our BBQ seafood and mezze were being brought to our table, one by one. I will never forget that garlic-dressed grilled shrimp. Worth the repeat visit into Agraba. I mean Rawi. Oops.
The writer and co. at Studio 70
Like a true glutton, no meal is totally compete without post-dinner cocktail so we headed to Studio 70. Not sure what to call the place... It was like a 70s-themed lounge meets a hip Parisian bar. Leather sofas, leather stools, and even leather chandeliers were scattered across the bar as the DJ pumped out some retro-inspired housey tunes. We walked up to the massive marble bar and asked for something special. And boy was it special. Sake, gin, cucumber, ginger, and soda in one fabulous concoction. And I don't use the word fabulous lightly. Not to be missed for sure. Also keep an eye out for how they serve their cocktails. Each in a unique twist of its own, each a mini-adventure of flavour and presentation.
The next morning as I was walking out and into the streets, I was reminded I was back in Cairo. Sheraton Cairo was indeed in the middle of the city but felt like years away from its reality. Modern, sexy, and young elements easily transported me to somewhere else. Somewhere comfortable and delicious. But somewhere that's also familiar and friendly. Somewhere I had stayed before and will certainly stay again. At least every time I need a break from Cairo in the heart of Cairo.