Trio – Zamalek Gives Birth to California Cool

Since Egypt’s 2011 uprising new places have been popping up left, right and centre across Cairo. This has been especially true for the island of Zamalek, which is located smack in the middle of the Nile river bridging the west and east parts of the city. One new place that opened its doors over the summer is the chic California-fusion eatery by the name of Trio, which is located on Marashly Street next to the old Italian favourite La Trattoria.

With a clean, modern and sleek interior that emanates west-coast cool – thanks to its Californian owner/chef – Trio is the kind of place you rock up to for dinner and hang out for drinks, whiling away the hours under dim lighting and the strains of Indie pop music that bubbles through the sound system.

Mmmmmm…sesame and ginger chicken wings to start.

The menu is surprisingly extensive with plenty of starters, mains, desserts and drinks to choose from that are a mix of Asian, South Asian, Mediterranean and North American cuisines. There’s enough non-dairy and non-gluten options to choose from, though it’s best to ask…and ask again when the food arrives, to confirm there’s nothing suspicious in your dish. This is because Egypt is one of those places where it’s straightforward to work around obvious culprits like pasta, milk and butter for example, but it gets tricky with things that people don’t normally assume have dairy and gluten in it like salad dressing, soy milk (I joke not: the only brand of soy milk I’ve seen sold in supermarkets contains skim milk powder…because that’s logical, no?), soy sauce (which I’m pretty sure was in the sauce for the above wings, but hey, you win some and you lose some) and even packaged nuts, granola and muesli (in the form of my arch nemesis: whey powder).

In all seriousness, when dining out in Egypt don’t be afraid to ask and multiple times if needed. If it comes to it, seek out the the chef if you’re not 100% convinced that your food isn’t going to be gluten/dairy/meat/nut/ free.

Anyhow, I popped into Trio twice in the last three weeks and settled for a salad on one occasion (with those tasty wings to start) and 1/2 a roast chicken on the other. Both times the food was good. A fresh and crisp salad on night #1 had some welcome additions like dill and red onion. I picked out the four croutons that were hiding near the bottom of the bowl and welcomed the fact that the salad didn’t have a single wilted leaf or veggie in sight (a common occurrence in Cairo restaurants). Even though I happily ate my salad without worrying about ingesting a mushy leaf, I would have preferred a simple oil and balsamic vinaigrette; something I kept in mind the next time I returned.

Night #2 was when I had the fantastic roast chicken breast, which was cooked in a dry spice marinade and came out succulent and full of flavour. I didn’t want the potato mash that came with it so I asked for salad instead – without dressing – and was pleased to get exactly what I asked for. The only drawback was that the helping of chicken was so huge that I could only finish about one full breast and 1/3 of the other one before throwing in the towel. Good if you’re starving, not so much if you’re looking for something on the light side. Actually, it seems generous servings of meat are common at Trio as I eyeballed large carnivorous portions of steak, salmon and minced meat (the burgers looked quite delicious) on the plates of other patrons. Feedback regarding these meaty platters included: “the salmon is great, love the marinade on it,” “the chicken curry is some of the best I’ve had in town…at least better than what I’ve had at some of the 5***** hotels,” and  “the steak isn’t bad, but I wanted it rare and [points to a well done steak] this really isn’t rare is it?”

Alas, you win some and you lose some. 

The food at Trio is locally sourced and the place is big on recycling as much of its waste as possible, which is highly commendable given Cairo’s enormous garbage problem. While these factors give Trio an edge against other establishments, it would be great if they’d ban smoking, or at least restrict smokers to an outdoor terrace. I know, I know, places need to cater to smokers given the high number of people who light up in Egypt; however, the low ceilings and narrow layout don’t do any favours in keeping cigarette smoke confined to one area of the restaurant. Seated near the back one evening the smell of nicotine wafted from the front of the restaurant and was invasive, and slightly unpleasant, as I worked on finish my meal.

In all, it was good enough that I’ll go back. Next time I see what brunch is like and I’ll try out the re-fried beans, guacamole and salad combo. I’ll also make sure I get another one of these:

Watermelon smoothie (without the sugar syrup). A fabulously sweet ending.

Fresh. Simple. Laid-back. Total Californian-chic.

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