Last week, after having my taste buds tickled at Sabai Sabai, I was itching for more Thai fare. I couldn’t get hot and sour soup, along with succulent shrimp and morning glory out of my mind. Even when I thought about lemongrass and basil together I started foaming at the mouth.
It was that bad.
Since I was due to get off “the island,” I enlisted a fantastic cook/gourmand comrade of mine to accompany me to the Saigon Restaurant and Lounge, an Asian fusion restaurant located in the Fairmont Hotel (Nile Towers) in Boulaq. I took my time to pull myself together “Euro-style” (read: tight pants and heels) since it was a chic affair. The Fairmont – both at the Nile Towers and the one in Heliopolis – are home to a handful of upscale restaurants and a few clubs where Cairo’s young and restless dine and dance the night away.
We set out rather early (19:30 is early in a country where dinner is normally ready around 22:00) and found that we had the run of the place save two other tables. Saigon’s decor is sumptuous and elegant with clean lines, wicker chairs, low lighting that draws your attention to Oriental inspired paintings and wooden paneling in heavy shades of brown and grey that accentuates floor to ceiling windows that overlook the Nile.
We got off to a bit of a rocky start thanks to the amuse bouche: a single shrimp with a dollop of – what seemed to be – zesty cream cheese and a caper on top. I handed mine to my dinner partner who ate and…yanni…didn’t mind it, but felt that putting cheese on shrimp in an Asian restaurant seemed mildly sacrilegious. He was also a bit put off by the mini-baguette that came out at the same time as our drinks. “Bread and cheese? This is an Asian restaurant isn’t it? Isn’t it!?” he quipped. I muffled a laugh. I know since don’t eat cheese (or gluten) I shouldn’t be one to talk, but I kind of had to agree.
Between the two of us we had sashimi salmon, rice paper spring rolls and a chicken and mushroom dim sum as a starter. The salmon was a nice, melt-in-your-mouth kind of deal and the dim sum was enjoyed by my un-Intolerant dinner guest (though, I was told, it wasn’t as good as “some other places”). As for the spring rolls, I fell in love with them. Yes, in love. There were eight substantially sized morsels stuffed with shrimp, crisp red pepper, egg and glass noodles, and they came with a spicy coriander sauce that complimented the freshness of the rolls perfectly.
For the main there were pan fried scallops with asparagus along with ginger and chicken soup with rice noodles. I didn’t try the scallops (we weren’t sure if butter had been used so I didn’t chance it), but was told that they went down nicely and the asparagus was equally agreeable. I focused instead on the soup, which was very good. The portion size was perfect for a main and it was full of flavour. The chicken didn’t have any skin or hairy bits (yes, it’s happened at other places before) and there were just enough rice noodles to provide some substance to the broth. By the time I ate the last spoonful I was comfortably full.
The severs were friendly, swift and attentive and they were comfortable explaining the menu; highly beneficial when trying to figure out what contained dairy and/or gluten. While the bill was a steep 490 LE (roughly 80 USD), it wasn’t bad considering the food, presentation and location. Mind you, had wine been thrown into the mix (we’re not talking about Omar Khayyam here) we would have easily thrown down an additional 150 – 300 LE, which starts to push things into a price range I might not have been willing to endorse.
Of the annoyances that set off this Intolerant, they were marginal at best and didn’t involve the food. The air conditioning was set ridiculously high and halfway during the meal we – and the patrons next to us – asked to have it turned down lest we turn to ice before the end of the meal. I was also attacked 9 times (yes, I counted) under the table by two rogue mosquitoes that insisted of robbing me of a few ounces of blood. Sadly, the mosquito violation wasn’t only an issue in the dining area as I encountered them in the bathroom as well feasting on whatever exposed flesh they could access.
Mosquitoes and chilled air aside, it was nice to get off the island and gussy up for an evening out. If you have money to burn or someone to impress, it will be hard to go wrong at Saigon in the Fairmont; the view and service alone make it an enjoyable and hassle free affair.
If you prefer staying in your yoga pants; however, and enjoying a mascara-less dinner with your hair in a messy bun then pick up the phone and dial 0101702827 to order in.
Whatever you do, just keep on Thai-ing.