One of the first things to catch your eye when you enter La Gondola in the Sonesta hotel is the display of wines bottles against a wooden wall decorated with copper pots, pans, and ladles. This gives the restaurant an antique look which contrasts with the beige bamboo dining chairs. The wall at the opposite end is decorated with four red canopies and behind it is the kitchen, visible through a narrow, long window in the wall.
We were greeted by a very pleasant manager and welcoming waiters, who were ready to help out and explain the various dishes on the menu. Throughout the evening the waiters were patient and very attentive, they had a good sense of humour, but over the course of the dinner they displayed a little too much of the latter, cracking jokes almost every time they approached the table.
Before our food was served, a waiter placed appetising pastries along with three dips on our table; parmesan cheese, green olive and a very tasty tomato and herbs dip.
The menu looked very impressive in its big, dark hardcover and offered translations of each dish from Italian to English and Arabic. Although it offered rather unique choices, overall there was not a large variety of options to choose from. Several important details of the various dishes were not mentioned, which with the lesser known dishes could easily lead to some unwelcome surprises.
Salads were combined with appetisers, with prices ranging from EGP 25 to EGP 69. We ordered the Carpaccio di Carne as an appetiser (EGP 55) only to be unpleasantly surprised that the meat was served raw. For someone not familiar with the platter, such an important detail should have been mentioned in the menu. The Carpaccio came with fresh arugula in the middle and mayonnaise as a garnish.
Almost half a page of the menu was allocated to pizzas, ranging from EGP 39 to EGP 59. The pizzas on offer had a variety of toppings, with seafood taking up the lion’s share.
Three kinds of soup were offered, with prices between EGP 25 and EGP 35. We tried the cream of tomato soup with mozzarella cheese and found the cheese helped lessen the concentrated taste of the thick tomato soup but it was soon finished, we would have loved a little more of it.
The selection of pastas and rice dishes included fettuccini, ravioli and risotto, with prices ranging between EGP 55 and EGP 89. We were especially excited about the ravioli (served with lobster filling or duck filling) and the risotto (served with seafood or mushrooms), since few Italian restaurants in Egypt serve them. We went for the Agnolotti di Anatra Al Limone (EGP 68). From the description in the menu, we expected duck-stuffed ravioli served with orange juice sauce.
At first sight, the platter did not seem very promising; the four green ravioli covered with brown sauce did not look very appetising. The ravioli itself tasted good and the minced duck meat was cooked to perfection. The accompanying sauce tasted too much like gravy and lacked the touch of citrus we expected from the description in the menu.
La Gondola offers a large selection of seafood, with prices ranging from EGP 75 to EGP 160. We ordered the Frutti de Mare, listed at EGP 115. The platter contained an oyster, two large shrimps, two fillets of salmon and a large piece of seabass. It was served with rice, well seasoned with herbs and was accompanied by a thick creamy lemon sauce, which complimented the seafood very well. The portions were quite small compared to similar restaurants around town but it was very tasty.
The dessert menu included basic Italian desserts such as tiramisu, nougat ice-cream and Cassata with prices ranging from EGP 30 to EGP 45. We ordered the Crostata di Mele con Gelato (EGP 35) which turned out to be a medium-sized slice of apple tart with honey and a tiny scoop of cinnamon ice-cream. The tart was served warm; very thinly-sliced roasted apples topped a base which tasted a lot like a muffin cake. The cinnamon ice-cream was the highlight of the dessert; perfectly stinging the taste buds as it should.
The tiramisu also tasted good, with its moist cake and creamy mascarpone cheese, but its presentation was most impressive thing about it. The tiramisu was served inside a cup made of edible chocolate with a tiny scoop of vanilla ice-cream on the side. Although the chocolate was quite hard to break and the taste was not worth all the effort, it did make the dessert experience unforgettable.
Overall, the restaurant is a convenient option for guests of the Sonesta Hotel yet we do not recommend an independent trip to the hotel for the mostly average and slightly pricy food, especially for those who live outside the vicinity of Heliopolis and Nasr city.