The French are particular about their food. They take their cuisine very seriously, mastering cooking techniques and aesthetic presentation. Eating French food is an experience. At The Grill, the experience begins as soon as you walk in the door.
Perfecting French cuisine is a feat few restaurants in Cairo have accomplished, so I headed to the Semiramis InterContinental feeling more skeptical than hungry. I left feeling satiated, pampered and a little giddy with my complimentary red rose in hand.
As soon as you step into The Grill, you’re met with a glass encased wine “cellar, which is reputed to house one of the largest selections in town. The French believe there’s an appropriate drink for every food, so the display gives the restaurant an air of authenticity, even if you don’t drink.
The sleek, cool effect of the glass casing is set off with soft lighting and a combination of dark wood and off-white furniture that create a warm ambiance. The modern, yet classically elegant interior is telling of the kind of cuisine being cooked in the open kitchen.
Parties of two or 20 can choose from various seating areas: a fully enclosed private room with a great view, several glass-partitioned booths, and intimate little nooks around the dining area are loosely separated by waiter stations.
My dinner partner and I walked passed the Bistro area, which as its name suggests, has more of a café feel, with cushioned benches and small tables and chairs. This is the center of the restaurant, overlooking the open kitchen and a large brick oven. This is also where two skillful musicians pump out upbeat melodies from a classic piano and a bass guitar that resonate through the restaurant.
We were seated in what would best be described as the west wing, where panoramic windows paint a portrait of Cairo nights along the Nile, and the steadily flowing waters glisten under the moonlight. We took a comfortable table for two in the center, and were surrounded by tables seating a family of five, an older couple and a larger party of friends in their 20s. Obviously the atmosphere is welcoming to crowds of all ages, giving the The Grill a vibrant, familiar feel.
It took a while to peruse the tantalizing bill of fare and choose from the wide selection of French treats. With a little help and some great recommendations from our friendly waiter, we carefully selected our four-course meal.
With designer tableware and Christofle cutlery, the setup was starting to feel almost regal.
We devoured our amuses-bouche as we waited for our soup, which was poured into our bowls in synchronized fashion by two waiters, who smiled and wished us “bon appetite with every course they served.
I chose the pumpkin cream soup with sweet bread ravioli stuffed with morels and beetroot foam (LE 48), which was a skillful balance of smooth, creamy and sweet flavors. Of course I couldn’t resist dipping into the other bowl flowing with a zesty seafood bisque over croutons and Rouille sauce, which is commonly used in fish soups and gives it a little punch.
Shortly after, our starters arrived. While fois gras, or fatty duck liver, is a controversial culinary treat, it’s one I can’t resist. It’s also a bit risky to order because it can either weigh you down at the start of the meal or be lightly sumptuous enough to just whet your appetite. Thankfully, my pan fried duck liver (LE 95) with hot mango chutney was the latter; served with a colorful arrangement of salad leaves – “passion flavors.
While the other starter wasn’t as tasty, it’s far from being a disappointment. The roasted shrimp (LE 180) was peppered with poppy seeds and came with a crayfish English cream dip. While the shrimp was tender, paired perfectly with the dip, the overdose of poppy seeds detracted from the overall taste. It was too pebbly for my liking, but I did appreciate the attempt as well as the presentation.
After a much-needed breather, we dug into the main course. My roasted and poached cod fish (LE 85) was lightly dressed with a chili foam of beetroot over a bed of juicy greens and sprinkled with thin crunchy garlic strips. On the side was a creamy spinach paste that perfectly complemented the tangy cod combination.
A shrimp connoisseur, my partner’s choice this time came grilled and with rosemary (LE 180), and while it was juicy and tasty, the plate can use a little spice. She did enjoy it though.
There was no room left for dessert, but we ordered nonetheless – for the sake of this review, of course – and asked that it be brought to us in the Bistro area, which has its own menu. My choice of crème brulee was ambitious and after two spoonfuls I could take no more, but the cool, creamy delight was definitely worth tasting.
The smarter choice was the medley of mango, mint and strawberry sherbet, which we finished off as the musicians serenaded us. And we left happily ever after, with a farewell and a flower from the delightful folks at The Grill.