A dining experience should, in my opinion, never be experienced twice, even at the same restaurant. Aqua at the Four Seasons Nile Plaza has established itself as the home of experimental cuisine with a base in authentic and traditional French dishes.
With Chef Christophe Gillino as executive chef, Aqua has consistently composed and reinterpreted – without ever repeating – dishes and recipes on their menu.
The latest novelty? Merging cuisine with art; reinterpreting the physical nature of the art work vis-à-vis food. It is not a new phenomenon, that of interpreting art through a gastronomic lens, but it is quite new in Cairo. The recipe requires a large collection of art for inspiration, a chef with the ingenuity to craft the dishes and diners willing to be adventurous.
The Four Seasons Nile Plaza’s art collection features the works of prominent contemporary and modern Egyptian artists. With stunning panoramic Nile view and cool contemporary interiors, Aqua was the perfect setting for this unique culinary experience.
Taking inspiration from the works of Salah Taher, Mostafa Abdel Moity and an anonymous painter, Chef Gillino accurately replicated the artworks with his own recipes. The results were not only delicious dishes, but works of art that, in the words of one diner, look better than the original pieces.
Being a very spoiled young woman, I was fortunate enough to dine at Aqua twice since the start of their Food and Art Festival. I have tried almost all eight dishes created by Chef Gillino to compliment the standard menu.
Just like any genuine work of art, each dish was named to reflect its taste and composition. Trying the “Opaque one night, (a hot pumpkin soup with calamari and saffron gnocchi, served with rucola pesto and crayfish; inspired by artist Salah Taher’s painting) I found the name aptly described the flavor.
Straddling bland and sweet, “Opaque is not for those who enjoy salty savories. It was too sweet for me but rather satisfying for my dining partners. The complimentary starter of fava bean soup, served in a short glass as an aperitif of sorts, was creamy and frothy; illustrating Chef Gillino’s creativity.
Constantly charmed by Cairo, Gillino bemoans the capital’s stifling nature and limited variety of interesting ingredients. Still, the city inspires him to create culinary art as well as music. He already recorded one album during his time in Egypt, and EMI has signed a contract to produce his music for the next five years.
He is no ordinary chef and the dishes were mirror replicas of the art work, so much that it is hard to tell where one stops and the other begins.
His chilled stuffed cannelloni with lamb, mushroom and eggplant salad, ratatouille coulis and trio of peppers, entitled “Lonely, is the highlight. Wrapping the salad in eggplant peel, he skillfully prevents the bitter taste of eggplant from encroaching on the dish. “I also added truffle oil, Gillino whispered, explaining that earthy taste of sweet tomatoes.
His pan-friend foie gras celebrated the traditional recipe with the added novelty of carrot chutney, red endives and dried oranges. Already a dish that provoked one’s salt and sweet buds, the foie gras dish entitled “Sunset served as a reminder of what flavors and tastes one should aspire to: wholesome and natural.
The stuffed tagliatelle with crab and ricotta; a gradation of colors, with tomato sauce; was very good but should be eaten hot. Eating it cold, the flavor of the crab was hidden. The dish entitled “Embraced was composed of long ribbons of green tagliatelle, identical to the swoops of Salah Taher’s brushstrokes on his canvas.
Choosing “Duet, the glazed beef medallions, sesame chips, porcini mushroom, soya and ginger sauce for my main course, I asked for it medium rare, and was delivered an exact replica of Mostafa Abdel Moity’s “Composition, 2001. A variety of colors, textures and tastes painted as pretty a picture as the original art work.
Chef Gillino presented the steak and potato dish with its traditional flavors but the appearance of color was exciting enough to elicit interest in the usual plate.
It was the black peppered roasted darne of salmon, Dijon mustard cream and basil coulis that I sampled earlier in the week that stole my heart. A basil leaf was fried, a tomato skin was delicately peeled and laid to rest atop the salmon. The salmon was pink and juicy as it rested atop layers of pungent sauces. All so wonderfully colorful.
What makes Chef Gillino stand out amongst the throng of chefs in Cairo is that he’s one step ahead of everyone else. While everyone is serving sushi, Gillino reverts to traditional French dishes. When all the focus is on plating dishes so sparingly, Gillino looks toward colorful sauces.
With a cheese platter and dessert from the Food and Art Festival and regular a la carte menu on offer, the choices are plenty for diners at Aqua. The baby blue lobster and lamb agneau main dishes, although regular fare, delivered their key notes of delicate taste. The Food and Art menu is only meant to compliment Aqua’s menu and inspire diners to take risks while dining.
The dessert created by Chef Gillino was “Pyramids, a duo of honey vaherin and raspberry pyramids reminiscent of homemade ice cream – and quite literal about the cream, there was plenty of it to taste.
Aqua’s Food and Art Festival has been so successful that Chef Gillino is planning on expanding it to mid June.
AquaFour Seasons Nile PlazaTel: (02) 2791 7000