The first time I met Chef Andrew Mitchell of Alto’s Bistro was in Sharm El-Sheikh during a Thanksgiving weekend when seemingly all of Cairo had descended upon the seaside town.
Mitchell, I learned, had just recently moved to Egypt, an Egyptian-Canadian who to my surprise was enthusiastic about food. That Thursday, he was wistful for a turkey dinner. “I want cranberry sauce, hell I just want some Ocean Spray cranberry juice at this point.”
There was no cranberry juice to be found. Mitchell spoke to me about his dream of starting a restaurant in Egypt, a small, intimate and comfortable eatery. A few years later, I bump into Mitchell and heard the restaurant has opened. I ventured out to try some cheese fondue with a friend during a cold night in January.
The restaurant is small yet warm, and the fondue was the best I ever had. Served with homemade pickles and beef grison, the fondue had a perfect ratio of white wine to cheese, neither ingredient overpowering the other.
Since my last visit, Mitchell has become the star of a hit culinary show on the food channel Fatafeat and a published author with a book entitled “Soups and Snacks.”
Dining at Alto’s Bistro
Alto’s Bistro is located on the Alex-Desert Road, hidden inside the Seasons Country Club but open to all. Opened for a few years now, it is jointly owned by Mitchell’s partner Omar El-Dewey and himself.
The restaurant presents what Mitchell describes as a menu based on standard dishes of “comfort food.” I warn readers of waxing lyrical since not only are Mitchell’s talents in the kitchen surprising for a man who looks better suited to be on a basketball court than in a kitchen, but because there is something sincere and straightforward about his menu and what he presents on the Cairo dining scene.
Dishes are standard classic fare or else a slight new twist or addition to the old. Nothing fussy. No pretentiously small portions, and no confusing attempts at fusion cuisine.
Mitchell’s menu is broken down into soups, salads, appetizers, mussel and clam bowls, grilled and main courses, fondue and desserts.
Simply basing his menu concept on “comfort food,” diners are expected to indulge. Canadian poutine caught my eye when reading through appetizers, as did the wasabi popcorn shrimp and the baked brie wedge “baked in a walnut crust and served with a crostini and a strawberry coulis.”
There is an Indian Dark Rum Curry mussels or clams bowl on offer, the only seemingly complicated dish on the menu, and fish and chips is listed in mains.
Chef Mitchell went off menu when I had dinner at Alto’s Bistro recently for a small party arranged in the restaurant. Mitchell explained that he oftentimes likes to use produce that is in season and ingredients available on the market.
He started us off with an amuse bouche of his version of peking duck: small crispy flakes of duck with some greens which was tasty but dismissible in comparison to the next course.
A hearty salad of baby arugula, endives and regular lettuce leaves tossed with a strawberry lime sauce with a blue cheese wedge and slices of red apple and strawberries was next. Fresh and light, the salad was your typical walnut blue cheese salad kicked up a notch or two. Strawberries and blue cheese are a surprisingly nice combination and anchoring all that was a breadstick baked with a coating of onion oil.
Our second course was a platter of appetizer samplers: chili lime jumbo shrimps were a crowd pleaser of a tempura shrimp paired with a sweet sauce and second only to his mussel appetizer set on an edible cheese mat. He also prepares a very refined fried chicken appetizer, eliminating the tackiness of it all by serving it with a sweet chili and lime sauce.
For mains, Mitchell prepared Egyptian lamb chops with vegetables and potatoes with a lamb gravy and a wine reduction sauce, side to side. The taste? Pretty good. The lamb was tender and had none of that strange after taste so particular to Egyptian lamb, the lamb gravy sauce was sweet.
Though there was nothing original about the main course, and for that matter with dessert afterwards, Mitchell’s ability to remind you of the simplicity of well-cooked basic food dishes and recipes was refreshing.
Dessert was a sampler of a peach cobbler, a lemon pie served with a graham cracker topping, and a chewy layered peanut butter fudge brownie. The cobbler was delicious but I give props to Mitchell for making a lemon pie hit a perfect note of sweetness and zest.
As I later flip through Mitchell’s recipe book, I notice that the plethora of recipes (written in both English and Arabic) carry the same spirit to the food that he presents in Alto’s Bistro: comfort food, new twists on classic dishes and some new novel dishes. It’s the perfect cookbook to have on hand at home.
The book “Soups and Snacks by Andrew Mitchell” is available in all bookstores across Egypt.
Seasons Resort and Country Club
KM 18, Cairo-Alexandira Desert Road
Tel: (02) 3838 7389
Open 6 pm-Midnight
Dessert was a sampler of a peach cobbler, a lemon pie served with a graham cracker topping, and a chewy layered peanut butter fudge brownie.