Ramadan is, inexplicably, exhausting. It is absolutely incomprehensible, but sitting in front of the TV, following mosalsal after mosalsal, [Ramadan TV series], leaves one lazy, unwilling and unable to even grab a glass of water before dying from thirst. Le Capitol is one of those places that understands that abstract concept of “I did nothing all day and I am not planning on doing anything all night either”, and specifically caters to it.
Located on the rooftop of Novotel El Borg in Zamalek, the venue (the name of which is actually Le Capitol: Bab El Kahera) knows its strengths, primarily the stunning location. With a bare minimum of walls or other obstructions between you and the view, Le Capitol definitely makes the most of it.
Three distinct views await you, whether it is a view of the lovely-at-night Cairo Tower or the tranquil Nile or the lush Garden City. Hardly a table seemed ill-placed, with each enjoying at least a sliver of an amazing panoramic experience. Upon stepping off the elevator, three things will greet you in quick succession.
Firstly, the rooftop breeze will hit your cracked desert skin almost instantaneously, as if you had suddenly been transported to crisp, cold, clear Switzerland. The heat? Gone. The humidity? Gone. The ever-present Cairo claustrophobia? Mostly gone.
Secondly, the all-consuming blue-ness of it all will hit you. Blue mood lighting being the only source of illumination, the hustle and bustle of the Sohour crew will seem almost muted. Blue-inlaid furniture releases the stress many of us carry because of fasting. It appears the decorating crew responsible have really done their hippie colour research effectively.
Thirdly, you will be asked immediately for EGP 200 and given a voucher, assured in the process that “everything inside is free”. Take two steps and your voucher will be snapped up by a waiting attendant who ushers you to your table-with-a-complimentary-breathtaking-view.
This marks the only dark spot- if it can be called that- on my Le Capitol experience. For one thing, the voucher seemed unnecessary because I did not exaggerate when I said two steps. For another, this excludes the fabulous venue as a place for a casual Sohour, requiring me instead to shell out a sizeable sum and obviously feel compelled to eat my weight in Ramadan sweets. Darn.
Upon arriving at the table we were besieged with eager waiters, though the place was far from empty.
Within seconds we had an assortment of preliminary drinks on our table, above and beyond what was required although the variety was comforting. The traditional Ramadan drinks were wonderfully prepared- the Tamarind juice and the Sobia (coconut and milk) especially- although the absence of Karkadeh (or hibiscus) was duly noted. The regular juices, such as apple and orange, were adequate although nothing to write home about.
Only minutes later, to our astonishment, plates of hot and cold mezzes were brought to our table by the always-at-hand waiters. The Sohour arrangement in Le Capitol is buffet-style, and we had just about marshalled the energy to haul ourselves over but here it was! Sorry to say there was so much variety that this reviewer could simply not find the space to put it but the essentials were there – a rare feat for a buffet. The sambousak was sufficiently crispy, the spicy sausage sufficiently spicy, the ta’ameya sufficiently crunchy and the various dips (the regular assortment of chickpea, eggplant and yoghurt-based concoctions) were splendidly creamy, although the hummus was a bit on the watery side.
Finally, in case anyone could get through that portion of the buffet, we fetched ourselves some real food. Freshly-grilled kofta and shawerma serving dishes were set out and the meat was cooked to perfection. Not as much emphasis on the meat as on the rest of the mezzes and appetisers but such is the nature of Sohour.
The desserts were eclectic in quality. The various Levantine sweets such as baklava, basbousa and konafa were available in the bite-sized portions bought last-minute for family gatherings and the taste reflected this. However, the Om Ali (bread and butter pudding) was flavourful and combined just the right amount of creamy with crunch (in this case nuts and raisins). The final surprise? Waffles. Honest to God waffles, in the middle of Ramadan. We cannot say Le Capitol has not adhered to tradition thus far so we granted them the little slice of Belgium and were pleasantly surprised at the freshness.
This is Egypt, and in Egypt we unwind with shisha. The flavour variety was adequate, but without any of the perks one would expect from a place of Le Capitol’s otherwise-stellar style. Lacking the elusive Karkadeh or Blue Mist flavours, this reviewer settled for a classic cherry and was not disappointed. The coal-changers patrolled constantly and – since everything is free – the bowl could be changed as soon as the flavour started to fade.
To conclude, yes. Just yes. A heartfelt, lazy-bum-approved yes. Le Capitol manages to pick a prime location, make it primer still with appropriate mood-setting and a delicious Ramadan menu, yet still retains an air of elegance that it will not soon lose. The perfect balance of tradition and modernity can be found atop Novotel El Borg. Just be sure to stop off at the bank and bring your A-game appetite.