Our waitress tells us that the number eight is very important to the Chinese. Not seven or 13 like other cultures, eight is the lucky number. It is a symbol of life, of vitality, of wealth, and most of all, it is a symbol of infinity. After dining at “8” in the Garden City Four Seasons Hotel, I feel infinitely lucky to have discovered this gem just a scant few blocks for the geographic and cultural centre of Cairo.
“8” has landed on a combination which is rare to find in Cairo: impeccable service, beautiful decor, and a chef straight from Shanghai preparing food that surpasses anything I’ve eaten in Egypt. What one first notices when walking into “8” is the décor and layout—a modern Chinese look that utilises its floor plan to create quiet, private areas within the main dining room. The restaurant is perched looking west over the Nile, offering a great view of the brightly lit feluccas and the Zamalek skyline, not to mention the sunset if you make it there early enough.
Once seated the wait staff brings the diner an experience that would seem more familiar in New York or Paris than it does in Cairo. Attention is paid to the details, and that’s what puts “8” above other local restaurants in its category. The drinks stay filled, the tea warm, and the guests’ comfort comes first. The staff was readily available to assist in making selections from the comprehensive menu. The servers knew the food well, and had the knowledge to assist in selecting wine and tea that matched the meal.
My friend and I put our fate in the chef’s hands and let him put his skills to work in creating a custom menu. We chose wisely, because we were unabashedly delighted with the outcome. The chef personally came to our table to introduce each course, and gave interesting information about the preparation. He started us with a selection of vegetable and seafood dim sum, both steamed and fried. A meaty lobster-shrimp steamed dumpling was the star of the show, but was closely rivalled by a deep fried crab claw coated in almonds. The chef was sure to tell us that nearly all the ingredients—right down to the flour—are imported straight from Hong Kong.
The meal continued with a sweet and sour seafood soup with a nice spice level present in the background. If I had to name a weakness in the meal, it would have to be the soup. Though it was hearty and the crab meat in it was clearly fresh, the soup lacked the flavour profile to keep up with the unprecedented quality of the rest of the meal. But this is a small, small problem in the grand scheme of the meal.
The entrée course was almost indescribably amazing. The chef prepared for us two dishes: jumbo prawns marinated and braised in oolong tea and Hunan beef with vegetables in a rich ginger sauce. The prawns rivalled any preparation I’ve had anywhere. Their freshness was unprecedented and they were nearly as big as my fist (and I have a big fist). The sauce, also prepared from oolong tea, was light and refreshing, letting the quality of the ingredients be the star. The beef, too, was tender and high quality. The chef explained how it was cooked overnight, and then finished right before service. The intensive labour shone through.
Dessert didn’t disappoint either. Homemade creamy vanilla ice cream encased in hard dark chocolate and covered in hot chocolate sauce was a clear favourite. Bananas foster spring rolls and a fresh fruit salad on ice were also winners and, along with a cup of artisanal tea, a great way to end the meal.
“8” is a five star restaurant with a chef whose goal is a Michelin Star, and the prices reflect that. While there are plenty of vegetarian noodle dishes that start around an affordable EGP 70, the undisputed heavyweight champion on the menu is the seafood. Specialties like Peking duck and fresh lobster creep upwards of EGP 400. The wine list is extensive and feature wines from both the Middle East and all over Europe. While a glass of local Omar Khayyem is priced reasonably at EGP 60, we spotted a bottle of French wine going for EGP 8,900. We think we’ll wait for next time to order that one.
Though only open in its current incarnation since April, the Four Seasons’ “8” has already played host to dignitaries and statesmen from around the world. After having a taste of this unique, upscale dining experience it’s no wonder why. So here’s my advice: save up some filoos, find a date, dress up, and head to this Cantonese gem on the Nile.