Restaurant Review: Breakfast, Lunch, and a Spectacular Sunset

Originally published in Business Monthly‘s August 2018 issue.

Summer weekends in Cairo are best spent by the Nile, especially when it comes to enjoying a morning mug of cappuccino. Knowing my preference and hectic post-Ramadan workload, a friend invited me for “a twist on our boring Saturday Zamalek-infused routine.” Though still starting our morning in Zamalek, Crimson was anything but boring.

Located at the tip of the island, the elegant restaurant occupies the top floor of a four story building, and enjoys an uninterrupted view of the river and Cairo’s few posh buildings, such as Nile City Towers. Facing west, the place tends to enjoy a cool breeze regardless of the time of day, a welcomed asset during Cairo’s summer months.

Given that it was our first visit, we had no idea reservations were required for a breakfast seating. The maître d’ insisted the then empty restaurant was booked and we could only be seated if we did not take too long. That ordeal aside, we were seated less than two minutes later at an excellent table by the Nile.

Despite Crimson branding itself as a “bar and grill,” the decor exuded a cheerful morning vibe. The open space allowed a comfortable view of the Nile from any table, the floors and internal decor were geared towards a light grey palate, and the only two walls in the place were covered with vertical gardens, part of the trend that has been sweeping Cairo’s eateries. Right at the side of the door, was a square window showing the busy cook hustling over his stove. It always increases my confidence in the restaurant when the kitchen is visible from the dining area, without it detracting from the ambiance.

Shortly after we were escorted to our table, we ordered two cappuccinos (EGP 34) that arrived in under a minute, highly appreciated given that these were our first coffees of the day. As we sipped our dose of caffeine, we scanned the breakfast menu that included a limited selection, all of which made our mouths water. Finally, we went for two choices at the opposite ends of the culinary spectrum: Duck Burger Sliders (EGP 130) and the Egyptian Breakfast (EGP 38).  The sliders were a delightful change, perfectly seasoned patties topped with beetroot jam and slightly melted Camembert, with a side of potato wedges and leafy greens.

The oriental breakfast came as a spread of eggs cooked to order, ful, falafel, white cheese, pickles, and pita bread. Given everything we tried during our visits to Crimson, the oriental breakfast is at the bottom of our recommendation list. The bread was at least a day old, and when we complained to the maître d’ he replied it was not made in-house. Dumbfounded by the answer, the matter was not discussed further.

Mesmerized by the amazing duck burgers and wonderful view, I decided to give the lunch menu a try. Learning from our previous mistake, I called several times with no answer. Eventually, I gave up and we went without reservations only to be welcomed by a different maître d’, who apologized for the unanswered calls, yet also informed us that the restaurant was booked and we could only be seated if we left within a couple of hours. This time around we were also seated right by the glass, enjoying a wonderful view and a perfect afternoon breeze.

This time around, the restaurant was half-full which allowed us to notice that the place enjoyed a elevated standard of clients. It is not very common nowadays that a restaurant can ensure that it only serves a specific class of people.

We ordered Fresh Lemonade (EGP 38) and discussed the exquisite selection of appetizers, torn between Crab Cakes (EGP 150), Sweet Shrimp Avocado (EGP 135), and Bresaola Rolls (EGP 160), we finally went for the blended fresh crab meat with cream cheese patties, which – while well prepared – were a bit too salty and heavy for my taste. We followed with Stuffed Mushrooms (EGP 70), which were succulent and delicious.

For the main dish, we shared a plate of Molten Lasagna (EGP 125). The presentation was my favorite part, the pasta was arranged as a cylinder with layers of minced meat and a mix of parmesan and mozzarella, all doused in bechamel sauce.

The call of a quiet Nile and need to try more amazing dishes prompted us to visit for the third time in less than a month. This time around, we were answered from the first call and informed that weekend bookings (it was a Thursday) had to be made three days in advance and the restaurant was booked solid.  Suspecting that they often oversell the reservation situation, I called again the next day to book a table for lunch and received a cheery confirmation.

This time we went for seafood all the way, starting with the Grilled Octopus (EGP 180). It was by far the best I have tasted, a perfect texture, midway between cooked and raw. The octopus legs were arranged on a bed of pureed raw tomatoes, with lime juice squirted on top.  If you take one thing from this review it is to try Crimson’s grilled octopus.

We followed with Salmon Gravlax Rolls (EGP 150), a delicious presentation of five bitesize cured smoked salmon rolls, stuffed with cream cheese and shrimp paste, topped with a dollop of black caviar, and separated by toast points.  While it could have been an excellent appetizer, the cream cheese overpowered the other ingredients.

By the time we were done, the waiter arrived with our Seafood Risotto (EGP 240) and Shrimp Piri-Piri (EGP 300). Each main course was large enough to comfortably feed two people. The risotto was well seasoned, filled with a mixture of chopped shrimp and calamari, yet the rice was a tad chewy for a typical risotto. The mildly spiced Piri-Piri consisted of four jumbo butterfly shrimps with baked potato slices, roasted corn on the cob, sweet potato, pumpkin, zucchini, a button mushroom and some broccoli. The beauty of the dish was its reliance on the natural taste of the vegetables, with very little seasoning.

Finally, the true creativity of the chef was showcased in our dessert. We opted for Cotton Candy Floss (EGP 65), which the menu definitely undersold. We were presented with a mouthwatering plate of pistachio ice cream on a mixture of crushed walnuts, rosewater and sugar syrup, all of which were surrounded by a nest of cotton candy floss topped with a mysteriously delicious dollop of red vegetation. After inquiring, the waiter informed us it was carrots cooked in a strawberry-rosewater syrup, adding that it was one of the chef’s creations. We sent a well-deserved compliment to the kitchen and sat back to enjoy a gorgeous sunset.

While we have some reservations about Crimson, it is quickly becoming a favorite spot.

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