The small, non-descript door surrounded by an asymmetrical half-wall is barely visible just below street-level. “Alchemy” is scribbled subtly above. The new restaurant opens officially to the public on Friday, 24 November.
The world on the other side of the door is a dawn of renaissance-era golden alchemist’s den. Golden shrunken masks jut out from the wall, antiquated-looking light fixtures give a slight impression of being candle-lit, opulent golden frames adorn the walls. Some stuffed benches are raised, almost throne-like, with high tables. Other tables and chairs are low, decidedly to make the visitor feel more grounded in this time-warped cave. At any moment, visitors expect a medieval scientist/wizard wearing a pointy hat to appear from some corner.
The alchemist theme pervades the entire menu and subsequently jumps off of the pages and creates the ambiance. Alchemy aims to give the restaurant-goer an experience into the spark in the world by ensuring that each plate can have a spark of its own.
“Alchemy is the reduction of metals to their finest point, in hopes to create gold,” Nariman El-Bakry, Cairo Jazz LLC’s Marketing Exec says.
Unusual for Cairo, this menu has an introduction. Featured on each page are replicas of medieval paintings of mythical creatures. Alchemy gives a key to the triangular symbols found beside every plate description, which explains which “sensations” the food correlates to: Air, Water, Earth or Fire. El-Bakry says that starchy, comfort ingredients are related to Earth, light foods, such as most (but not all) salads, are related to Air; Fire can be related to any flavour that stands out and makes a big impact on the dish, such as chicken or chilies.
A note about their menu: aside from the unique concept, only above-average places have a menu that entices the reader to want to try literally everything written on the pages. Most restaurants-cafés have a cut-and-paste menu. The usual apps. The usual pasta. The usual pizza. Beef piccata and grilled chicken as mains. Hum drum.
In Alchemy, main dishes run between LE50 – LE190, catering to a wide range of tastes, but, as Nariman points out, even ordinary comfort foods, like their fried chicken, are given a gourmet twist. The batter they use to bread and fry the chicken is extra fluffy and crispy – and the side? Pumpkin and goat cheese terrine.
I opened with a mushroom truffle soup. As opposed to the normal mushroom crème soups, this was a simple mushroom mash in stock, with pieces at the bottom to satiate the need to bite. Freshly cracked pepper and a light squiggle of cream on top adds to the presentation and zest.
The bread that dinner is served with is baked in-house.
Baked mussels topped with melted parmesan was an unexpected hit: the slightly pungent parmesan offset the usually backwater smell of mussels, which were, by the way, not chewy but rather meaty.
The shrimp from the shrimp and guacamole (LE65) appetizer were medium-to-small–sized and flavourful, but without so much adornment that they lose the taste of shrimp.
As a main I ordered the ricotta-stuffed ravioli in white sauce and spinach. I was wrong to assume that the starchiness would be balanced out with something else. Although it was so heavy I could not finish it, I know many people out there like their pasta as an overdose of pasty, smooth cheesiness. Go for it.
To contrast with the evening’s Water and Earth dishes, I went for a double-Fire chocolate and chile fondant. Not overwhelming, it was perfectly-sized as a meal-topper to be shared. Crispy on the outside, the dark chocolate cake oozed with warm liquid. The chili isn’t visibly apparent and it takes several seconds for the bite to come, but when it does: it is sharp and a pleasant awakening. I suspect this is due to the quality of the chocolate and that they use real chile and not any kind of fake syrup or the like.
The cappuccino did its job: soft, smooth, and didn’t overshadow the dessert. Other choices for drinks include virgin and alcoholic cocktails (note they even carry Blue Curacao), shots, beer and local wines.
With such a wide variety in the pricing and dishes, you can expect that what you will pay will vary greatly depending on your choices.
Hats off to the chef, Ashraf Abdel Aziz for sticking to real and interesting ingredients. Hats off to the team that put together the Alchemy theme.
Ahram Online will provide a more thorough review of a more telling, average day at Alchemy after the official opening Friday.
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8 Amman Square (close to Shooting Club)