Despite everything that was said about plans to have it shut down, Café Riche was still operating.
Clients might no longer be saluted as they step in the famous old downtown Cairo café/bistro with the inquisitive look of the owner who had passed away a few months ago.
But they would still find everything else that Café Riche has been provided: the old songs of Mohamed Abdel-Wahab, the large picture of President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, which the owner had put on the wall following the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood two years ago, and the waiters in their blue robes and their trays with super cold Stella beers.
For an early afternoon meal that some people tend to like following the four weeks of fasting in Ramadan, Café Riche is a brilliant place for a brunch – in every aspect.
The atmosphere is pleasant as the café does not usually get crowded on weekdays before late lunch time; the daylight is enjoyable in the perfectly moderate cold air conditioning and the variety of food – both from the breakfast menu and from the ‘extra side orders’ – is as diverse as it is satisfactory.
Above everything else, the place is right for a quiet chat, away from the otherwise over noisy cafes that are regaining their crowds after the slowdown in traffic of Ramadan.
With a friend who particularly chose Riche in the pursuit of a cold beer and a simple meal, we arrived at Cairo’s famous spot at around 12:30 to find the waiters busy with only a few tables.
An order of Spanish omelet, white cheese with tomato, green salad, baba ghanoug, sambousak, French fries, a beer and a diet coke is promised to be served in less than 15 minutes – with the drinks and the basket of mixed fresh and toasted bread first put on the table.
“I used to identify the big green Stella bottles with early 1970s evenings at the sporting clubs, where people always went in the summer evenings for a beer or two – but I now immediately think of the drug addicts of the soap opera ‘Under Control’,” I told my friend.
“I don’t drink that often – and I don’t drink beer especially, but there is something about Café Riche that makes me want to have a cold Stella,” she said, as the baba ghanoug and the cheese with tomato were served less than five minutes after the drinks.
For me, I told her, Café Riche is a place in which I most enjoy the side orders. “The dishes they have for the main course are below average – unlike their side orders,” I said.
My friend nodded approvingly as she finished her first bite of white cheese with tomato. “I think we should order another one of these; it is very good,” she said, as the waiter was promptly serving the rest of the original order.
Having looked at my omelet, she decided she wanted to try – “it is actually good. I don’t like omelets but this one does taste good: not greasy and neither too mellow nor too fried.”
Having ordered the extras, we spent a good ten minutes eating and looking around the place that we have not been in together for several years.
“But was this soap opera good?” asked my friend as she decided she wanted a Sprite to go with the rest of the meal – and settled for the 7Up that the waiter said was available cold.
“I think the side story was better than the main story; I mean the issue of drugs was very ‘violent’ but what was really well-written was this relationship between the women there: a drug dealer who fears for the health of a young drug addict and offers her food and advice; an ex-girl friend and ex-spouse of a drug addict who support each other; and a mother who is standing against her son, who is a drug addict, with his wife,” I told her.
Then the rest of the food arrived, and she was immediately tempted to have a bite of her omelet and to conclude with a great deal of certainty that the chef is “actually good with omelets” because hers tasted as good as mine.
“People tend to underestimate the skill required for making an omelet – they are much mistaken because if it is done in the wrong way it has an extremely off-putting taste; I don’t usually eat them except at my mother’s; but those are good,” she said.
Having finished every single bite of the food that was on the table, except for the packs of butter, we decided to order two no-sugar Turkish coffees, to conclude a delightful meal and chat that lasted for over an hour.
“Big mistake,” my friend announced. “The coffee is so bad; it spoils the good meal,” she added.
Her idea of “let us walk to Groppi's, also around Talaat Harb Square, to have cassata” was hard to fulfill given that the tearoom is under reconstruction.
“Pity,” she said, before ordering the cheque which unlike everything else did take a while before it came at around LE300. “It is worth the money – except for the obnoxious coffee,” she concluded.