At Chez Gaby, the charm goes beyond nostalgia. However, this yearning for the good old days cannot be dismissed at the cosy place on Rue De La Fortune - off Fouad Street in Alexandria’s city centre.
In 2019, Chez Gaby will turn 40--in perfect grace and perfect style. In the closing of its fourth decade this Italian/Greek restaurant is holding on to a clientele that is firmly determined to escape the invading “food-chaining” business where the menus are a bit too similar and the taste of the dishes is short on singularity.
A perfect early sign of a quality food experience is offered with the prompt and soft serving of the antipasti and soups.
The otherwise banal mozzarella al comodoro e basilico is basically about quality ingredients. And Chez Gaby knows that quality ingredients rule.
The soupe de legumes is exactly what a Mediterranean cuisine would promise in terms of a wide selection of fresh vegetables that are sliced in the perfect size necessary for a soup.
The insalate experience is no less inviting, with the prefect use of olive oil and vinegar that is never too much or too little. The pomodoro, peperone, and acciughe is certainly one dish not to be missed.
A multiple-course meal is perfectly legitimate at Chez Gaby, not just because the chefs avoid American-style large portions, but also because of the adequate lighting and the friendly but not imposing service--no waiter is going to drop by your table every 15 minutes to ask you about your meal.
So well after the antipasti, the soup and the salads, there is a very good reason to move either to a main course, or rather the secondi patti, and then there is a good reason to try the pesce gratinato that is perfectly fresh, warm and light or the pollo al limone which gives a very delicious and distinct nature to what could just be a chicken dish.
Alternatively, it would be time for Chez Gaby’s pizza, which has given this elegant and small restaurant a good part of its popularity. The options are so many from the basic margherita, where again the quality of the mozzarella and right intensity of the oregano do make a difference, to the very popular napoletana, where the anchovies have a precise presence, to the sohelino, with a use of aubergine that is a little unusual for Egyptian pizza.
In all cases it is “Italian” not “American” pizza. This means that first the dough is prepared fresh and it comes rather crisp on the outside but certainly soft on the inside, and it also means that there are no piles of topping ingredients.
The size of the pizza is designed for only one person to happily devour--or alternatively for two people to share as a pre-main course.
Those who are not into pizza might change their mind at Chez Gaby’s after all, and if not they can find a pre-main course idea in the pasta and rizo section; the chef promises to impress with anything starting from the penne al arrabbiata.
Inevitably, at tiramisu and an espresso will bring the meal to its perfect close.
Along with the relaxing--and yes, nostalgic--setting, the good food, which could come with a glass of wine or a bottle of beer, the unintrusive service and clientele, Chez Gaby does have an added plus: its place at the very heart of a very small alley of the old Latin quarter of Alexandria deprives it of any significant internet signal, so it becomes impossible for anyone around the table to be distracted from the food and the company by a smartphone screen.
The regular presence of Roxanne, the spouse of the late Lebanese owner who had bought the restaurant from its Greek founders, is yet another plus, as she makes sure that the pleasant quality of the service is kept intact.
Chez Gaby religiously observes its weekly Monday off; the first meal is ready for the keen client at lunch and its last order is around 11pm, one hour before closing.
A fairly elaborate dinner for two could consume well over three hours and cost around EGP 600, without alcohol.