L Aubergine serves a selection of vegetarian exotic creations
L Aubergine5 Sayed El Bakry St., off 26th of July Street, ZamalekPhone: 738 00 80
CAIRO: Tucked away in a leafy side-street just off 26th of July Street in Zamalek, the unassuming L Aubergine is reputedly Cairo s only vegetarian restaurant, and as such will surely soon become an essential lunch venue for Cairo s fuul-weary herbivores.
Through frosted glass doors and into the softly-lit dining area, it is easy to find a cozy corner amongst the striking pieces of modern art and otherwise minimalist décor. The clientele is comprised of mainly young professional Egyptians, chatting easily over the tables downstairs or sharing drinks at the spacious first-floor bar, with the odd expatriates or tourists making up the numbers. The restaurant also serves as a venue for live jazz on Tuesday evenings.
The menu includes an eclectic and innovative range of vegetarian dishes, including Mediterranean-influenced starters and exotic creations, such as Pumpkin Kobeba with Spinach. There is also an extensive list of imported wines and spirits, Egyptian beers and coffees to perfectly round off a meat-free feast. The less adventurous are also catered for with a solid range of dependable vegetarian staples; pastas, salads and curries.
Dedicated meat-lovers need not be put off either. L Aubergine is not as exclusively vegetarian as one might think; the choice of meat dishes is just as wide and inventive as the vegetarian options, as attested to by dishes such as the Duck and Orange Ravioli with a Pistachio Sauce.
After much deliberation over the various eye-catching options, we chose Falafel Millefeuilles as a starter. The name is a slight misnomer for anyone hoping for Levantine-style falafel; it is in fact based around a small tower of fried bean Egyptian ta amiyyah patties, layered with salad and a mint yoghurt sauce, scattered with flakes of crisp-fried fattoush-style croutons and garnished with fresh watercress leaves. The presentation was impressive, but the cold falafel wasn t as fresh as we d hoped.
It was almost impossible, however, to fault the chef on the main dishes. The tangy Blue Cheese and Fig Ravioli was served in a delicate, creamy sauce. And even though the ravioli themselves were perhaps on the thin side, the daring combination worked marvelously, making for one of the best pasta dishes I have tasted in Cairo. My friend s Thai Veggie Curry was also a real treat: a perfectly-spiced sauce over fresh, crisp vegetables and soft white rice. And all was in reasonably-sized, filling portions.
The small range of desserts, which includes fresh fruit and Nutella crepes, yielded yet more surprises. We decided to try the Date Sushi served with a coconut sauce. This turned out to consist of sweet rice and cooked dates bound with nori seaweed, served alongside a small bowl of the sauce. The dish was perhaps a little over-ambitious and impractical, but the rice and dates complemented each other surprisingly well, and the bravery of the combination cannot but be applauded.
L Aubergine s prices are in the moderate range; the vegetarian mains average at around LE 25 while the meat dishes are mostly in the LE 30-40 range. The meal just described, along with a bottle of mineral water and an espresso for my friend, came to LE 118 with taxes and service.
The service was courteous, friendly and attentive but faltered in places; we weren t asked whether we wanted a drink with our meal when we ordered, for example.
Although L Aubergine might be a little quiet at lunchtime and only starts filling up in the evening, it would be the perfect place to spend an evening with both vegetarian and non-vegetarian friends, in comfortable surroundings with a treasure trove of exciting taste combinations to sample.