FoodLife & Style

Don Quichotte: Remnants of royalty on the streets of Zamalek

The restaurants reviewed in this column tend to be new, funky, innovative, or have some other characteristic that would distinguish them for a younger, more urban, audience.

Cairo, of course, is a layered, complex city, with something for everyone. Where, you may ask, does the older generation go to dine? What places exist for our parents’ generation of gastronomically-inclined hipsters?

Any review of elegant dining establishments favored by Cairo’s older generation of dining aficionados must include Zamalek’s Don Quichotte. I love the way this place is pronounced. For the longest time, on arriving in Cairo, I kept looking for this mysterious much-vaunted establishment called “donkey-shot.” It took a while to realize that this and Miguel de Cervantes’ beloved hero are actually one and the same, at least in Cairo’s abbreviated parlance.

Don Quichotte is everything I like in a Cairo restaurant: a tucked-away urban setting, an unpretentious outside giving way to a funky and storied interior, a dedicated and unique following. It seems to have forever been part of the Zamalek dining establishment.

If you wander in during the early part of the evening–say any time before 11 PM–the place will be empty. You’ll think you’ve stumbled upon either a dying establishment or a front for something providing services outside the food industry. On arriving at this empty establishment, therefore, you’ll find it curious that the friendly wait staff will direct you to an out-of-the-way corner table. Why, you’ll wonder, can you not take the premier seating in the middle of Don Quichotte’s elegant and well-upholstered dining room?

Stick around long enough and the answer will soon become clear. Once 11 PM approaches, the place rapidly fills up. And not just with any crowd, but with the cream of Cairo’s 65+ generation, many of whom appear to be regulars. Don’t expect any allowances from among Don Quichotte’s clients on account of their seniority. Don Quichotte’s well-heeled clients dress up for the occasion. For ladies this means fur coats and ample jewels. The men try to compete with long overcoats and French cravats. It’s far from a geriatric colony; I’d challenge any of Cairo’s younger hipsters to compete with the elegance, conversation, and robust imbibing of this crowd.

Don Quichotte’s sumptuous elegance is everywhere on display. The walls are covered in eclectic urban art; the dining tables are plush and discreet; the bar hosts the bouchon bottles of generations of Cairo’s gastronomes; the lighting is understated. The whole place breathes refinement and discrete conversation.

On numerous visits I have yet to find a fault with the menu. The mezzas are well presented and tasty, and at times innovative in the way you’d expect of a place emphasizing the delicacies of yesteryear (brains, tongue). The mains are solid, and well presented. The steak is superb, better than many places purporting to have imported steaks. Plates come out like works of art, with colorful vegetables and accompaniments arranged artfully around the plate.

Don Quichotte is a delight. It’s not exactly a bargain, but it oozes old class. Accordingly, it is the perfect antidote to anyone who has come to despair of the slick, mass-produced dining options popping up elsewhere in town, and who values the unique exquisiteness of Cairo’s elegant dining past.

Address: 9a Ahmed Heshmat St., Zamalek.

Telephone: 2736 5496.

Open daily 1 PM to 2 AM. Dinner for two: around LE300.

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