FoodLife & Style

La Maison Blanche: Extravagant, extraordinary, quality

I’m a believer in value. Value is a difficult concept to define, but it basically means that the worth of something purchased should equal or exceed the price paid. Value has nothing to do with cost; good value can come expensive or cheap. I’d rather pay extravagantly, for example, for a delightful product than find a bargain for a mediocrity.

Justifying myself in this way, I booked a table at La Maison Blanche for an anniversary celebration. All I knew about the place is that it was ridiculously good and ridiculously expensive. I reasoned that ten years of marriage could justify the extravagance.

For me, the restaurant’s location at the First Mall in Giza is unfortunate. Apart from going to the zoo, I have precious few reasons to visit this particular part of town, much less set foot in the overdone extravagance of the First Mall. Nevertheless, La Maison Blanche represents delicious value. Which is not to say it is cheap. Quite the opposite. While we ordered with abandon, our check totaled nearly LE1000. It’s not for the faint of heart, but for those seeking an indulgence, it may well be worth the investment.

The place oozes quality. We were met by a smartly dressed maître d’ who addressed us by name. Whether this had more to do with our booking, or the fact that no one else had yet arrived at the restaurant, I’m not sure. It is elegant with modern spacious seating, warm décor full of reds and clean whites, aligned along beautiful full window views of the Nile looking toward Manial. Immense chandeliers, dimly lit, give the place character. Interesting art and live piano music round out the ambience. It’s plush but not overly ornate.

The service is impeccable; punctual, but not intrusive. The wait staff know when to step forward and when to wait in the wings. They are well informed about the menu, and the bar whips up some of Cairo’s best drinks. My wife reports that Maison’s martini exceeds in quality even that of Aperitivo, our previous favorite haunt for this difficult-to-perfect concoction.

But what of the food? A restaurant cannot truly excel unless it provides delicious sustenance. And it is this that Maison may do best. Start with the breads: homemade, crusty, thick and fresh, served with delicious garlic butter. We continued with salmon mousse (a meal in itself, infused with herbs) and homemade salmon ravioli. Then we had an American strip steak and a generous serving of scallops. The steak was superb. It cured me of my phobia of imported steaks in Cairo. Up until now, I’d rather have eaten a local steak (at Pub 28 or Bistro) over an import (Charwood’s) any day. No longer. Maison’s steak was superb — moist, tender and flavorful — served with sweet roasted vegetables on the side. The scallops were just as good; golden braised and not over-done.

Just as we were preparing to order dessert (you can’t have an anniversary dinner without dessert), the most extraordinary tower of dripped chocolate suddenly appeared: on the house for the occasion of our anniversary. Somehow they had coaxed a delicious chocolate swirl with a bird’s nest consistency into an edible tower. We struggled to make it through the upper ramparts; the rest we had to bring home to very happy kids. “Can’t you have an anniversary every day?” they implored.

So, how to defend a meal that cost nearly a thousand pounds, which would have been more had we paid for the dessert? Everything about the experience was quality; the service, the atmosphere, and especially the food. We could have had a perfectly delicious meal at any number of lesser establishments for less than we invested in our tip at Maison. But the experience was rich and delightful and certainly worth it. La Maison Blanche may be impossible on all but the rarest of occasions, but should you make the investment: it may be among Cairo’s best.

Details: First Mall, 35 Giza St. Tel: 3570 0210. Open daily for lunch and dinner; Fridays from 1 pm onwards. Dinner for two could approach LE1000, but discrete ordering could save significantly.

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