Not so Bella

Four Seasons hotels stand at the pinnacle of Cairo’s luxury service experience. But every once in a while, gaps in the facade are thoroughly exposed.

For example, I recently came across two versions of the Four Seasons’ official magazine–one published by the international parent company, the other published by its Egyptian subsidiary. The international version was polished and well produced.  The local version, by contrast, was full of typos and clumsy wording.

As the phrase goes, “the Emperor has no clothes,” meaning that even the fanciest of us–stripped bare at the end of the day–are no better than anyone else.

A similar experience overcame me as we wandered into Bella, the Italian restaurant at the Four Seasons/Nile Plaza in Garden City. The Four Seasons, even on a bad day, can appear impressive: a spectacular red flower display stretches nearly to the lobby’s ceiling, boldly greeting customers and setting epic expectations for things to come.

But as you wander into the dining hall, something’s clearly not right. For one, the tables are too big: if you’re dining for two, there will be feddans of space between you and your partner; if you’re part of a larger group seated at a cavernous round table, good luck seeing across the table–especially if everyone’s smoking.

The tabletops themselves are cold faux granite, while the chairs are uncomfortable and awkward. The restaurant makes poor use of the space available to it–in spite of a lovely bank of windows facing the river, it seemed few diners were actually positioned to enjoy the view.

As one would expect from the Four Seasons, the service was fabulously well-trained and professional. Nevertheless, our sparkling water was served warm, ice took so long to come we thought it was being delivered from the hotel’s Giza branch, and we had to beg for a basket of bread that, when it finally arrived, consisted of bread sticks and an olive smeared fajita.

If I invest in the Four Seasons experience, I want to be impressed. Simply adequate won’t do. And the food was adequate–nothing more.

I can’t say it was bad–and, of course, it was well presented–but we started with a pile of fried shrimp and calamari that would have been much better done at Qaddura, and a stuffed tagliatelle that, while certainly not stuffed, was delicious, albeit steeped in too much butter.

The main dishes were more of the same–good, not great. Our osso bucco would have been much better done at the Marriott or Trattoria, and our grilled fish in tomato sauce was so redolent of olives and capers that the taste of the fish was entirely drowned out. Dessert, when it was finally produced–we sampled blackberry panna cotta and a selection of chocolate treats–failed to put an otherwise disappointing meal back on track, as some great desserts have been known to do.

Then the bill arrived. It was an extraordinary sum–more than I would expect to pay for a sophisticated meal in a European capital. And this, of course, is the risk of the Four Seasons experience.

If they want to charge these rates, they have an obligation to impress. As it was, I would opt for any one of the range of Italian restaurants in town–Tuscany at the Marriott, Aperitivo, Trattoria or the Italian Club, to name only a few–before I would return to Bella.

Despite all of Bella’s luxurious trappings, the emperor, the diner is forced to conclude, indeed has no clothes.

Four Seasons/Nile Plaza
1089 Corniche El Nil, Garden City
Tel: (02) 2791-7000.
Open every day for lunch from 12:30-4 PM; for dinner from 7 PM to midnight
Expect to pay up to LE1000 for a dinner for two

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