Originally published in Business Monthly‘s May 2018 issue.

My best friend and I are chronically on a cuisine adventure. While most people go out shopping, to the cinema, or even to coffee shops, we go out to try new restaurants and different street vendors.
On a pan-Asian streak, we decided to treat ourselves to some luxury dining and called the Fairmont Nile City to book a table for two at the hotel’s Vietnamese restaurant, Saigon.

To make the most of our experience, we checked reviews on TripAdvisor to figure out the best dishes to try and noticed that the restaurant took time to reply to almost all of the reviews, a rare PR move in Egypt and a positive sign that what I was going to experience would be carefully managed.

Dressed in heels and comfortable cocktail dresses to match the expected ambiance, we were welcomed at the door and ushered past the kitchen, which had clear glass walls decoratively masked by bamboo plants. It is always a reassuring sign to see a clean and organized restaurant kitchen, although my OCD couldn’t help but notice the stocked shelves in the kitchen were a bit messy.

I had requested a table by a window when making reservations on the phone, then at the restaurant, we were informed that tables overlooking the Nile are on first-come, first-served basis, a fact that would have dictated our chosen time to dine had we known that in advance. Nevertheless, we were seated at the back of the restaurant on an elevated plane giving us a partial view of the Nile. I was later impressed by how smoothly and swiftly we were moved to a better table.

The general ambiance was quite romantic, enhanced by dim lighting and a candle on our table. While it was relaxing, reading the menu was a bit of a challenge. The choice of songs, however, had nothing to do with the intimate, elegant atmosphere. “Stacy’s Mom” was playing as we walked in, followed by a line of similar 2000s-teen songs before finally changing to tunes that suited the mood of the restaurant.

The layout of the table complemented the luxurious vibe the restaurant was trying to create. However, the table napkins felt like they were washed too many times, a clear sign of overuse.

It is our style when testing new restaurants to order one main dish and a variety of appetizers. I generally believe appetizers tell more about a chef than a main dish does.

We began our culinary experience with jumbo prawns in the crispy almond crust (EGP 145). They were presented on banana leaves and served with the most incredible chili mango salsa. Everything about this dish was perfection. The prawns smelled heavenly, soft, and succulent, while the crust had the right degree of crispiness. Every prawn was the same golden color, something that is difficult to achieve. Even the mango salsa had the right level of tang.

The waiter then followed with crab and tofu fritters (EGP 65), served in a ball made of dried glass noodles with sweet chili sauce for dipping. I am not a fan of tofu, but the texture presented by mixing mushrooms, crab, tofu, and spices fell well on my taste buds.

Next came our last appetizer, prawn siu mai (EGP 98), which is steamed Chinese dumplings stuffed with minced prawns and served with ginger-garlic soy sauce. The dumplings came in a traditional bamboo steamer on a bed of banana leaves. They looked divine to say the least; however, removing them from the banana leaves was a two-man job.

Before we managed to finish our appetizers, the waiters began clearing our table to present the main dish, Peking duck (EGP 265). The menu highlights the dish as one of the restaurant’s signature plates and it comes with complimentary glasses of Chateau de Granville, a Merlot-Cabernet Sauvignon blend. This was our favorite dish by far, closely followed by the almond prawns. The duck was very buttery with a thin layer of crisp skin and carved perfectly. The dish came with thin sticks of cucumber and spring onions, hoisin sauce, and lacy pancakes for assembling. The pancakes were a bit too delicate to properly hold their contents, so we ended up stacking them two at a time. The hoisin sauce was delectable, with its smoky aftertaste and a mix of ingredients that I couldn’t for the life of me identify.

We ended our Asian adventure with fried vanilla ice cream (EGP 78), with an almond crust, drizzled with cherry sauce. While every bite we enjoyed during the night was flawless, the dessert ended our culinary experience on a commercial note. The ice cream and cherry sauce did not taste like they were made in-house, rather they seemed similar to the regular supermarket versions we buy on our way home from a long day.

Other than the dessert, the overall experience of Saigon is definitely worth repeating. From the ambiance to the friendly staff, the culinary experience definitely offers value for the money.

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