Saigon Review: A Cairo Spot for Asian Fine Dining with a Twist
With birthdays less than two weeks apart and schedules too hectic to navigate, my husband and I have a tradition of hosting just one birthday dinner for the two of us, but making sure to go all out. In anticipation of this occasion, we scoured TripAdvisor, aiming for fine dining with a view.
After scanning a number of Egyptian and Italian restaurants – two cuisines we come across perhaps a little too often to opt for a special occasion, we came across Saigon, which describes itself as a “pan-Asian” restaurant with a “signing key” . A quick scan of its menu and multiple five-star reviews, along with jaw-dropping Nile photography, helped us make the decision.
Once we reached the restaurant floor of the Nile City Fairmont, we were able to immediately point out our target. The entrance to Saigon was decorated with understated statuettes and paintings clearly inspired by a variety of artistic styles from across Asia. The light was pleasantly dim – luckily not too dim to see the food or the menu – and as requested they found us a table with a view of the Nile.
As we sat down, we immediately understood why all of the captivating photos of the Nile view from the restaurants were taken in daylight: with no natural light, the water view is too dark to really appreciate. to profit from. There are no brightly lit buildings on the other bank to reflect on the water, and the most visible landmark is a deserted segment of Mamsha Ahl Masr, with a few fountains illuminated in bright, primary colors.
Nevertheless, the wide and tall windows gave a spacious effect and the atmosphere of the restaurant was cozy and welcoming. The waiter in charge of our tables asked if we drank alcohol, and when we said no, he recommended two signature mocktails, the Egyptian Breeze (EGP 94; USD 9) made with orange , pineapple, lemon juice and grenadine, and the Sprite Passion, made of Sprite laced with passion fruit syrup, each of which we ordered one.
Held in the company of jazzy covers from artists as varied as Madonna, the BeeGees, Taylor Swift and Pink Floyd, we began to choose the various elements that would make up our dinner.
As a starter, we ordered the Satay (190 EGP; 10 USD), a dish of grilled beef and chicken skewers with a thick peanut sauce, and a steamed basket of Siu Mai shrimp dumplings (180 EGP ; 9.5 USD) served with garlic ginger infused soy sauce.
I have personally tried cooking beef satay skewers at home, so eating them was a somewhat humbling experience. Both the chicken and the beef were cooked to perfection: tender and with a marinade that paired remarkably well with the depth of flavor in the sauce. The dumplings were also full of flavor, a real treat for any seafood lover.
In the meantime our mocktails had also arrived, and I’m not sure if it was the high quality of the food or the somewhat disappointing nature of the drinks – particularly the Sprite Passion – but they were left without too much glance.
Our next order was sushi. When selecting our rolls, we noticed that most varieties could only be ordered in eight pieces, a portion that could not be halved, limiting the ability to try a variety of rolls without over-ordering in terms of quantity.
When the sushi arrived at our table, the waiter who brought it suggested we get out our cameras because there would be “a show”. We did as we were told, filming a flow of liquid nitrogen into the trivet under our sushi, creating a smoke effect. While we found the show quite entertaining, but not entirely necessary, we really enjoyed our Volcano Rolls (EGP220; $11.5), Crispy Rolls (EGP192; $10), and Ebi Tempura Rolls ( EGP 250; USD 13).
We had initially hoped to order a dish of duck for our main course, but the waiter told us that due to orders from customers before us, they were all out. Instead, we ordered the Beef Oyster main course (EGP 475; USD 25), also recommended by the chef, and a best seller according to the restaurant menu.
This time the recommendation was a home run. The thin strips of tender beef were in a rich sauce bursting with umami thanks to the inclusion of oyster sauce and shiitake mushrooms. I was personally delighted that there were also bamboo shoots in the mix, an ingredient that I have particularly loved since childhood.
We decided to have dessert for good measure. We originally wanted to try the two most unusual things we found on the menu, but the Sago Coconut was unavailable due to the lack of a key ingredient that had to be imported. So we opted for the avocado ice cream (160 EGP; 8.5 USD) and the creme brulee trio (160 EGP; 8.5 USD).
To our surprise they moved us to a different table where they had laid out the dessert in a festive setting and sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to us. The friendliness of the staff really stood out when they informed us that the dessert was on the house.
The avocado ice cream was a hit. Although the flavor was subtle, more of an aftertaste, it worked well, and the pastries with a warm, delicately spiced apple filling complemented it beautifully.
The creme brulee ramekin mix deserves a more nuanced review. They were respectively flavored with matcha, truffle oil and black sesame seeds. Tasting the first one, I felt like a Great British Bake-Off judge who had to tell the contestant that he couldn’t taste his unique star ingredient. It simply tasted like a basic creme brulee.
For us, the second was a disaster. It may be a lack of development of our taste buds, but the truffle oil didn’t seem to suit the flavor and texture of the creme brulee. Flavor innovations can be great, but as British food critic Jay Rayner asks on Netflix cooking show The Final Table, “…but does it taste good?” In this case, it was not. The black sesame ramekin is the only one we found really special.
After informing them that we found their mocktails somewhat disappointing, they also offered us a more unique mocktail consisting of a mix of fresh berries, ginger, chamomile, lime cordial and water tonic, a drink that was considerably more interesting and enjoyable than they were offered to us in the early evening. Unfortunately, this drink is not available on the menu, but rather a creative twist from their resident mixologist, Michael, but I recommend asking for this combination while you’re there.
All in all, if what you’re looking for is a truly authentic Asian dining experience, Saigon isn’t your best bet. In any case, if you were looking for one, I would much more likely recommend one of the many moms and pops places hidden in unexpected corners of Cairo.
But if your target is an Asian-inspired fusion dining experience, I absolutely recommend Saigon. From the welcoming attitude towards the staff and their dedication to providing guests with an enjoyable experience, to the quality of the ingredients and the preparation of the dishes, our experience was overwhelmingly positive. I only wish we had been there in broad daylight.
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