Getting our brunch strategy back: The Four Seasons, Shenzhen

When we lived in Doha we brunched a lot, on reflection maybe we brunched too much if that’s possible! In Cairo we didn’t brunch at all, yes we had lunch out on a Friday usually at our favourite  place but it wasn’t ‘brunch’. We’ve now been in Shenzhen for 3 months and things are finally settling down so we decided it was time to check out the brunch offerings near where we live in Futian. 

Shuiwei, Futian

My initial search for a weekend brunch was pretty disappointing, I messaged a few hotels and they didn’t get back to me. This is something I find really bizarre, hotels promoting their restaurants but not responding to inquiries. Anyway, as I was just about to give up, the Four Seasons shared some of their restaurant details online and responded to my brunch inquiry within just a couple of minutes. Top job FS Shenzhen! They advised me to buy brunch via We Chat as it would give me a pretty significant discount paying 498RMB per person (for those of you who like a price comparison that’s about 254QR/56GBP so slightly less than the prices we used to pay in the Middle East). Saturday arrived and so did the eternal brunch question – breakfast or no breakfast? We opted for no breakfast which was a wise decision. After a quick selfie we Didi’d to the Four Seasons and headed upstairs to Foo Restaurant.

Our apartment complex in Shuiwei

It definitely had the ‘Four Seasons feel’. From the décor in muted browns, grey and cream, the lovely art work and flowers to the smiley, welcoming staff. I had requested a quiet table and we were given a recessed booth which was perfect.

Four Season Shenzhen Foo Restaurant

The staff pointed out the various food sections – seafood, a live noodle station, outside BBQ, sushi and sashimi, eastern and western dishes, the dessert section and an icecream stand. We placed our drinks order and immediately headed for the seafood.

There was an array of lobster, crab, mussles, and prawns complimented by a selection of salads.

Seafood Four Seasons Shenzhen
Saturday brunch, Four Seasons Shenzhen

After about 30 minutes of trying to get as much meat as I could out of 1 crab leg Greg commented that I had lost my brunch strategy; I was out of practice and he was right. The lunchtime sitting is 2hr 30min, I hadn’t maximized my eating potential. Sticking with seafood we headed to the sushi and sashimi kitchen. The selection was fairly small but wow, it was such good quality, especially the salmon sashimi. Greg loved the octopus but I wasn’t convinced. I had an unfortunate incident with an octopus in Spain which has kind of put me off them. 

Sushi, Four Seasons Shenzhen
Seafood plate, Four Seasons Shenzhen
Sashimi, Four Seasons Shenzhen

Greg then decided to try the live noodle station – this is where I think his brunch strategy went wrong. In my opinion we can get noodles anywhere in Futian and I make them at home all the time, plus they are really filling. They were tasty and the serving was huge but he also agreed that it was too early to be carbing up.

Noodle station, Four Seasons Shenzhen

Meanwhile I was busy tucking into fresh oysters which had been brought over to our table. Luckily for me Greg isn’t a big oyster fan so I got the serving to myself. With a lovely glass of white wine we were definitely enjoying this brunch. 

Oyster platter, Four Seasons Shenzhen
Oysters- yay or nay?

Half way through the noodle eating a trolley with different cuts of beef arrived! I am not sure what we tried as our Mandarin isn’t that great yet but it was so tender and juicy with a lovely tangy BBQ sauce. Greg asked her to come back so he could have seconds but we never saw her again much to his disappointment!

Carvery trolley, Four Seasons Shenzhen

By now we were getting full and had to be more selective in our food choices. I had eyed up a delicious looking mediterranen mackerel dish and Greg fancied the BBQ. The mackerel tasted every bit as good as it looked. 

Mackerel, Saturday brunch

The BBQ outside offered meat, fish and vegetables cooked over Jack Daniels infused chips. Cooked to order Greg chose a rack of lamb ribs, the fat had been rendered down until it was crispy and the lamb was a little pink with a hint of JD smokiness. 

BBQ, Four Seasons Shenzhen

 With our attention turning to dessert (mainly for research purposes you understand) we were given a complimentary red velvet cake which is one of the hotels signature dishes. I pretty much demolished that while Greg tried out the macrons and eclairs. By now we were absolutely full and a bit tipsy. 

Red velvet, Four Seasons Shenzhen
Dessert selection, Four Seasons Shenzhen

The Four Seasons was a great introduction to brunch in China and I am looking forward to trying out other places so I can make some comparisons and get my brunch strategy back. For me it was exactly the standard and quality I have come to love and expect from the Four Seasons brand both in terms of the quality of the food, abience and service. No, it didn’t have the traditional Middle East Friday brunch buzz, there were no fishbowls or peg games, it is more relaxed and refined than many brunches I have been to but that’s fine with me. 

Doha brunches

What to expect: For Friday dinner, Saturday lunch, Saturday dinner and Sunday lunch Foo restaurant offers a buffet priced 588 + 15% service charge and is inclusive of free flow house wines, Prosecco, beer, juices, coffee and teas. Children aged 5 and below eat free and 6-12yrs receive a 50% discount. There is a seperate children’s area where they have their own buffet and entertainment including a clown! The dress code is smart casual and you can expect friendly, efficient service and an array of top quality dishes.

Eat. Sleep. Repeat: An Update

June 2018

Greg and I sat in a beautiful restaurant in Greece and over a cold beer shook hands on a decision that would shape the next year of our lives. We decided to end our contract early and leave Egypt. In some ways it was the easiest decision to make, in other ways it was the hardest.

Santorini, Greece

I particularly had found Egypt very difficult. I can’t even put my finger on what I found challenging other than ‘everything’. It had all come to a head before the summer holidays when I sat with silent tears streaming down my face at the thought of staying another year to see out our contract. Greg would have stayed but he could not cope with how upset (and to be honest quite depressed) I was and we decided that at the end of the day our happiness is everything. When we returned to Cairo at the end of the summer we resigned our positions for the end of autumn term. It was like a weight had been lifted off our shoulders, but then came the big questions; What would we do? Where would we live? Would we survive the cold? Should I buy a onesie? What about the dog?

Milos, Greece

October 2018

We decided that Dyson would fly back to the UK before us and our family in Liverpool would care for him until we arrived. We threw him an amazing party (at which he dug himself a hole and laid in it all night ignoring everyone) then, with the help of a pet relocator, he flew from Cairo to Heathrow.

Dysons leaving party

November – December 2018

Over the next couple of months we tried to fit in as much sightseeing as we could, got ourselves organized and decided we wouldn’t look for a job with a January start. We chose instead to take some time out and travel, rest and enjoy life and look for something for September 2019. We held our leaving party on a private yacht and I wrote a blogged for what was to be last time until this post almost a year later. Greg activated his Search Associates account so he could keep an eye on jobs and I occasionally looked at TES but that’s as far as it went.

Djoser Pyramid, Cairo
Cristina Yacht, Cairo

December 2018

We arrived back in the UK just before Christmas after a delay of 8hrs, Egypt really didn’t want us to go! Us and our 8 bags were reunited with Dy in Liverpool where we also welcomed in the new year before we headed up to the North East to see my family.

Christmas Day 2018

January 2019

Greg signed up for the Search Associate job fair in London so we decided to make a holiday of it. The fair was very disappointing, there wasn’t really any management positions available for Greg so after just 1 day he withdrew. We decided we would stay in London and enjoy the tourist attractions and restaurants.

Brewdog, London
Tower of London
Launceston Place
Dishoom, Covent Garden
Plum and Spilt Milk

We stayed at the Travelodge in Covent Garden as we find the location really convenient and the prices for central London reasonable. They certainly aren’t the most luxurious of rooms but they are comfortable and clean. Out of the places we eat in London I’d really recommend Launceston Place and Dishoom, we both enjoyed both our meals there. I was disappointed with Plum and Spilt Milk a restaurant I have wanted to go to for ages. The service was quite ‘cold’ and the food didn’t live up to my expectations. It wasn’t a bad meal but I think I’d built it up in my mind to be so much more.

February 2019

We spent most of February up in the North East eating comfort food, going for wintry walks along the beach, taking advantage of pavements.

Winter beach walks
Never to cold for ice cream
Dyson loved being by the sea again

We spent a lovely weekend in York catching up with friends and I went to visit my brother and his family who I hadn’t seen for 4 years.

The view from the top of York Minister
Family time

Soon our attention turned to travel and we kept going back and forth with where we should go. First we chose Sri Lanka, then the USA then Europe. Eventually we decided on a train trip around Europe so we bought Euro Rail passes and started to plan out a rough route. Greg started to fill in some job applications and two schools really caught our attention – one in Lebanon and one in China. In all honesty I’d pretty much rejected China, I didn’t think it was somewhere I wanted to live and I’d heard less than wonderful reports about weather, pollution, traffic and schools. I kind of dismissed it but at the same time I had a gut feeling about that school in China….!

March 2019

I flew to the UAE for a week to finish my final stage of training to be a school inspector for British schools. It was a really interesting week and I loved being back the Middle East. Getting searched by security when I arrived back in Manchester wasn’t so much fun. Greg had inadvertently bought me flu medication which had a derivative of cocaine in it and the sniffer dogs did their jobs well! We had our Eurostar tickets booked for mid March and Greg was interviewed again for a position at the China school which went very well. The day before we caught the train to Bruges we both accepted jobs in Shenzhen so we went away knowing we had secured jobs for September. We had done quite a bit of research into Shenzhen and it seemed like a good fit for us. The tropical climate, proximity to the sea, lots of green space, good international airports, excellent transport infrastructure and its reputation as a young, tech center appealed to us. The package from the school was also excellent with proper work visas and HR support.

Shenzhen parks
Shenzhen light show
Shenzhen street life

March – May 2019

We spent 8 weeks traveling Europe by train; what an incredible experience. We didn’t really have a set itinerary or budget, just places we’d always wanted to go with places that sounded interesting thrown in. In the 8 weeks we traveled to Bruges, Antwerp, Dresden, Munich, Zurich, Vienna, Nice, Barcelona, Madrid, Toledo, Seville *, Valencia and Paris.

Just before we set off to Bruges
Bruges really is so quaint
Antwerp train station
Vienna Opera House
Bernina Express UNESCO heritage railway
Sagrada Familia

Beautiful Toledo

The Louvre
Heading back to the UK

We both celebrated our birthdays when we were away, mine in Dresden and Greg in Monaco (Monte Carlo casino to be precise!). Our trip was like a mini retirement and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Our highlights were the Green Vault in Dresden which was just jaw droppingly beautiful, the somber bleakness of Dachau, the scenery of the Bernina Express, the stunning architecture of the Familia Sagrada and the fun vibe of Sitges. Not to forget the food. All the food!

Waffles in Bruges
Fries with Flemish stew, Antwerp
Belgian chocolates
Sausage with potato salad, Zurich

Pintxos in Sitges

Madrid food market
Paella in Valencia
The best pasta I’ve had….. in Valencia

Duck with potato, Paris

* Greg didn’t enjoy Seville quite as much. After complaining of stomach ache, which I dismissed and left him to go shopping, he was admitted to hospital and within 12hrs had his appendix removed. This slightly messed up our travel plans as we had to skip Granada and Benidorm whilst he recovered from his operation. Luckily our travel insurance covered everything and helped us with all our medical, hotel and transport arrangements. I think Greg was just pleased we hadn’t gone to Sri Lanka as we’d originally planned!

Greg post surgery

May 2019

When we arrived back to the UK our visas application process for China began in earnest. I am not going to exaggerate but getting this visa was so incredibly stressful and time consuming. If you’re planning on working in China start your application early and check everything, then check again. Photocopy everything and photocopy it again. Take photos of everything and photograph them again. Literally blood, sweat and tears went into those visa applications and bless Greg for being so organized and thorough for getting us both through the process. I don’t think when we started the application we expected to ‘milk’ blood from each other but hey, that’s what happened and it is as weird as it sounds.

So many needles and bruises for so little blood

June 2019

At this point the realization that we didn’t have long left in the UK hit home. We had a few weekends away visiting friends and catching up with people and 2 bigger holidays.

Aysgarth Falls

Whitby donuts are the best!

We had a lovely week in Cornwall with Greg’s family staying in a wonderful house right on the beach. I’ve never been to Cornwall before so it was nice to see the places that Greg told me about, the places he spent his holidays as a child.

The view from our place in Portscatho
St Ives

St Michaels Mount

We also went over to the Lake District to stay at my sisters caravan for a couple of weeks. The weather was wonderful and we enjoyed walks, pubs and Greg’s recent obsession with tattoos!

Caravan life
Pooley Bridge

July 2019

We started packing and sifting through all the various boxes of our belonging we have scattered across the country including visiting our storage container in Sheffield. When we left the UK for Qatar in 2014 we put the contents of our house which we had sold into storage. It has now been sat there for 5years and we really need to make a decision what to do with it! It was odd to discover we have had an ironing board in storage for the last 5 years when I don’t even remember owning an iron!! Seriously, the things we kept.

We received the news that our visa application had been successful and we booked our flights for the end of the month. We packed and unpacked. Wrote lists, ticked things off, started new lists and repacked. Greg had a parcel arrive from amazon everyday and then he repacked and repacked again when another parcel came. Then, with one week to go we headed back to Liverpool for Greg’s graduation. In the midst of all this madness for the last 3 years he had been studying for a Masters. Despite moving countries, jobs and schools he had succeeded in achieving an MA in Educational Leadership and we had a fantastic day celebrating his awesomeness.

Graduation at Edge Hill
Such an achievement 🥰

Then the day arrived. We squeezed the last of our bits and pieces into 8 cases, said goodbye to our families and on July 29th we flew to Shenzhen ready to start the next chapter of our lives.

Manchester airport
A reminder why we put ourselves through relocation stress!

What I wish I’d known before I moved to Egypt

I wrote this post in January 2019, shortly after leaving Cairo. It has sat in my drafts for ages as I couldn’t find a time when it felt right to publish but now seems like a good time.

1. Moving here will be one of the hardest things you will do and you will nearly book flights back to the UK on a monthly basis. In the next 18 months you will experience the highest highs and the lowest lows.

2. You won’t travel to Jordan and Lebanon as you plan, there is so much to see in Egypt you won’t need to leave. In the next 18 months you’ll visit Alexandria, Sahl Hasheesh, Luxor, Ain Sokhna and have many Cairo staycations.

Ain Sokhna

3. Kayaking down the Nile on a Friday morning is magical, but it’s a lot less work to hire a private yacht and do it in style.

Kayaking the Nile
Cristina Yacht hire

4. You will massively lose your shit and cause a huge scene at Cairo airport when a taxi driver tries to charge you 170LE to get from T1 to T2. Eventually you settle on 50LE which will still kill you a bit inside.

5. Despite being asked to sign your name 1,783 times in front of a CIB member of staff until it is perfect, the name on your bank card will still be spelt incorrectly.

6. You know that you definitely want a burial chamber with hieroglyphs inspired by ancient Egypt.

Egyptian hieroglyphics

7. You’ll learn a bit of Arabic and you will use it daily. The sense of achievement when you can read a car registration plate is a small victory!

8. Driving home one night you’ll hear a weird sound in the car, then you realise it’s your indicator which you haven’t used for so long you’ve forgotten what it sounds like.

9. Egyptian vodka is lethal.

Egyptian vodka should come with a warning

10. Nefertari mandarin body scrub is the best thing ever

11. You will be shocked at the severe poverty here – never take for granted how fortunate you are.

Zabbaleen ‘garbage city’

12. You will find a good kennels for Dyson and it isn’t the place you go to check out where they simply shut dogs in a cupboard, no exaggeration.

Dyson spent his holidays at Hounds Club

13. You’ll become a pro at using your horn. One quick beep means ‘I’m in your vicinity’ a longer beep means ‘I’m overtaking / right next to you’ and a long beep means ‘ we’re about to die’

14. The banking system here is designed to test every last bit of patience you have. You must psych yourself up before a visit and if it goes well you’ll be confused why it went well and assume you’ll need to go back a few days later.

15. Koshary is delicious, go to Abu Tarek frequently.

Koshary Abou Tarek

16. The Oberoi in Sahl Hasheesh will be one of the best hotels you’ll ever stay in.

The Oberoi, Sahl Hasheesh

17. You will get used to doing a Gourmet shop on a Friday morning and wait for them to tell you what they don’t have so you can then do a Dakakyan shop followed by a final Metro shop. Even then you probably won’t have what you need so you’ll Otlob a KFC and Nola.

Nola rainbow cake

18. You will fall in and out of love with Egypt on a daily basis.

Cairo Tower

19. You will find a good beauty salon (Josy), hairdresser (Christie) and dentist (Cairo smile).

20. The gym is a waste of money – don’t join. The 1hr class will last about 25 minutes by the time the instructor has arrived, greeted everyone and had a chat. Most people in the class will wander in late, answer their phone in the class and use the mirrors to apply their make up.

21. Take advantage of Egyptian resident rates. The Hilton is Luxor is beautiful and you’ll get a HUGE discount.

The Hilton, Luxor

22. Don’t attempt Zumba, you will feel like the person who turned up sober at a party 3 hours late when everyone else is wasted.

23. You will get used to getting ready for work using a jug of tepid water between two of you because the water has been cut …….again.

24. You will meet a lovely bunch of people and make some awesome memories.

The Rehab 7

25. You can pay all your bills using Fawry at an ATM and online using the Fawry app (when the internet is working).

26. Bring ear plugs, Egypt is LOUD. A white noise app will become your best friend.

27. Fayoum is magical

Magic Lake

28. You’ll never feel as much disappointment at a restaurant closure than when you hear Sequoia has shut down!


29. Seeing Ramses IV tomb at the Valley of the Kings will blow your mind and make you a bit emotional.

Valley of the Kings

30. Never expect a tradesman to come with anything he needs to do his job. The painter will come without a bucket to mix his paint, the electrician will come without ladders and the guy who’s coming to measure for doors won’t have a tape measure

31. Stock up at Boots, especially tampons.

32. The BCA in Kattameya is good for a pie / fish & chip fixed every now and then.

BCA Kattameya

33. You will stop using the 4th exit of a roundabout. Like the locals you’ll learn to just do a U turn instead

34. Walking around a Christmas market listening to carols, eating sausages, drinking beer and making way for Mary riding her donkey feels surreal.

Christmas in Cairo

35. You’ll never find out what half the switches in your apartment are for, there’s a high probability you’re controlling next doors lights.

36. Don’t think that roundabouts are there to help the flow of traffic. They are for socialising, selling bananas, oranges, plants, rugs, fish, crabs and cuddly toys which make great gifts.

Dysons rescue birthday present

37. Bring warm clothes, December and January are fairly chilly, bizarrely it’s colder inside than out.

38. When you hear people talking about pyramids you don’t think of Giza, you think of their evolution and the poor bent one at Dahshur.

The bent pyramid

39. There will be far too many random experiences including your private driver bringing his mother in law and a picnic on your rode trip to Alexandria. Breaking down because the oil in the car engine was ‘too heavy’ and accidentally ending up in a high security water treatment plant

40. You’ll never regret the 18 months you spent in Egypt, professionally it was fantastic and personally there were some amazing highlights………..but you made the right choice to leave.

Our leaving party

An ethical horse ride by the Giza Pyramids

If, like me, you are disgusted and upset at the treatment of some horses (and camels) at the Giza Pyramids but you’d love to have the unique experience of seeing the pyramids on horseback then I think you’ll like this blog post! Last weekend myself and some friends booked a 2hr desert ride with Cairo Horse Riding School. My friends are regulars at the stables, they have weekly lessons there and even sponsor their own horse, AJ. It can be difficult to know which businesses are trustworthy and ethical but as they have been visiting these stables for a while they know Tamer is completely committed to rescuing horses and rehabilitating them.

Horse being rehabilitated

Tamer’s stables are located in Giza. The back gate of the property leads straight onto the desert South of the pyramids and catching a first glimpse of these ancient wonders was, as always, breathtaking. The stables house about 10 horses, the majority of which have been rescued from a terrible life giving rides at the pyramids in horrendous conditions. If you’ve been to Giza you will know many of the animals don’t receive adequate food and water, shade, rest or medicine. It’s hard not to see how emancipated they are, covered in sores and cuts from accidents and heavy handed owners. It’s beyond me why anybody with a conscience or any compassion would consider riding these poor things but I digress. Tamer also has a small menagerie of rabbits, sheep, dogs and a couple of donkeys! He’s more than happy for you to have a wander around while he gets the horses ready.

In need of some attention
The menagerie

Our horses were brought out to us and we were fitted with our riding hats. The stirrups and reigns were adjusted to our comfort and safety then we spent about 10 minutes walking around the paddock getting acquainted with our horses. Riley, my horse was a ‘feisty female’ I have no idea why Tamer thought her and I would be suited!

Getting our safety equipment set up
A trial walk around

Once we were all ready and comfortable we headed into the desert. The walk out took about 30 minutes and we could see the Pyramids very clearly. Tamer gave us instructions and advice throughout, checking on us often. He encouraged us to canter which was terrifying but exhilarating. You could tell the horses loved getting out into the breeze and having exercise.

And then out into the desert

Soon we arrived at a makeshift tent/cafe where we drank mint tea and sodas in the shade. The horses were tied up and given water although that didn’t stop them from sticking their heads under the tarpaulin to get to the dates and nuts we were eating. We sat with the view of the pyramids and the urban sprawl of Cairo before us then the Friday call to prayer rang out and it felt quite special.

Refreshment time for the horses
What an amazing view of the pyramids
Giza horse riding

After a rest we got back onto our four legged friends and took the same route back. It was amazing to be able to see Saqqara and Dahshur in the distance and really get a sense of the landscape. As soon as we arrived back at the stables we dismounted and the horses were given some time in the paddock, they threw themselves down, rolling in the sand to cool off.

As you can tell I loved my desert riding experience and it was made even better knowing that I was supporting a business which is committed to the rescue and rehabilitation of horses. My ride cost 400LE and this included all equipment, a drink in the cafe and supervision. Tamers Facebook page is called Cairo Horse Riding School here you can check out more photos, see the map showing the location and a price list for different services, there are also reviews on Trip Advisor. His English is excellent so if you have any questions you can contact him directly. Although I am really sore (I’m so unfit!) I really enjoyed my morning and seeing the pyramids from a different perspective.

*please note that this post was written in 2018*

Athens to Milos – the journey from hell

Warning – avoid reading if you are about to use Sea Jets and / or you get sea sick!

The first sign that our trip from Piraeus (Athens) to Milos wasn’t going to be plain sailing was that as we boarded there was a plentiful supply of sick bags. From a pile at the bar to individual ones in our seat pocket it was obvious that sea jets were well prepared. I’m not a good traveler, I always have a supply of travel sickness tablets with me even for short car journeys. With this in mind we’d booked the faster ferries in the hope that the shorter the ride the less likely I was to be ill, however in Greece it seems the opposite is true……..

Piraeus port, Athens

The night before our ferry trip, as my anxiety grew I started to read more about the journey. Big mistake. Each search brought up horror stories of how bad sea jets are in rough seas as they are small catamarans. Greg, trying to allay my fears, checked the weather forecast and we then quickly taught ourselves about the Beaufort scale. The forecast was for light winds, ‘it’ll be fine’ Greg said. Feeling relieved I drifted off to sleep looking forward to arriving in Milos. The next morning we arrived at Piraeus at the specified time and there was already a long queue. People were drinking coffee, eating pastries and looked relaxed, surely if it was as bad as people said they’d wouldn’t look so happy. I popped my travel sickness tablets and updated my Instagram.

Piraeus at dawn

As the sun was rising we started to board. It was a bit chaotic as people pushed and jostled to put their cases into the luggage holders but we just threw our backpacks on top and went to get our seats. Greg reminded me that it was very similar to the ferry we’d taken in Langkawi (which had been fine) but I felt a little claustrophobic. I went to get Greg a coffee and doughnut take my mind off things, I decided I would travel on an empty stomach. As we set off a muffled announcement said we’d have an additional stop making our journey longer. Not ideal but more time to listen to podcasts. We settled down for a 4hr ride.

At first it was reasonably smooth but as we headed into open sea it was getting a bit choppier. Like when there’s turbulence on a plane I looked around the assess if anyone else was looking for escape routes but no, everyone looked fine. I put my headphones back in and closed my eyes. A couple of minutes later Greg nudged me ‘I need to go to the bathroom’. He looked a little pale and he headed to the back of the boat. About 10 minutes later I had that sense of dread. My mouth went dry and I could feel my saliva glands filling. I was about to be sick. I quickly got up, tried to run to the bathroom clutching a sick bag whilst ricocheting off seats and luckily made it in time to vomit everything I’d eaten the day before into the toilet. The toilets were like airplane toilets ie tiny and I could hear a rhapsody of people in the toilets at either side vomiting too – this in turn made me be sick again. As I left the bathroom I saw Greg and he was literally holding onto the luggage racks with both hands, trying to steady himself and white as a sheet. ‘Have you been sick?’ I asked him. He simply nodded. There was a guy next to him being sick into a bag and one of the staff members was running around with a mop. What a job!

I returned to my seat and tried to distract myself with a podcast but it didn’t work. I returned to the bathroom dodging the luggage which was falling from the racks and clambering over musical instruments. As the journey went on more and more people were ill. Staff were walking up and down with sick bags (empty and full) and mops. There was a girl near me who was just shaking and crying. I didn’t feel in danger at any point, just so sick. I looked to the back of the boat and Greg was still wedged in the same position staring into oblivion. Then the worst thing happened. I got such bad stomach pains I was almost doubled over. I’m not sure if it was because I’d pulled muscles or if it was hunger (genuinely!). So I looked at Greg’s seat and there, in a bag looking completely delicious was a big, fat, sugared doughnut. Don’t judge me for what I did next…..with my double bagged sick bag in my left hand and my right hand free I started eating the doughnut. I’m laughing writing this at how ridiculous this may seem but I was so hungry. God, that doughnut tasted like heaven.

Just as I finished it the announcement came on that we’d arrived in Milos. The 4hrs of hell was over. Once we’d docked I was reunited with Greg and we both agreed we would rebook all of our ferry tickets onto a slower, cheaper alternative. No more sick jets for us! On a more positive note Milos was absolutely beautiful, I’ll be posting about our stay there soon!

Esca, Heliopolis (Iftar)

I was living in Doha during Ramadan in 2016 and 2017 so this year Ramadan, my first in Cairo, has been slightly different. I think it would be fair to say as a non-Muslim the holy month hasn’t affected my life as significantly as it did when I was in Qatar. Most shops are still open (all be it with slightly different hours), people are still working almost ‘normal’ hours, the radio is playing music and we aren’t restricted to eating and drinking behind a blacked out windows at school. We also haven’t been to as many Iftar / Suhoors as we have done previously, so on Friday we decided to try the set Iftar menu at ESCA, a restaurant I’ve wanted to go to for a while.

ESCA Iftar Menu

First off, I have to say how good the ESCA team are on social media. I made the reservation through their Facebook page and received almost immediate confirmation. Even when we arrived later than expected due to a combination of Uber cancellations and the craziest traffic, they didn’t seem to mind. The design of the restaurant is lovely. The tables are well spaced and several are divided up to give privacy, creating a more intimate feel. The floor to ceiling windows bring in natural light and the greenery allows for an outside/inside feel. Clever use of a mirrors on the ceiling reflects the lights and makes the restaurant feel spacious despite the dark furniture and fixings.

ESCA, Heliopolis
ESCA, Heliopolis

After a few minutes we were brought a ‘Ramadan’ drink which was fruit based and extremely sweet, a bottle of water and the Iftar set menu. As usual I had pretty much decided on what I was going to have as soon as I booked the table, so it didn’t take long for us to place our order. We confirmed our main courses – chicken and beef – but we weren’t asked about our soup choice. When we mentioned this we were told it was tomato, the soup of the day,  so it wasn’t actually a choice. Shortly after ordering the shared appetizers arrived, I really liked the small serving dishes and the portion size was generous. However, as we started to tucked into the appetisers our soup arrived. This was a bit odd as some of the starters were hot so we could either eat the hot soup and leave the starters, eat the starters and leave the soup, or eat both at the same time which wasn’t really practical. We chose to eat the soup and pushed our starters aside.

Iftar, ESCA

The soup was good. It tasted of fresh, earthy tomatoes with a hint of spice and had a lovely gooey ball of buffalo mozzarella dropped into it which added a creamy texture. It also a sensible sized portion keeping in mind this was one of 4 courses.

Iftar, ESCA

We then returned to the starters, I think it is fair to say we enjoyed some more than others. I loved the salty, cheesy, crunchy feta croquettes and single handedly I ate them all despite the lack of fig chutney. Greg really enjoyed the hawashi which he said was just the right side of spicy for him. We dipped fresh bread into hummus, tahini and aubergine, these were nice but nothing out of the ordinary. The arugula, tomato and onion salad could have been better, the arugula (actually spinach) was tough and several leaves were past their best with holes and yellow tinges to them. Also, neither of us like liver so we didn’t try the chicken liver with walnuts although it did look good!

Iftar, ESCA

Bizarrely, while we were in the middle of our starters our mains arrived. By now we had been in the restaurant for less than 30 minutes and it was starting to feel a little rushed. I am not sure why this happened, the staff were watching closely as we were the only people there and they could quite clearly see we hadn’t finished. We sent the main courses back but we were aware they were probably just being kept warm. Once we were ready to move onto our mains both dishes definite had the ‘wow’ factor, they were very nicely presented other than the fact the flowers had wilted and the gravy for the chicken had started to congeel as they had been kept warming in the kitchen. As we tucked in to the food these small issues faded away. Both dishes were excellent. My steak was cooked perfectly ( medium) and the sprinkle of sea salt helped bring out the flavour of the beef. The accompanying crunchy, buttery potato dauphinoise were moreish and the sweet baby carrots added a freshness to the dish.

Iftar, ESCA

Greg loved the roast chicken on a bed of risotto, the chicken stock gravy brought all the flavours together. The skin was crispy and again the contrast of textures worked well. By now we were getting full and I was defeated by the size of the steak!

Iftar, ESCA

Once again as soon as we had finished our main course the sharing dessert was brought out, it would have been nice to have a rest between courses but this didn’t seem to be the case. I am not sure if it was because we arrived ‘late’, they were closing soon ( it was just before 8pm) or if this is the usually serving style at the restaurant but for us it felt too rushed. The desserts were a bit hit and miss. We both really enjoyed the sobya semi freddo – creamy, fruity mousse encased in a white chocolate shell on a bed of kunafa, it was just sweet enough without being sickly. The dense date cake with meringue was just a bit too heavy after the previous courses but tasted nice. We really enjoyed the rich, creamy rice pudding but the menu said it was cranberry and cardamom and there was no evidence of either, it was plain creamed rice. Unfortunately the apricot tart was far too sweet for both us but if you like sugary, fruity dessert you’ll love it!

Iftar, ESCA

Overall it was a rather mixed experience. We really enjoyed some of the dishes, namely the feta croquettes, hawashi, both of the main courses and the sobya semifreddo but for us it just felt that the meal was over too quickly. By the time we had finished dessert we had only been in the restaurant an hour. I know that Iftar usually only runs for a couple of hours at the most, but to have been served 4 courses in under an hour seemed odd. The service was friendly and we loved the setting so we would definitely go back and try their regular menu after Ramadan. Do I recommend it? On the whole I would say yes. I think for 40OLE each (ignore the printed price on the menu, it isn’t 500LE) it is good value for money and if you maybe ask for more time between courses I think it would be a very tasty way to break your fast or just enjoy a nice meal.

Bella Italian Restaurant, Four Seasons, Cairo

I’m going to start this review by being completely honest and saying I have a bit of a weakness for the Four Seasons brand. In Qatar we often ate breakfast at the Four Seasons pool grill and had some wonderful meals in Elements. Our first ‘Friday Brunch’ back in 2014 was at the Four Seasons, Doha and we recently enjoyed a fantastic holiday in Alexandria where we stayed at the Four Seasons San Stefano. Our staycation at the Four Seasons Nile Plaza was excellent and, having been impressed with the Italian restaurant in the FS Alexandria, we decided to try ‘Bella’, the Italian located on the 3rd floor of the hotel. The first thing you notice when you walk into Bella is the large, open kitchen on the left where you can see the chefs at work. I always like this in a restaurant firstly because I’m nosey, but secondly because I feel it shows that they have pride in their standards and are happy for customers to wander over and take a look; in fact I was encouraged to do so! To the right your eyes are drawn to the huge windows which have a wonderful view of the Nile. We’d asked for a window table but these were all taken, nether the less the view was still lovely.

The design of the restaurant is plush but relaxed and comfortable. When we were there as a couple, there were large family groups and guests with small children, it’s suitable for all.

Once we were seated the menu was brought over and after ordering we were brought a bread basket with a variety of fresh Italian breads, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. It was a little disappointing when we came to order our drinks that there was no Desperados ( we’d been able to get them in all of the other F&B outlets without a problem which seemed odd) so Greg ordered a Sakkara and I enjoyed a fruity organic Egyptian rose. Greg chose eggplant parmigiana for his starter and I decided to go skip starters as I wanted dessert!

The eggplant parmigiana was fabulous. A tasty balance of soft eggplant, a well seasoned tomato sauce and good quality buffalo mozzarella drizzled with fresh basil oil. It was really nicely presented too and a perfect sized portion. I think they felt sorry for me because I didn’t have a starter and I was brought an amuse bouche of cherry tomato, basil and the creamiest, softest mozzarella pearl –  simple yet so tasty. After a suitable gap our main courses were brought over.

Oh. My. Life. I had opted for veal cannelloni and it was jaw droppingly good. The veal ragu was still quite chunky yet the cannelloni was silkly soft creating a perfect mix of textures. Oh and the cheese, it was rich and salty and had melted into the oil. It was unbelievably good. In fact, I’d drive back into Cairo just to have this dish again (and I hate Cairo traffic).

I was so absorbed in my cannelloni that I didn’t pay too much attention to what Greg had ordered but he was happily tucking into his dish of Seabass with prawns. The Seabass was light and the delicate fish broth with prawns wasn’t too overpowering- each element of the dish came together well. The only negative was that the skin had been left on and it wasn’t crispy so it was a bit of a faff to remove it.

As you can see from the bill the cost of our meal including taxes and service came to just under 1400LE. Bella isn’t a cheap place to eat but it’s one of the nicest meals we’ve had since we arrived in Cairo and, for me, the cannelloni (bold statement warning) is one of the best Italian dishes I’ve ever had. The service throughout was the perfect balance of friendly, professional and discreet. My plan to skip the starter and have dessert was pointless, the cannelloni was so filling I didn’t have room for dessert –  a good excuse for a return visit!

Top Tips 

  • booking is recommended especially on a weekend
  • ask for a window table for Nile views or a kitchen view to watch the staff
  • ask for the daily specials
  • order the veal cannelloni – but leave room for dessert!
  • if you are planning on staying at the Four Seasons and you have valid Egyptian residency they offer very good discounted rates -call them for more information

For more information a here is a link to the website and sample menus