Four Seasons at San Stefano, Alexandria 

You may have read in my previous post that on our recent trip to Alexandria we stayed at the Four Seasons. I feel that the hotel was partly the reason why we enjoyed our holiday in Alexandria so much, as it brought a bit of luxury to our trip. So, here’s my write-up of our *almost* perfect stay.

The Good

As the saying goes location, location, location. Usually when I book a hotel  – because lets face it Greg doesn’t get too much of a say – my choice is based on the location. If it’s somewhere we haven’t been before I try to choose a central location close to the main sites, if it’s a place we’ve been several times I’ll book based on different factors. As this was our first visit I wanted to be close to the historic / tourist sites such as the catacombs, amphitheater and Citadel as I’d heard horror stories about the traffic and didn’t want to waste time sitting in jams. It turned out that the location was ideal, in normal traffic it took about 20 minutes to the main sites and just over that to the Citadel. The hotel is located right on the corniche and has fabulous views over the Mediterranean Sea.


On this occasion we didn’t book a sea view room but I would probably upgrade when we go again. I bet watching the sunset from one of the balconies is just wonderful!


I wasn’t expecting too much from the room as it is their cheapest basic room. However, on arrival I was pleasantly surprised. Our city view room was very spacious, I liked the how light and airy it was and the classic design. There was lots of storage space, mini bar, complimentary water, kettle, coffee machine ( pods were extra) hairdryer, robes, slippers and a safe. I thought the in-room plug adapters were a thoughtful touch especially for international travelers. The best part of the room was the extremely comfortable bed with down pillows; it was difficult to get up on a morning after such a good nights sleep!

 


The roman style marble bathroom was a lovely place to relax after a busy day with a very deep bath and separate powerful shower. I loved the double doors that folded back to reveal full length mirrors and the mosaic feature tiles; which resulted in a really luxurious feel.

 


We didn’t make use of the balcony other than to dry our swimsuits as it was overlooked by the rooms directly opposite and wasn’t very private. To be fair, the view from the balcony wasn’t great as we could only really see the roof of the mall and a tiny glimpse of the sea. If you want a room with a pretty view I would recommend the sea view rooms at an extra cost.

 

Food 

We had breakfast included in our room rate and it helped set us up for the day. Each morning the staff greeted us and gave us a table with a wonderful view. Breakfast is served buffet style and there was the usual selection of pastries, fruit, deli items, hot dishes, waffles, pancakes and an egg station. Kala restaurant is nicely designed using a fresh blue and white theme and has lots of natural light,  it was lovely to start the day people watching and gazing at the sea.

One evening we ate at Stefano’s, the Italian restaurant within the hotel. We thought the food was very good and the service from Mina was exceptional – he really is a credit to the hotel. It was a shame that the restaurant was so quiet but the food was of a good standard and reasonably priced.


We also tried room service one evening when we were felt like a night in. Once again the food was very tasty and arrived within about 30 minutes.

Pool / Beach

The amenities within the hotel were also good and made for a relaxing stay. Despite the outdoor pool being a little chilly it was a great place to go back to after a busy morning sight-seeing. There were plenty of loungers and, by early afternoon, the terrace caught the sun.

In addition to the main pool there was also a Jacuzzi and a shaded kids pool.

Occasionally we were brought complimentary ice cream and fruit, which was a lovely touch.


The hotels wonderful, private beach can be safely and conveniently accessed via a corridor which goes from the hotel under the main road. At the beach there is a restaurant serving food, drinks and shisha which is perfect when you want a break from the beach but you don’t want to walk back up to the hotel.

There is a washroom with toilets and showers which were very clean and perfect for getting changed or for freshening up. The beach itself is well maintained and has sunbeds, chairs and umbrellas. We spent a few hours here catching a bit of sun, dipping our feet into the clear water and listening to the waves!


Why ‘almost’ perfect?

There were a couple of things that we felt could have been better and these were mostly down to communication. On our first day we had a lovely lunch by the pool however, there was a price discrepancy between the menu we ordered food from and the bill. It transpired that the outlet had 3 different menus showing completely different prices. We had been given the menu with the cheapest prices to order from but the bill had been calculated using the most expensive menu. We felt that this was unfair as we were charged the higher prices and we explained that we should have paid the price from the menu that we ordered from. The staff were very apologetic but we did have to pay the higher bill as they said it was an error on the menu. To be fair it was only about 150LE difference but for us it was the principal. Later when we went to the pool we were given a complimentary coffee but it didn’t leave a good impression.


Another disappointment was the closure of the indoor pool which we were not informed about on check in. The staff at the spa told us the steam room was still available but these were segregated and therefore we couldn’t use the indoor facilities as a couple, which was disappointing – especially as the outdoor pool was not heated.

So, being picky, our stay wasn’t 100% perfect but on the whole it was relaxing and we loved the location, our room, the pool and private beach. There was some inconsistent service and the indoor facilities weren’t fully functioning but this wasn’t too much of an issue overall. My plan is to return in a couple of months, book a sea view room and enjoy a winter break Alexandria style!

Sakura, Rehab City

One thing that I could never get used to in the Middle East is how late people go out and stay out, especially on a ‘school night’. Being up at 5.30am for my full-time job simply means I can’t go for dinner at 9pm as at that time I’m usually crawling into bed. I have often excused myself from events it’s getting too late or, in some cases declined invites when the party started at 11pm – this must make me sound really old but unless I get a good 8hrs sleep I just can’t function (I have no idea how parents are up with children throughout the night and arrive in work bright-eyed and bushy-tailed!). I have lost count of the times I’ve arrived for dinner at 7pm to an empty restaurant only for it to be packed by the time I’m leaving at 9pm and, from what I’ve seen so far, Egypt is no exception to this love of nocturnal living. When we arrived for dinner at Sakura I received a ‘are you sure we’re in the right place?’ look from Greg and I reminded him it was only 6.30pm – but at least we had the pick of the tables! Located in City Square, Sakura is a Japanese restaurant with a large outdoor terrace and inside seating with a live cooking station. We chose to sit outside and we were brought the menus which is mostly made up of sushi, sashimi and teppanyaki.

Sakura, City Square, Rehab City

We decided to share a few plates of sushi and a beef teppanyaki with rice. Our order was taken quickly and Hani our server had a quick chat with us about where we were from and told us a little about the restaurant. He was really friendly and throughout our meal the service was good.
All of our dishes arrived within a few minutes of each other which was fine with us and the food was well presented. The Ebi Tempura was an absolute winner for us, the Tempura batter was very light and crispy and the prawns were big and juicy. 

Ebi Tempura, Sakura, Rehab City

Our sushi order consisted of Crispy California Rolls and Salmon Skin Maki. I found the California Rolls to be a little bland and I’d look to order something different next time but the Salmon Skin Maki was a great mix of textures. From the soft rice to crunchy skin and a good kick of heat from the spicy sauce.

Crispy California and Salmon Skin Maki, Sakura, Rehab City

The beef teppanyaki was rather forgettable. The meat was tender but it wasn’t particularly warm or flavoursome. Again, I probably wouldn’t order this again. There was nothing wrong with it but I’d stick to the sushi.

Beef Teppanyaki, Sakura, Rehab City

After finishing these dishes we asked for another look at the menu as we felt we could manage a little more sushi. Having really enjoyed the Ebi Tempura we chose the Shrimp Tempura Roll  which was a great decision. Crunchy Tempura and soft juicy shrimp with creamy avocado, they disappeared from the plate very quickly!

Shrimp Tempura Rolls, Sakura, Rehab City

As predicted as we were finishing our meal it was starting to get busier, we asked for the bill and headed off next door to Costa for coffee and cakeaway to have at home in our pjs!

The damage

Our meal cost just over 450LE which was reasonable value, the teppanyaki was significantly pricier than the sushi. We’ll definitely come back and I know we’ll be ordering the Ebi Tempura and Tempura Shrimp Roll.

The Smokery, Katameya Heights

When you’re new to a country how do you find out about good places to eat? For me I usually check out Trip Advisor, read blog posts and google reviews. Here in Egypt there’s El Menus which is similar to Zomato, a webiste I relied on a lot in Qatar. Having carried out my due diligence and read great reviews I reserved a table at The Smokery in Katameya Heights for a night out. We eventually arrived just after 5pm after a scenic detour thanks to Uber!

You know the feeling when you make a reservation and walk into an empty restaurant? Yeh, that’s exactly what happened. We assumed it would get busier later on and we were shown to our table by the hostess who told us we had the table ‘with the best view’. It was pretty; the weather was perfect and it was nice to sit outside overlooking the golf course and lake. We were quickly brought the menu and hopes were high it was going to be a lovely evening.


The menu written, in English and French, was extensive and the food sounded delicious. We took a while to decide what to have but the staff didn’t seem to mind as they were setting up for the evening and, as the only customers, we didn’t feel rushed at all.


We decided to share a couple of appetizers and have a main course each. Our drinks were brought over but there was no interaction at all from the waiter. I know due to language barriers communication isn’t always easy, but a smile wouldn’t have gone amiss. We placed our food orders and again no interaction other than to repeat our order back to us.


After waiting about 10 minutes our appetizers were placed in front of us in silence. The chicken satay was ok. It was lukewarm and the sauce wasn’t particularly flavoursome, the chicken was also fairly dry. The tempura shrimp faired a little better, the plump shrimp were hot and crispy and the chili sauce packed a punch. It was just a bit ‘standard’ I think from the reviews I had higher expectations. We assured each other the mains would be better!


After a suitable wait our plates were removed, again in silence, and our main courses were brought out. I thought my quinoa salad with salmon was well presented but unfortunately it didn’t taste as good as it looked. The quinoa had no taste and the ‘julienne vegetables’ (carrot and cucumber) didn’t add any texture. The salmon was tasty but very rich as there was nothing sharp to cut through the smokiness of the dish and it was just a bit bland and…….boring!


Greg was happier with his surf n turf. The steak was cooked medium as requested and the potatoes were well seasoned, the shrimp were really tasty. However there was a big jump in price from the steak to the surf n turf and he didn’t feel the 2 prawns were worth the extra cost. He also felt it the dish should have had some veg.


Our plates were removed in silence, no enquiry if we enjoyed our meal or any smile or acknowledgment. By this point 2 more tables were occupied but there wasn’t really any atmosphere apart from the staff coming and going on golf buggys. We decided against dessert or more drinks and asked for the bill. At this point a manager came and told us there was a problem with the till and our bill was hand written. Even he didn’t ask about our meal or show any interest in our visit.


We left a little over an hour after we arrived. As we left we walked past 3 members of staff and then the manager – not a single person said goodbye or even glanced at us! Unfortunately for us The Smokery was a bit of a disappointment. Yes, as other people had reviewed, the setting is lovely but in my opinion the food and service has got to match and for us it sadly didn’t. It wasn’t representative of the warm and friendly service we’ve experienced during our time in Cairo so far. Would I go back? I doubt we would eat there again but it is a nice spot for drink so I won’t rule out a return visit completely.

UPDATE – Sept 2017

The Smokery have been in touch with me, keen to find out more about my visit. It was really nice to speak to the Operations Manager and discuss some of the points I raised. He was very keen to emphasise that our experience certainly isn’t what customers should expect, we’ve been invited back for dinner. I’ll update this post again if we return. I thought it was really good of them to contact me – things don’t always go right but I feel they’re trying to make amends.