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

A beginners guide to using Uber in Cairo

The recent news that Uber had been ‘banned’ in Egypt was discussed at length in the media, especially in the women’s groups I belong to. The common theme was ‘How will I get around now? Local taxis just aren’t safe’, ‘This is going to put women at the mercy of unregulated local taxis’ and ‘This is not going to help tourism!’. I feel privileged that I drive in Cairo; yes the roads are crazy but I’m too stubborn to relinquish my independence. However, for lots of people in Cairo, Uber is a fundamental part of their lives – it’s how they get to work, go shopping, meet up with friends and feel safe doing so. Luckily it doesn’t seem that the ban is imminent. It will go to through further judicial proceedings and it will be a drawn out process so, for the time being,  it continues to operate as normal and that’s a huge relief for people who rely on the service for a safe taxi ride. It is also important for tourists to know they can get an Uber rather than rely on less regulated services.

Official Uber Statement

However, in saying that I woke this morning to a series of tweets about a lady in Cairo who had been sexually harassed by an Uber Driver. Uber Egypt replied swiftly and have asked for further details but unfortunately this isn’t the first time I’ve heard people having unpleasant experiences with Uber. I was going to say ‘I’ve been lucky’ that it hasn’t happened to me, but I think that’s the wrong phrase. Luck shouldn’t come into feeling safe or not being sexually harassed. The main issues we’ve had with Uber have been;

  • The driver who decided to reverse for several hundred meters down Suez Road because he missed the turn.
  • The driver who, after many near misses and almost driving over a roundabout, pulled over and after a few minutes of searching pulled out his glasses.
  • The driver who drove the wrong way down a dual carriage way because ‘it was better’!

So, in the light of this news, the reports from customers and my own experiences I thought I’d write a quick guide to ensure a safer Uber ride, whether you’re a visitor to Cairo or a resident.

Check the drivers rating– when I order my Uber I usually check the drivers rating. For me, if anyone with a rating less than a 4 accepts my fare I cancel because it suggests to me there’s been issues previously.

I don’t set my location precisely where I live – the pin for my pick up location isn’t directly outside my house. For my security I drop it close by, but nobody picking me up would be able to tell which house I came from.

Check the driver matches the photo on the app – if I’m getting in by myself I always check that the Driver is the person shown on the app. Once Greg and I got into a car that we assumed was our Uber. It was only after he’d driven for a few minutes and asked where we were going we realized we’d been complacent and got into a random car and we quickly got out!!

Check the driver is using the app – it sounds obvious but a lot of drivers don’t like using the app because it uses data. Quite often they’ll turn the app off and ask for directions. If it’s somewhere I know I usually don’t mind and I’ll direct them, but if it’s not a place your familiar with insist they use the app. If they refuse, get out!.

Check the condition of the car – Cairo traffic is notorious and so too is the quality of driving and the condition of the cars. I have had many online conversations with Uber when cars have arrived with no working seatbelts. This is something for your judgement but we tend not to get in a car without working seatbelts especially if it’s a trip using a main road. If you report this to Uber you will be refunded. I asked Uber if cars have to be fitted with seatbelts in Egypt but they wouldn’t give me a definitive answer simply saying that cars have to ‘comply with local laws’.

Continue to use your own GPS – if I am going somewhere unfamiliar I always have Google Maps on ( it works offline too) so I can track where I am.

Learn and use basic Arabic– a few key words will definitely help with navigation. I don’t speak very much Arabic but when I Uber I do! Ones to know shimal (left), ya – meen (right), ala tul (straight), hena (here), shukran (thanks), ma salama ( goodbye). It’s also good to learn Arabic numbers so you can recognize car number plates.

Think about your conversation – again this is personal, you may be a naturally chatty person but sometimes this friendliness can be misinterpreted. If you don’t want to talk a quick ‘hi’ and then putting in headphones is usually works. However, I’ve had lovely drivers who want to chat and develop their English skills! A lot of drivers have Uber as a second job and many of them are genuinely interested in your Cairo experience.

Have the right change– if you’re paying cash make sure you have money similar to the quote you were given before booking the ride. It saves the hassle of not having change. I know some people don’t like to tip but if a driver has driven well, looks after his car and is professional I always tip, not a huge amount just a gesture. For example is a fare is 85LE I’ll give 100LE or if there’s 4 people and it’s 25LE give 40LE. If you pay by card have small tip 5/10LE ready for a short ride and 20LE + for a longer drive.

Be dropped off away from your home – similarly to when I get picked up I’ll get dropped off close to where I live but not directly at the door.

Check your receipt – once, after a ride, the receipt was more than I’d expected. I looked at the timings and the ride had not been ended until 10 minutes after I’d actually been dropped off! I have no idea how this happened but I was refunded. Always check and only pay what is shown on the green screen. Tolls are included in the fare, you do not need to pay extra.

Don’t answer your phone – this may or may not be a coincidence but the nuisance calls I’ve had have often been after I’ve Ubered. My advice would be to answer and if the person constantly says ‘hello’ keep the call going but don’t respond. This costs the caller and they soon get sick of it. The longest I’ve had someone shout ‘hello’ down the phone for was 12 minutes. I just left the phone on whilst I gave a running commentary of the bechamel sauce I was making for dinner. They never called back………

Rate well – if a driver has been good rate them well. If they’ve been awful rate them badly. Eventually over time the good drivers will prevail ( I hope).

Report any issues with Uber – in my experience Uber is very good and responding to complaints and questions. You can do this via their website, app or using social media.

Uber complains form

This is by no means an exhaustive list and most of it is common sense,  if you have more to add please let me know. Personally I don’t think twice about using Uber  and I would always use Uber rather than a ‘normal taxi’ but there are so many scare stories and misinformation online I thought this practical advice might be useful. The vast majority of Uber drivers are kind, honest, hardworking people simply earning a living getting you to your destination safely. Please remember to report any incidents that do happen to Uber – by doing this you’re ensuring the safety of other customers.

Thanks for reading!

From Qatar to Egypt – Highlights of 2017

If someone had told me in December 2016 the following year we’d be living in a new country, with new jobs I don’t think I’d have quite believed them. At that point we weren’t sure if we were leaving Qatar and Egypt wasn’t even on our radar. So, here we are December 2017 and I’m writing this sat in my little garden in New Cairo, proof that you should always expect the unexpected……Looking back 2017 has been a funny, challenging, exciting, crazy year. If you ever want any tips on how you should relocate to a new country feel free to DM me but I’ll give you some tips.

  1. Try not to move to a country which has cut diplomatic ties with the country you’re moving from. It means you, your husband, your dog and your shipping can’t get there directly!
  2. Try to avoid moving during Eid (especially when moving from and to a Muslim country).
  3. Make sure the Air B n B you’re going to stay in when you arrive actually exists.
  4. Don’t put your dog on a flight with a connecting flight – you may panic when you’re told he missed his flight in Jordan.
  5. Don’t cry in the car of an estate agent you’ve only just met.
  6. Don’t let your dog meet the ‘friendly’ cat which repeatedly will attack him until he’s so scratched you have to put him in a T-shirt as you still haven’t found a vet.

Now the dust has settled and I can just about laugh at how stressful the move was, here are 2017’s highlights.

Once we knew we were leaving Qatar we decided to spend the Easter holidays there completing our bucket list. One of our most memorable parts of the holiday was our stay at Regency Sealine Camp about 1hr south of Doha. A luxury camp right on the seashore we loved how relaxing it was, the tents were incredibly comfortable and the sea was wonderfully clear. If you read my post you’ll know our last morning was a bit of a let down, but I would have loved to go back and stay there again. I definitely recommend a visit here, it’s family friendly too.

The second hotel stay to mention was my solo staycation at the Kempinski Royal Maxim Palace, New Cairo. I’d had a tough couple of weeks and my stay here gave me some much-needed ‘me time’. I loved the sleek design of my room and the huge pool, plus it does a great staycation rate. I recently went back for a massage and made use of the indoor spa facilities which were very good.

One thing I miss desperately about Doha is having so many bars, restaurants and cafes on our doorstep. Cairo has been better for our waistlines and wallets, but I have found it hard to find consistently good places. I miss having the Marriott Marquis literally over the road for breakfast at Quickbites and sliders at Champions. On reflection, one of my most memorable meals of 2017 was at New York Steakhouse’s during their ‘chocolate menu experience’ with this venison dish. Their Ramadan tent was fabulous too.

In Cairo I’m so happy to have found Kazoku. Offering modern Asian food we’ve been several times on a Friday afternoon and never been disappointed with the service or the food. If you haven’t been you’re definitely missing out!

We also found Casper & Gambini’s is consistent and offers a wide-ranging menu. We often pop into the one at Cairo Festival City for brunch.

Pub wise we like to go to the Tap East in New Cairo for food and drinks. I think we’ll make more of an effort to go and listen to some live music here next year.

My New Year resolution for 2017 was to get more exercise and I started by walking 10,000 steps every day. This was mostly done walking along the corniche every afternoon with my headphones in listening to podcasts. I love being by the water and every day I noticed something different and enjoyed watching the weather and landscape change. Since moving to Cairo I’ve joined Fibers Gym but some of the classes have been a bit disappointing, hopefully they’ll improve in 2018.

I have loved having a garden and seeing Dyson playing on the green spaces that we have where we live, it’s so pretty. He’s such a good dog and manages so well moving from country to country. After saying goodbye to his Doha dog friends he’s made a new friend, our neighbors dog Zoe!

One thing I will never forget was the first time we saw the pyramids. A couple of weeks after moving we were driving around on a mission and trying to work out which direction the pyramids were in. We thought they were miles away but, literally seconds after discussing it, we drove up a flyover and, as we turned a corner, they were there in front of us. I nearly crashed! On our official tour there recently we were blown away by how big the pyramids actually are and the skill and ingenuity that went into building them. I think what I love even more is that there are still so many unknowns and so much still to be discovered.

I enjoy being by the water and one evening I went on a boat trip along the Nile. It was so special sailing along, listening to the call to prayer, watching the sunset and the realization I live in Cairo! It’s a lovely way to spend an evening.

It’s strange looking back at 2017, it feels like we’ve lived two separate lives this year – the familiarity of Qatar and the brand new experiences of Egypt. For us 2018 is going to be an exciting year. I turn the big 40, we have an epic summer trip planned and we are looking forward to exploring more of Egypt and Africa. Thank you to everyone who had read my blog, followed me on social media, messaged me with advice and tips – it really is appreciated. I wish you all a wonderful holiday with family and family and friends.

See you in 2018!