Tue, 23 Aug 2016 - 02:39 GMT
An unlikely oasis in the heart of one of the region’s busiest airports, Le Méridien Cairo Airport beats expectations on all levels.
by Ahmed Goher
It was Thursday, and I had gotten off work later than usual after a demoralizing day filled with never-ending but ever-so-crucial meetings. I was tired and cranky, and as my cab ride crazily swirled its way from Dokki to Heliopolis, I pondered what my two-night stay at Le Méridien Cairo Airport held for me. The notion that it was a so-called ‘airport hotel’ geared toward weary travelers looking for sleep did not seem very alluring. Other than sleep interrupted by the engine roars of planes taking off and landing, what else was I going to do there?
To my delight, my worries were all unfounded. I arrived at the hotel, quickly checked in and received the key to my room on the fifth floor. Overall, the hotel is beautiful with an unmistakably modern style and a spacious lobby. After swiftly photocopying my ID, the receptionist handed me my hotel key and gave me directions to the elevator. On my way there, I was surprised to see a wedding taking place and was even more surprised when informed by hotel staff that weddings were regular at the hotel’s Lotus Ballroom. The next day, another wedding was held.
Entering into my Deluxe Room, I was comforted by a packed minibar with standard snacks, soft drinks and some beer (all reasonably priced considering hotel standards) on top of which was an illy coffee-making machine and an electric kettle. Moving further into the room, I saw what looked like a comfortable and inviting king-sized bed, a desk, a recliner, a big TV and a welcome amenity consisting of some nuts, dates, macaroons, dried fruit and green apples. Water bottles were liberally dispersed throughout the room, the far end of which featured a floor-to-ceiling window overlooking the pool, the road to the airport and, beyond that, the whole city.
After unpacking my bags and taking a shower, I went down to the last floor for dinner and a bit of fun at Live Sports Bar. The restaurant/bar is impeccably designed and features live shows, an impressive selection of drinks and a decent food menu featuring everything from steaks, burgers, sandwiches and salads to popcorn. It is also worth noting that the bar has a billiard table and an outdoor area where guests can enjoy shisha. This is the only smoking venue in the entire hotel.[caption id="attachment_522460" align="alignnone" width="620"] Live Sports Bar[/caption]
With Ben E King’s Stand by Me sung by a female performer, I started off my meal by ordering Prawn Konafa (LE 112) for an appetizer. The food arrived quickly and consisted of five big flavor-packed shrimp enveloped in crispy and buttery konafa, a garlic-mayo dipping sauce, a large portion of fries, and small salad (mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, lettuce and cucumbers). The food arrived in quirky and fun metal baskets.
Moving on to the main course, my wonderful dish of grilled Lamb Chops (LE 230) arrived cooked to perfection. The meat was juicy, tender and incredibly sweet, and was accompanied by a side of fries, grilled vegetables and mushroom sauce. Not wanting to overpower the exquisite taste of the meat, I used the rich mushroom sauce to give the crispy yet creamy-on-the-inside fries a little kick. I finished off the meal with a beautifully decadent Melted Chocolate Brownie and tea.
After the meal, I retreated to my room and called it a day. I crashed on the comfortable bed and immediately drifted into sleep. I slept like a baby, and the rooms, and the entire hotel for that matter, were well soundproofed. I do not recall hearing any disturbances - planes or otherwise - during my stay.
The next morning, I woke up feeling refreshed and eager to experience what the rest of the hotel had to offer. I made my way to the hotel’s club lounge: it was cozy and there were two other guests chatting and nibbling away on a light breakfast with coffee. The seating (comfortable chairs and sofas) was plenty and the lounge overlooked the swimming pool and surrounding green areas. The food was satisfactory — standard continental fare with toast, bread, pastries, cheese, salmon, smoked meats, hot dogs, eggs, some salad and fruit.
After breakfast, I went down to the lobby and stopped by Latitude Bar, a 24/7 coffee and snack bar that serves signature éclairs and holds special “Sparkling” cocktail hours every day. After an extremely rich chocolate macchiato and a chocolate éclair, I headed to the pool.
It was a sunny and beautiful day, and by noon guests were slowly starting to fill the lounge chairs. I approached one of the massage rooms overlooking the heated outdoor pool — while guests can usually select the gender of the masseuse, that day only the male masseur was available. With an aching back from a stressful work week I left myself in the hands of the masseur who expertly kneaded out every stressed muscle in my body. While the deep-tissue massage left me feeling exhausted, a few days later my chronic back-pain problems had disappeared. It is probably worth mentioning that massage prices at Le Méridien Cairo Airport are comparatively modest at LE 400 per hour compared to LE 1,000 and up at other five-star venues. The hotel also boasts a fitness center near Latitude Bar. And while I had did not actually use it, it was quite large with a range of exercise machines and free weights.
For lunch, I headed to Lebanese restaurant Mezzeh, which offers inside and outdoor seating overlooking the pool. Wanting to enjoy a light breeze, I opted to sit outside and could see a good number of guests lazily lounging around the pool.
For starters, I ordered vine leaves that came with a salad and were sprinkled with pomegranate seeds and pistachios for a creamy and slightly tangy bite with a delightfully nutty texture. I also ordered Maajouka (LE 80), described on the menu as halaby spiced grilled lamb meat stuffed with halloumi cheese, grilled vegetables, and mushrooms.
My main course of Pistachio Kofta truly impressed, consisting of grilled skewers of lamb kofta rolled by pistachio and halloumi cheese, with a side of vegetables and brown rice. It was served on a sizzling hot portable charcoal grill alongside two huge pieces of maajouka. Both were delicious, but the highlight was definitely the juicy kofta with the halloumi and pistachio combination setting the stage for an explosion of complementary flavors.
Later that evening, I headed for my final dining experience at China Red, which offers southeast Asian cuisine. Aesthetically, China Red is quite attractive: the seating is comfortable with classy wooden tables set in an unmistakably modern Asian atmosphere. The ceiling of the pathway leading up to a well-stocked bar at the far end of the restaurant changed colors and was etched with Chinese letters.
I began with the Tom Yam Gong soup (LE 55), featuring shrimp with lemongrass, galangal, coriander and vegetables, and Lumpiasayurans (LE 78), deep-fried vegetable spring rolls served with sweet chili sauce, chili pickles, chili soy and soy sauce. The spring rolls were crispy, flavorful and steaming hot. For my main, I had the Udangmasak Sambal (LE 260), shrimp in spicy chili sauce served with jasmine rice. The rice was fragrant and light and was the perfect side. The shrimp, while decently portioned and drenched in the delicious spicy chili sauce, were a bit overcooked.
Alongside the great food, comfort and entertainment, what stood out during my stay was the service. With no exception, every staff I encountered was friendly and eager to please. Waiters and managers were easy to reach and ensured everything was all right in a nonintrusive manner. These guys have perfected the art of satisfying guests. At no point did I feel like I was being pestered.
Whether you are a traveler on a layover looking to unwind for a few hours before your next flight or a Cairene wishing to escape the hustle of city life, you’ll definitely enjoy Le Méridien Cairo Airport.