Hard to miss when walking between Midan Tahrir and Midan Talaat Harb due to the Christmas tree, festooned with fairy lights, that sits above the entrance to Café Riche. Step inside and you'll be amazed at how little it has changed; every effort has been made to keep the interior as it would have looked in its glory-days, and it's said that the owners keeps hundreds of old photographs of the place to ensure it loses none of it's early 20th century style. There are two long, narrow rooms with windows in-between, one room is very bright and touristy and the other is subdued with a greeny, yellow sheen and more of a local, Arabic feel. A recent addition is a cellar bar discovered during renovations.
Laid out in the style of a classic 'European' restaurant, every piece of furniture looks and feels like a genuine antique, from the wooden tables and chairs that are engraved with 'Café Riche' to the extensive array of framed portraits of great, famous and infamous Arabs, all of whom I assume have visited.
Café Riche's history is so entwined with the history of Egypt that this bar, restaurant and café is almost a nation monument. Founded in 1908 and been open continually, apart from a 10-year closure following the Cairo earthquake of 1992 that structurally damaged the building, places with this much history in other countries are now lost forever, the historical event forgotten and the building demolished. It was from here, for example, that a failed assassination attempt was made in 1919 on the passing motorcade of Prime Minister Pasha, who was accused of being too friendly with the British, who occupied Egypt at the time. Nasser is believed to have planned the1952 plot to overthrow King Farouk in Café Riche. Anybody who was anybody in the Arabic world, political, literary, artistic or revolutionary, has been in Café Riche and has made some history here, including a student Saddam Hussein who was educated at Cairo University and visited Café Riche often.
A 500ml bottle of Stella costs E£10 (about £1) and is served at your table by a waiter in traditional garb - small white turbans and blue galabias. The very polite waiters, it has to be said, look extremely bored when not serving customers, who are mostly Europeans swigging Stella or bottles of Egyptian wine/paint stripper! The lack of Egyptians is surprising considering Café Riche's central location and heritage; there are a few locals, but they're sitting in the greeny, yellow haze - it is unclear if this is through choice or café policy (or apartheid). If you've got an apatite, you can get a plate of hard nachos - mezzos - with cheese and tomato for E£4 (44p).
The tables are set with salt and pepper pots, a flower, a tablecloth and vertical, phallic napkins folded to resemble an Islamic minaret. Crazy paving covers the floor and an abundance of hanging baskets and fans dangle from the ceiling. Nets cover the windows along the entire length of the cafe to keep the riff-raff from peering in, but the windows and door fail to silence the incessant beep, beep, beep from traffic clashing for position on the Midan Talaat Harb roundabout outside. The roundabout contains a five-meter bronze statue of industrialist-financier Talaat Harb, founder of the Egyptian National Bank.
A stroll through the greeny, yellow, 'Arabic' side, under the gaze of the stern faces peering down from the wall, brings you to the toilets, of which there are sinks and hand dryers both inside and outside, as well as a jug and bowl arrangement - the reason for the excess of ablutions is unknown!
Review by mr_psm