Sotto Sopra El Gouna
Sotto Sopra is one of the newest, if not the newest, additions to El Gouna. It was at the Holi festival (March 2018) that I first met Karim Khamis. He told me about an Italian restaurant he and his friend, Luca were going to open. Luca, he told me, is a brilliant chef and cooks Italian food like you’ve never had before. Enthusiastic and confident in Karim’s description, I was keen to come for visit – try the food and absorb the atmosphere. I parked the idea, allowing it to rest until the opening. Fast forward to August 2018 – that’s only 4 months – to when a friend told me that Karim and Luca had indeed opened their restaurant. I was impressed, to say the least. When a person, or a partnership, has a vision, and they execute that vision, realise the dream so to speak, it tells me a lot about their character and levels of determination. Opening any shop can take unprecedented amounts of planning. Logo design, layout, interior decorating etc. can tax ones time and energy fairly quickly. But food adds a whole new layer of planning. Considerations for hygiene, imports and stock levels can take ample time to plan. But they did it.
I jumped on the opportunity to visit Sotto Sopra and see what they had done with the place. Sotto Sopra, by the way, is Italian for downside up. Downside up, I guess, is an upside-down version of upside-down. Karim’s father had a pizzeria in Berlin called Sotto Sopra, and after much thought and discussion, they kept the same name. One of their prized ventures is obtaining bespoke furniture from Indahouse based in Hurghada. Since the furniture is all handmade, it adds a more homely atmosphere of Sotto Sopra.
We arrived at the low lit restaurant on the quiet side of the Marina and saw some friends already dining there. They all remarked on how good the food was and how Sotto Sopra was quickly becoming the local hangout. Luca, by the way, turned out be none other than GM and head chef of Club 88 and Pier 88 – 2 of El Gouna’s very popular restaurants. He had also been a partner in Aurora, but now his focus is purely on Sotto Sopra.
We sat down and were served crispy chicken sticks (80LE) a basic, but tasty appetizer. Karim sat down with us for a chat and immediately raved about his bartender, Ahmed Eissa. Karim told us that Ahmed can realise dreams. You dream up a cocktail, and he’ll make it. He is talented and is able to stretch the boundaries. His secret? It’s a form of art to him. He thinks about what works best with what, creates his cocktails and loves what he does. And so we started off with a Mango Martini Spicy (130LE). Absolutely delicious: Thai spice, mango juice and vodka went down extremely well on the warm Egyptian evening.
We decided, this time, not to sit down for a regular meal and to review it but rather to try a number items off the menu. We let Luca and Karim decide for us and gave them the chance to show off their most prized dishes. First out was the Beef Carpaccio (140LE) – and it came quickly too. Delicious beef topped with mushrooms and grated cheese. By design, a simple dish, but the flavours were exquisite. Soon after that, we had the Risotto Porcini Mushrooms (180LE) which was strong in flavour and perfect in texture.
Along came the Rocket Gnocchi with Shrimps and Italian Saffron (210LE). Gnocchi is, in my opinion, one of the most delicious Italian dishes ever created. This Gnocchi did not disappoint. The sauce was rich and flavoursome and the shrimps cooked to perfection. The Gnocchi itself was soft and pure.
Karim then suggested pizza. “What do you like”, he asked. “Surprise us”, we said. Out came a slightly different looking pizza (120LE) to what we’re used to. Buffalo mozzarella and Parma ham topped with tomatoes and rocket, the flavour was just out of this world. I was genuinely surprised that a pizza could taste like this. Also, the base was softer than normal which, for me at least, made it even more pleasurable to eat.
A very appetizing plate of fried shrimp and calamari with zucchini (110LE) was then served. The calamari was extremely tender and just the right amount of batter to add flavour, but not detract from the calamari itself. We enjoyed every mouthful.
“One more dish?” Karim asked. We assessed our capabilities and agreed – happy to continue the feast of flavours. We were presented with Gnocchi allam sorrentina (150LE), a tomato-based gnocchi baked in buffalo mozzarella. The texture being smooth and the flavour being genuine and full, it was yet another taste sensation.
Throughout all of this Karim was keen to show off the expertise of his barman and kept the cocktails coming. Tom Collins (130), a gin-based cocktail with fruit and soda. This drink is over 100 years old and got its name from Jerry Thomas who wrote about it being served in a Collins glass. Also on the table were Mai Tais – a cocktail originating in Tahiti and meaning “good”.
We had to try a dessert and were served with Crema Catalana (70LE). Actually a Spanish dish, it is custard based dessert served with a hard caramel topping. Perfectly prepared and very tasty, I’m not sure how we managed to fit it in.
As if that was not enough, Karim insisted we try one last cocktail before we left. Out came the Spicy Strawberry Mojito. A fantastic blend of strawberries, rum, mint and crushed ice, it was a fantastic end to the evening.
Although the food was truly excellent, the atmosphere of Sotto Sopra is what really made an impression on us. We both remarked what a fun evening it was. Karim is full of jokes and good philosophy. This is reflected by how many times he got up to greet friends who were coming to dine. I even commented about how many people he knows, considering he’s only been a full-time resident for 8 months. This relaxed, friendly attitude permeates the atmosphere of Sotto Sopra and we had a truly fantastic evening filled with laughs and good food.
For reservations call – 0122 486 2724
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