Mena House: Cairo’s most legendary ‘family hotel’

An inside view of Mena House. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 01 June 2019

Mena House: Cairo’s most legendary ‘family hotel’

  • It is named after the first king referenced in the Tablet of Abydos

CAIRO: In the shadow of the great pyramids of Giza lies Cairo’s most historic hotel, Mena House. 
This legendary hotel has played host to kings, queens and heads of state, including Empress Eugenie of France and Winston Churchill, as well as well-known figures such as Agatha Christie and Charlie Chaplin. 
Mena House was originally a hunting lodge built by Khedive Ismail for the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, to receive Empress Eugenie and other dignitaries who attended the event.
In 1883, Frederick and Jessie Head, a couple on their honeymoon, acquired the former hunting lodge and enlarged the house and added a second floor. Finding the air beneficial, they built a small sanatorium, hoping that invalids might recover there and gain a new lease of life.
As they sought a name for their estate, Professor A.H. Saya made the suggestion that it should be called Mena House, after the first king referenced in the Tablet of Abydos.
A few years later, Mena House was sold to another wealthy couple, Hugh and Ethel Locke-King, Once the couple had settled into their desert house, Ethel decided to create a hotel. She hired a Cairo-based English architect, Henri Favarger, to create their hotel, plotted out in the desert beside the lodge, which the Locke-Kings retained as their own private residence.
The Mena House “family hotel,” with 80 guest rooms, was opened in 1887. Rooms were spacious with 10 foot-high ceilings, fireplaces, and were furnished with English furniture.
The hotel had a billiard room, a darkroom for amateur photographers, a studio for artists, a stylish dining room, a library, and the services of a French chef in the fashionable restaurant. The Italian photographer Fasani had his studio at the hotel.
Four years after the opening, a swimming bath was added to the hotel, the first of its kind in Egypt. 
The 1913-1914 tourism season was a great success in Egypt, but World War I came to the country — and with it martial law. A camp was erected behind Mena House to host the Australian troops. It later became a hospital, and remained so for the rest of the war.

FAST FACT

Mena House was originally a hunting lodge built by Khedive Ismail for the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, to receive Empress Eugenie and other dignitaries who attended the event.

In 1943, Mena House had one of its most exciting years. Plans for Overlord, the invasion of Europe, had to be discussed by Churchill and Roosevelt, and operations in Southeast Asia needed consultation with Gen. Chiang Kai-shek. It was decided that the Big Three conference should take place at the Mena House Hotel, where the independence of the Korean Peninsula was announced.
In 1954, the Egyptian hotels company was nationalized and the ownership and management of Mena House was given to the Egyptian General Company for Tourism and Hotels (EGOTH). 
In 1972, the hotel was meticulously renovated and expansions incorporated. A new wing with 300 rooms was added as well as a new swimming pool, and a new lobby was built in place of the old tennis court.
In 1977, Mena House was the official venue for the Mena House Conference, the pre-Camp David peace talks between Egypt and Israel.
In February 2018, Mena House became a member of the Marriott International family and was renamed Marriott Mena House, Cairo. The hotel now features 330 rooms and suites, three restaurants, a lounge bar, extensive banquet and conference facilities for up to 700 guests and a large outdoor banquet space for up to 2,000 guests. Recreational facilities include a large swimming pool, heated in winter, and a spa and fitness center.
Those who have stayed at the hotel include King Farouk of Egypt, US President Richard Nixon, King Gustav of Sweden, King Umberto of Italy, Emperor of Ethiopia Haile Selassie and the English military commander Field Marshal Montgomery. The wing where Montgomery stayed still carries his name.


Tonda delivers authentic Italian flavors at the double

The Italian establishment’s first GCC branch is a welcome addition to the Dubai scene. (Supplied)
Updated 19 August 2019

Tonda delivers authentic Italian flavors at the double

DUBAI: With organic ingredients and an eye-popping variety of authentic Italian dishes, the Dubai-based Tonda Pizza is a perfect choice for fast-casual dining.

The roots of the business lie as far back as 1948. The Italian founders apparently used to sell pizza to holidaymakers on the beach in Pescara, by the Adriatic Sea. The small-pan pizzas were ideal for people who wanted to grab a snack on the go.

Tonda Pizza has multiple branches around the world and is planning to bring its concept to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, but its first regional outlet opened recently in Index Tower, in Dubai International Financial Center.

At the doorstep of the restaurant, you will be welcomed by the friendly staff who are enthusiastic and happy to serve you. Some of the Italian words may be hard to understand, but the waiters will be able to answer any questions.

The interior is cosy and just as welcoming as the staff. The atmosphere is classy, relaxed, and quiet. For the many employees in the area, this is a great spot to take your mind of work for a while.

The restaurant serves a seemingly endless variety of pasta and pizza made with organic flour, olive oil, and tomatoes imported from Italian farms. It also offers a range of special homemade starters and desserts.

Tonda, meaning ‘round,’ offers “guilt-free” pizzas. The thin crispy slices are full of authentic Italian flavor, but the dough does not contain animal fats, and it’s gluten-free.

It always fun to watch your food being cooked right in front of you, and Tonda’s open kitchen means you can do just that. The service is impressively fast, too.  The meal is best accompanied by one of Tonda’s traditional Italian drink offerings, which include Chinotto, Gassosa, Limonata, and Spuma. 

The tasty burrata salad was a more-than-generous and delicious starter. Fresh balls of cheese decorated the bowl, which was overloaded with mixed tomatoes and fresh basil.

Next up was a delightful range of pizza. Thick mozzarella cheese (10 out of 10 on the cheese-pull test), shreds of well-cooked beef, and a sprinkling of rocca leaves coated each slice of the thin-crust bresaola, while the tartufo boasted a delicious truffle spread and mushroom topping.

The undeniable highlight of the meal, however, was the salamino pizza. Its spiciness might make your eyes water as well as your mouth, but it was well worth it. The salamino was topped with organic peeled tomatoes, spicy beef salami, extra virgin olive oil, and decorated with oregano leaves.

The pasta that accompanied the bolognaise gave a good firm bite — perfect for those who like their Italian cooked al dente. The portion was ideal for one person. 

 

Once you are done with the main course, the restaurant offers a tasty selection of desserts too. We’d recommend its unique Nutella pizza topped with sliced bananas as a must-try.   

Tonda may be a little on the expensive side for what is, essentially, fast food (albeit high-quality fast food) — an appetizer, main course and beverage could cost up to $21 — but we’d say it’s worth the price for some tasty, healthy fresh Italian fare.