Pastroudis, is still going strong, though it has shrunk somewhat in size. Pastroudis had a famous marble-topped bar where the gentlemen had their drinks, while the ladies had their afternoon tea and biscuits, or meringue au chocolat (with the children, perhaps, delightedly sipping an ice cream soda), on the café trottoire with the Greco Roman Theater nearby. Délices and the Elite were the other cafés trottoires, apart from those on the seafront which are mostly deserted in winter. Those cafés trottoires, so Mediterranean in ambience, and where one can enjoy the sun, or at night, a clear and moonlit sky, provide the ultimate convivial experience for the Alexandrian habitué. A small collection of discreet tables inside Pastroudis, at hours when most clients preferred to be enjoying the sun or observing the “va et vien”, would allow for detachment and retreat. All of which may also explain the special charm the place had for poets and writers from Lawrence Durrell through Desmond O’Grady. Leafing through the menu card, the names Durrell and Cavafy stand out as they prefix pigeon and steak, where they honor the writers who immortalized Pastroudis in their works.

Pastroudis is the name of a Greek adventurer who took Alexandria as his new home at the turn of the 20th century. He established the bakery in 1923, on two sides of the street: one side on Rue Fouad, and the other facing the railway station. Eventually the bakery expanded to become a restaurant, tearoom and bar. In the early 1930s the newly married Athanash Pastroudis inherited the venue from his father. Together with his new wife Gabrielle, who was originally Swiss – and who had a sweet tooth herself – they expanded by setting up a pastry division. This allowed Alexandrians to spend their mornings and afternoons on the street promenade, sip their tea and coffee, and enjoy some of the city’s best chocolate cakes. Pastroudis also owned Monseigneur on the seafront, a restaurant and wedding hall reserved for some of the city’s most prestigious weddings. It offered much dining and dancing during the war years and throughout the 1950s.

It must have been in the 1940s when King Farouk regularly dined at Pastroudis on summer nights, as the oldest chef recounts. The many functions organized by Pastroudis have been characterized by their classy menus. President Sadat occasionally ordered delicacies for his guests at Montaza or Ras el Tin Palace.

Today every corner in the refurbished Pastroudis still tells an episode of Alexandria’s legacy. It intends to capture the spirit of a bygone Alexandria, yet add hope to the promise the new century holds. Not all its former clients seem to think so, however. O’Grady, returning to Alexandria 13 years later, in the 1990s, hurries to Pastroudis to meet his old friends for a drink round the marble top bar. He finds neither friends nor bar, but is gratified to find the shoeshine man, whom he calls Mr. Shanabo because of his mustaches:

Pastroudis Revisited

After my long absence, thirteen years,
I return unannounced, that long older.
My first call’s at Pastroudis to look for those friends used, at midday, on high chairs, sit to the bar for our aperitif.
We kept our bills in one glass on the shelf.

I find Pastroudis and its people changed. The bar’s gone. Gutted. My friends too gone elsewhere or dead. I stand awry on my own in a coffee-and-cake place, confused, estranged. The customers today sit pairs in love and retired couples who don’t speak or move. Then there, asquat, on the kerb, I recognize that form and face. He’s shining shoes. Moustaches! He’s dressed the same: flop hat, winter galoshes. He’s seen and known me too I realize and when our eyes meet he salaams a hand to head, slight-smiles sadly, shrugs the end

Neither of us comments on our lives or change. Silence speaks its own soliloquies. He’s welcomed me as one from the old days who left for work elsewhere but now sits here again. My new shoes shone, he tips his moustache. I reach to pay. He whispers one word: Maalesh.

The menus at Pastroudis haven’t changed much, except for the introduction of Chinese and Indian dishes. Specialties of Pastroudis include: Dinde à l’orientale, Om Ali, Kavafis Fish (called after the famous poet) which is fresh salmon with almonds, Escalope Royale, Canard à l’orange.

Canard à l’orange

1 duck (2 kg)
3 tbsp butter
6 tbsp grand marnier
6 tbsp mandarin liqueur
6 tbsp apricot liqueur
1 tbsp vinegar
1 tbsp custard sugar
Juice of 3 oranges
6 oranges, sliced

- Brown duck on all sides in butter in a sauté pan then slide into a hot oven for about 45 minutes.
- Return sauté pan over high heat and deglaze with grand marnier and continue to cook for about 5 minutes coating the duck with the deglazed juices then remove duck from pan.
- Add liqueurs, vinegar, custard sugar, orange juice, and orange slices to pan and flambé.
- Carve duck, arrange on a hot dish and garnish with orange slices.
- Drizzle sauce over duck.