(Old) Winter Palace - La Corniche, 1886 and Victoria Lounge
Old Winter palace
Don't bother with the Corniche restaurant. It is no longer special but very expensive. The 1886 is not impeccable, but an outstanding experience if you can afford it.
For a lower cost experience of the opulence of the Winter palace, try afternoon tea in the Victoria Lounge. This is also not as good as it used to be, and very expensive by local standards, but a worthwhile experience if you don't set your expectations too high.
The Winter Palace has two restaurants, a lounge and a bar, all of which are open to non-residents. However, the hotel does not welcome 'browsers' who just come to look at the inside of the building. You will have to explain to the doorman the reason for your visit - either to make a reservation or to take a meal.
Afternoon tea is usually taken in the Victoria lounge. You get a menu, but it is only to show what you are supposed to get, not a list from which you can choose. The meal should comprise the usual sandwiches, cakes and scones with cream and jam but one or more of the options can be missing. If the scones are missing you can decide for yourself what to do with the cream! You also get coffee or a choice of teas. The cost of this meal has risen from LE60 to LE150 in recent years, so it is not cheap. You do still get to wallow in the opulence of this magnificent building. Make the most of it. Take your time. Soak in the surroundings. Sit where film stars, royalty and presidents sat. You will still enjoy it but but, like so much else at the Winter Palace, it isn't what it used to be.
Other main meals are taken in one of the two restaurants. Both restaurants are open from 7pm until about 11pm.
The smaller restaurant, called the 1886, is Silver Service. Smart dress, including a tie AND jacket for gents is required. The rule used to be jacket or tie, but both have been required since mid 2008. You can borrow the jacket, or the tie, or both, if you don't have them. It is best to pre-book (at the Royal Bar). Prices are relatively high by Egyptian standards, but you can still eat very well, in surroundings unmatched on the east bank in Luxor, for less than the cost of a decent meal in an English Steak House. Allow around LE250 per person for three courses, but you can easily spend more depending on your tastes. A bottle of an imported wine will double the outlay.
There is live music, usually from an acoustic guitarist. The menu is more interesting, varied and much more extensive than the menu at La Corniche. It is written in French with English translation. There are lower cost and recognisable options on the menu as well as the more exotic, such as fois gras. With careful selection from the menu you can eat for only a little more than at the much downgraded La Corniche. Alternatively, you can have a really exceptional meal for which you can easily spend twice as much.
Service is no where near as good as in the smarter restaurants in European capitals but the ambience encourages tolerance of the imperfections.
La Corniche restaurant
The larger main restaurant is called "La Corniche" (also used by residents for breakfast). Here, there is a more traditional, international, menu, but it is much more limited than the menu at the 1886, with about five meat meal choices and a similar number of fish options as well as soups, appetizers, salads and desserts.
Like at the 1886 the menu is written in French with English translation. By and large the prices are marginally lower than at the 1886 but not significantly so. Before drinks, two people will have a reasonable choice of two courses for around LE400, but if you don't want to be checking prices as you study the menu, allow at least LE250 per person for three courses.
Notionally, smart dress is required although in practice jeans and casual tops are tolerated. The hotel's reception have told us that it is not necessary to book. Our experience is that, if you are resident at the Old Winter Palace, a table will be found easily, but, at busy times, if you arrive from another hotel pre-booking at the Royal bar resolves any question about whether there is a table or not.
The standard of service used to be as high as you would expect from the grandeur of the surroundings. However, standards have been falling since about 2008 and in March 2011 a management decision was made that removes much of the etiquette you would expect from a restaurant in this environment that charges these prices.
The waiters no longer remember the protocols about serving and clearing from opposite sides; replacement cutlery is delivered in the hand rather than on a plate or server; spare cutlery and glasses are no longer removed, but left on the table, unused and unnecessary, throughout the meal; the table cloth is no longer brushed between courses; meals are no longer delivered covered, with simultaneous discovery (taking the lids of all meals at the table at the same time); the condiment containers are now plastic! Individually, little points, perhaps, but symptomatic of the standard of service which is, frankly, a little sloppy for the class of hotel and cost of the meal.
The amount of meat or fish provided with a meal in either of these restaurants is generous, but, as you expect from a 'high class' restaurant, portions of accompaniments are small. You will not achieve your five daily portions of vegetables here. But it will look pretty. The quantity of the food always been so but the meal and its service could easily be, and for the price ought to be, so much better.
Our cream of chicken soup was all cream. No chicken to be seen or tasted. The same soup is so, so much better at Snobs for a quarter the price. And the service there is better, too. The fish was OK but not exceptional. Far better at King Tut for a third of the price. You get the message.
As a final insult to quality, since March 2011 there has been a self-serve buffet option. You don't have to take that option of course; you can still choose à la carte, but other diners will be criss-crossing the dining room, all removing from any semblance of 'occasion'. If you want to pay too much for an average meal in a posh room, this is the place, but we can't help feeling that there has been a deliberate decision to downgrade everything except the bill, so go to the 1886 instead.
One advantage these restaurants both have over the competition is their location, within the most famous and ostentatious hotel in Luxor, with access to the very grand Victoria Lounge and the impressive Royal Bar. Arrive at least an hour before your meal, use those facilities and soak in the ambience. After your dinner take tea in the lounge or coffee in the bar, knowing that royalty and high dignitaries have been there before you.
Unless you are resident at the Winter Palace, you would probably not go to the Old Winter Palace restaurants regularly, but it is a place to come once or twice during a Luxor holiday to celebrate a special occasion or for a last night farewell meal. If you do not expect perfection, if you take advantage of the lounge and the bar, and if you set out to enjoy the occasion rather than just the eating, then choose the 1886, not the Corniche, and you will be pleased with the (expensive) evening.
The Winter Palace restaurants are easy to find within the Old Winter Palace hotel on the Nile in the centre of town.
Review updated May 2011
Prices at May 2011