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Zamalek, Cairo, Egypt.
Benissimo: New Italian Restaurant in Zamalek
It seems licenses to open up a restaurant are given out for free lately by the government. Everywhere you look, new restaurant and cafes are blooming, especially in Zamalek. One of the latest venues to open is Italian eatery Benissimo. Located by Kafficho and Hardee’s, this once quiet corner of Zamalek is rapidly gaining more and more popularity and foot traffic.
Benissimo’s interior is fairly plain; modern and slick, but lacking ambiance. The walls, tables and ceiling are all the same colour and the lamps are very bright giving a slightly uncomfortable feel to the place. The menu is just as boring as the décor.
There were only four starters to choose from; two soups and two salads. Because of this very limited choice we decided to skip the appetizers and instead focus on the pizza and pasta. While browsing the menu we received complimentary bruschetta with fresh tomatoes, olives and cheese. It turned out to be very good and we are sure this would be a popular item if it were added to the appetizers on the menu.
After the tasty bruschetta, expectations were high and when we received the food we couldn’t help but dig in. The blue cheese and walnut pasta (21LE) came without the walnuts, the blue cheese sauce was surprisingly tasty and not overpowering, but the pasta was undercooked and difficult to chew.
Despite this, it fared better than the steak with mushroom sauce (48LE). The meat was of very low quality and lacked the tenderness one looks for with steak; it was tough and riddle with fat and tendons. Even just cutting the meat proved to be difficult. The mushroom sauce was way too salty while the mashed potatoes on the side were plain and overall lacked in taste.
The chicken barbeque pizza (29LE) hit the spot without being spectacular. The barbeque sauce that topped the pizza overpowered the chicken but at least it wasn’t drowned in cheese, as is the case with a lot of pizza in Cairo.
To their credit, staff members were helpful, pleasant and prompt despite our gripes. As with all new restaurants, Benissimo shows promise, but the restaurant is in esteemed company in Zamalek and will need to improve drastically to compete.
Cairo isn't exactly an easy city to navigate, especially when trying to find a place in unfamiliar terrotory. Every now and then, you’ll see a random menu or neon sign that you haven’t seen before and you’ll either be instinctually intrigued, or completely put off.
In one such case, we came across a neon backlit sign that said Piccolo. Looking through the glass the restaurant had decent decor with cushioned chairs and plant pots with spotlights at the entrance. A waiter greeted us at the glass door and led us to an empty table, laid out the menus, and retreated. Upon inspecting the menus, which is heavy on Italian dishes.
Historically speaking, there have been many that have labelled themselves as an Italian restaurant, only to dissapoint; they don’t necessarily have to be high end to serve good pasta, but generally, the odds are against them because of how localised most of Italian cuisine has become.
The menu offers salads, sandwiches, pizzas, pastas, a few mains and desserts. We started with a Pollo Salad (22.50LE) and moved onto a Piccolo Pizza (42.5LE) and Piccolo Meal 1 (45LE) from the main courses.
The Pollo Salad featured grilled chicken, arugula, cucumbers and tomatoes with balsamic dressing; while the chicken was cooked and seasoned to decent flavour, the balsamic dressing, sadly, overpowered all other flavours, giving the arugula even more of an undesired kick.
The Piccolo Pizza, which is topped with salami, chicken, turkey and sausage plus vegetables, olives cheese and basil sauce, was very disorienting as a pizza. The crust was very thick, while the tomato sauce was minimal, with the cheese taking up most of the flavour. We appreciate the use of oregano, but it was more of a turkey and cheese sandwich than a pizza.
The Piccolo Meal 1 consists of a grilled chicken breast and pasta. We opted for their Napoli pasta which is simple spaghetti with tomato sauce, basil and oregano. The chicken breast was, one again cooked and seasoned well, but rather plain in taste. The pasta, on the other hand, was surprisingly better than we expected, albeit a little greasy. The use of oregano really adds to the complexity of a tomato sauce and the restaurant's use of both basil and oregano extends across much of the menu.
While the food, especially the pizza, could certainly use some revision, the venue is clean, the waiters attentive and the prices are very decent.