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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.
Sitting in such close proximity to our Mediterranean neighbours, the large number of Italian restaurants in Cairo should come as no surprise. However, with Egyptian chefs putting their own twists on recipes, authentic versions of the cuisine are hard to come by. Il Mulino, however, aims to provide customers with genuine Italian cooking.
The cosy outdoor seating area is furnished with sturdy wooden furniture and a clear view of the pizza chef who beats his dough before your eyes before throwing it into the raging oven. The menu boasts a large roster of dishes including pizzas, pastas, sandwiches, salads, burgers and entrees, as well as a pastries and breakfast menu.
We ordered soups – one chicken mushroom (29LE) and a mushroom cream soup (23LE,) – along with a caprese salad (39LE) and a smoked chicken fillet platter (64LE). To drink we enjoyed an oddly foamy, orange hibiscus cocktail (21LE) which was somewhat dominated by the orange.
Before long, a bread basket of white and brown toast was delivered, along with a bowl of pesto butter, which was extremely herby and tangy, thanks to the added dash of balsamic vinegar.
A while later, our warm soups and salad arrived. Both soups were moderately creamy and well seasoned, with the mushroom cream soup sporting a generous amount of soft mushroom pieces. The caprese salad was a light and refreshing combination of sliced tomatoes and thick cuts of mozzarella cheese, complimented with olives and parsley that we particularly enjoyed adding olive oil and vinegar to for extra flavour.
The smoked chicken fillet main included marinated, smoky chicken breasts with a balsamic almond sauce, accompanied by baked potato slices and the most delectable sautéed vegetables we’ve come across. The highlight of the dish was by far the almond sauce; subtly sweet and sour, it retained a strong almond flavour, while almond gratings gave a crunchy texture which contrasted well with the chicken.
Il Mulino’s desserts cover a wide base of tastes and features everything from apple pie (17LE), brownies (17LE) and carrot cake (17LE), to more European opetions such as tiramisu (21LE) and moelleux au chocolat fondant (26LE). We ordered a strawberry tart (17LE), and although its custard stuffing tasted fabulous, the crust was slightly hard.
Despite fairly slow service, Il Mulino offers ambitious Italian cuisine at moderate prices in a cosy, outdoor setting.