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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.
In the few and far moments when Cairo's weather is both sunny and breezy, there's nothing better than dining outside. One of most popular spots to do exactly that in also happens to have an excellent Nile view; Maadi’s the Platform.
Having worked our way through almost all of the cafes and restaurants there, La Pietra was beckoning. While enjoying good weather and a great view is a plus that all the Platform venues enjoy, it also brings a lot of traffic and, more often than not, the Platform is packed. Service time is generally slow and you may end up changing which restaurant you’re going to eat at rather than wait for a table to clear up.
The outdoor decor in the Platform is almost universal across the venues. At La Pietra, simple yet elegant dark cushioned chairs and glass-top tables suit the general ambiance of the Platform quite well.
We browsed through the menu and opted for the Mushroom Soup (22LE), Chicken with Honey and Mustard (56LE) and Beef Escalope (75LE) - all of which we were really made to wait for.
It took thirty minutes to serve the soup and it arrived cold - cold enough, in fact, to send back. In fairness, however, once re-heated, the soup was actually better than most efforts across Cairo's restaurants, being extremely dense in ground mushrooms rather than just cream.
About fifteen minutes later, our main courses were served. The Chicken with Honey and Mustard is a dish we’ve previously tried before, and thankfully, they didn’t shatter our good memory of it. The dish was hot, the chicken was tender and the sauce was brilliant and deep in flavour. The fluffy side of rice was particular tasty with the sauce and the smooth mashed potatoes with sharp spring onions completed the ensemble.
The Beef Escalope, served with a creamy mushroom sauce and sides of pasta with tomato sauce and French fries, was equally as successful and this reviewer would have no qualms in recommending it to anyone. The generous strip of beef was well marinated, cooked right and coated with a crunchy breading. Dipping it in the rich sauce was the cherry on top. The side of farfalle pasta with red sauce was without fault but unspectacular, almost forgettable and futile, and the French fries were pleasingly crispy.
Cold soup and slow service aside, La Pietra's food is as good as any other’s at the Platform and manages to do something that few restaurants around Cairo do - keep things simple.