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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.
With over 150 branches around the world, German restaurant chain, Vapiano, arrived in Cairo in July of last year with the promise of authentic Italian food and its unique, trademark ambiance.
As a concept, Vapiano stands out with a novel smart card system; a serve-yourself approach where you’re given a card that keeps track of your orders and saves you the trouble of asking for the bill.
As soon as we entered, a friendly host greeted us and explained how to use the smart card as we took in the restaurant’s four main stations serving pizza, pasta, salads and desserts.
Vapiano’s menu is divided into three categories ‘Vapiano Della Casa’ – offering the restaurant’s specials— ‘Classico Italiano’ –a selection of classics from the Italian kitchen – and ‘International Inspired’ – Vapiano’s picks from various international cuisines.
After some thinking, we decided to opt for some of Vapiano’s specials; with Insalata Al Funghi (55LE) as an appetiser, Pesto Rosso (Italian for red pesto) Pasta – (55LE) with additional chicken (18LE) and Pesto Con Spinaci Pizza (60LE) with additional Scampi (27LE) as our mains.
Roasted on the grill, our warm Insalata Al Funghi salad had an earthy flavour, thanks to the three types of mushrooms used, which in turn were complemented by the sweetness of the onion and the corn, as well as the smokiness of the beef bacon. The lamb’s lettuce – also known as corn salad – cherry tomatoes and radish, on the other hand, gave the dish a brighter, zingier taste that was made complete by a perfect slice of Grana Padano cheese. Overall, it’s a must try, considering the concept of a warm salad is quite unfamiliar across the Cairo dining scene.
The pesto rosso, meanwhile, was excellent, though not perfect. Sprinkled with roasted pine nuts and tender well-seasoned chicken cubes and infused with homemade sundried tomatoes with a hint of spicy flavour, our pesto rosso was delicious; only the dish needed more tomato flavour, in spite of the generous amount of cherry tomatoes.
We were also expecting big things from the pizza and we weren’t disappointed. Boasting a chewy and crispy crust with puffy edges, the creamy pesto sauce worked perfectly with the fresh baby spinach, scampi and marinated tomatoes, which all came together to form one of the best pizza’s we;ve tried in some time.
With barely enough room for anything more, our last stop was at the desserts station, where we opted for a simple Crema Di Gragola (40LE). Served in a cup full of homemade mascarpone cream – which had perfect consistency and just the right amount of sugar – slices of strawberry that added freshness and fruity flavours that worked perfectly with the richness of the mascarpone cream; overall, it was exceptionally creamy, but still somehow light.
Even though the restaurant’s serve-yourself concept might be a little inconvenient for some, we there was little to complain about at the time of our visit. The food was fresh, excellent in quality and who doesn't enjoy watching chefs in action?