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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.
Despite Egypt’s maniacal love for pizza, it’s still – along with many other Italian specialities – one of the most consistently mistreated dishes amongst Cairo restaurants. In fairness, though, the last few years has seen a rise in pizza specialists – Pizza Mia, Vinny’s Pizzeria, et al – that have tried valiantly, with wavering success, to bring authenticity to it.
The latest to try its hand at the pizza game is delivery-only Pizzinia. After stumbling across its modest, and slightly crude, Facebook page, perusing the menus revealed that the Maadi-based kitchen also churns out traditional pastas as well as some unusual and acutely non-Italian items like Chicken-Shrimp Cajun and Mexican Chicken pastas.
The pizzas come in three sizes; we opted for a Large BBQ Chicken Pizza (40LE), as well as a Chicken Alfredo Pasta (27LE). We were told the food would arrive in twenty minutes – a rather ambitious promise by any standard. As expected, it didn’t arrive in twenty minutes, but thirty – which in fairness is still pretty fast.
The food arrived very neatly wrapped and in practical packaging. The pasta was served in a compartmented box that has separate areas for the pasta, extra sauce and pieces of garlic bread, which comes as standard with all pasta orders.
The Chicken Alfredo Pasta, topped with slices of chicken breast, parmesan cheese, mushrooms and cream sauce, was quite delicious. The portion of chicken was generous, seasoned perfectly and cooked well, while the amount of cheese was proportionate to the rest of the food. Our only problem was the sauce was a bit scarce, as well as being thin and watery.
The BBQ Chicken Pizza, topped with chicken, bell peppers, olives, mozzarella cheese, BBQ sauce and a special Pizzinia marinara sauce, tasted every bit as good as it looked. With an authentic, thin crust and a consistent layer of delicious, molten cheese, the combination of flavours was a simple one, but a satisfying one nonetheless.
While the very notion of BBQ Chicken leans more towards American-style rather than authentic Italian, Pizzinia can still lay claim to making the misleadingly simple dough-sauce-cheese combo that is pizza. The prices are pretty reasonable, the delivery time is fast and the staff are pleasant and efficient over the phone – they even called after the food was delivered to make sure was ok, welcoming our comment about the pasta sauce.