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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.
Garden City hotel, InterContinental Semiramis, has always been a foodie-favourite on the Cairo high-end dining scene and, searching for a restaurant combining a good view of the city alongside some tasty dishes, we headed to the hotel’s resident Italian eatery, Pane Vino.
Boasting two other restaurants on the same floor, including 2015 Cairo 360 Editors’ Choice Award winner, Birdcage, Pane Vino – literal for bread and wine – can’t be missed with its tasteful modern setting and its full frontal view of the Nile, Cairo Tower and Cairo Opera House among other landmarks.
After being greeted with some delicious complimentary olive paste, bâton salé and mini pizza bites –baked with thick and crispy dough— we kicked things off with some fresh pomegranate juice, whose natural sweetness was quite refreshing and delightful.
Pane Vino’s menu offers a variety of Italian delicacies; from the most typical choice like pizzas (65LE-125LE) and Lasagna Al Forno (90LE), to the more authentic Italian dishes like Catoletta alla Milanese –fried breaded veal, a classic of Milan’s cuisine (160LE) and Osso Buco – a platter of veal shanks served with saffron risotto (200LE).
We eventually opted for a Tartare di Salmone (85LE), as well as the Fettucine Alfredo Con Pollo e Funghi (90LE) and the Tagliata di manzo con ruccola e grana (180LE) – Pane Vino’s signature beef served with baked potatoes.
Fashioned to look like an actual salmon steak and infused with apples, dill, green and white onions, our tartare di salmon was quite delightful; we enjoyed the sweet and sour contrast between the apple and the lemon, as well the freshness of the salmon pieces, though the onions were a little too overpowering to the whole combination.
Served on a bed of arugula and drizzled with balsamic vinegar, our tagliata was well-seared, tender and quite flavourful;, thanks largely to the topping of thin slices of the mildly salty Grana Padano cheese –one of Italy’s finest.
Our Fettucine Alfredo, however, was the highlight of our dinner; with its perfectly light, creamy white sauce, fresh mushrooms, well-seasoned tender chicken and the perfectly tasty pasta cooked al dente just as it should be.
When it was time for dessert, we moved to a smaller table at Pane Vino’s extended terrace, to enjoy the chilly breeze while still taking in at the breathtaking Nile view.
Between a number of sweet delicacies, we chose a Cassata (65LE); a Neapolitan ice cream infused with dried fruits from Southern Italy and a classic Italian almond tart (65LE) — another of Pane Vino’s signature dishes.
Served with a red fruit sauce, the Cassata boasted a rich, fruity and vanilla-infused flavour and tasted heavenly; our almond tart, on the other hand, paled in comparison to the cassata, layer of chocolate was noticeably un-fresh, which contributed to an overall flat-tasting dessert.
We’ve often complained that few restaurants in Cairo understand the true essence of Italian cuisines; Pane Vino is not the kind of restaurant you’re going to go to regularly – the prices are predictably steep – but when it comes to a special occasion, Pane Vino is, without a doubt, a perfect choice.