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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.
Located in Sheikh Zayed’s Tivoli Dome, La Pizza Alforno is another Cairo restaurant claiming to offer pizza at its most authentic. One of the other, slightly peculiar, reasons for the restaurant’s increasing popularity is the novel half-moon shaped pizza on offer.
Bringing Italian tradition to Tivoli Dome, Alforno's wooden chairs, wood-fired oven and stereotypically Italian, red and white tablecloths bring an air of authenticity to the place. While the venue is split into an outdoor and an indoor section, the indoor area seems a little tight in space. Taking precedence over seating, the wood-fired oven and pizza bar are placed proudly in the centre of the restaurant.
Despite directly overlooking the street, the outdoor area is much more spacious, and being located far from all the other cramped cafes, the restaurant benefits from a secluded, private ambience that you rarely get at these types of strip-mall-food-courts.
Our meal begun in pleasant style, when we were served a complimentary dish; three small slices of garlic bread, topped off with olive oil. Alongside the bread came two different dips – tuna and mayonnaise paste, and olive paste mixed with anchovies. Although this kept us busy while we waited for our appetiser, the traditionally salty olive paste and anchovies dip was just that little too bit salty.
We began our meal with the Insalata Di Racula (39LE); a mixture of green leaves, apples, walnuts and raspberry lime dressing. The Di Racula was simple and small in portion, making for a light and basic starter, before moving on to the main course.
As expected from a restaurant claiming to be authentically Italian, Alforno’s menu offers a variety of pizzas and pastas. We ordered the Alfredo Con Polo pasta (46LE) and the half-moon Funghi pizza (49LE). The pizza was immediately favoured over the pasta; while the Con Polo’s creamy mushroom sauce was lighter than most white sauces, the chicken was dry and over cooked.
On the other hand, the uniquely shaped half-moon Funghi pizza was crisp, boasted just the right amount and blend of cheese and a rich, homemade tomato sauce, all topped off with mushroom and infused with oregano.
While the dessert menu was full of inviting options, we decided to go for the Focaccia Alla Nutella (38LE). Baked with the same pizza dough and covered in Nutella chocolate, the simple, sweet dish was perfectly balanced in flavour thanks to a sensibly modest use of the rich chocolate spread.
Though the food was far from spectacular, La Pizza Alforno offer a creative, if superfluous, twist to their pizzas, complete with original homemade flavours in an authentic pizzeria atmosphere.