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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.
More often than not, Italian food in Egyptian restaurants ends up only remotely resembling the real thing; bready pizzas, pastas with questionable sauces and caprese with the wrong cheese. We did, however, manage to find one that ticked all the right boxes for us when it came to the authenticity of its dishes in New Cairo: Fratelli La Bufala.
Overlooking Cairo Festival City’s dancing fountain, the spacious restaurant offers both outdoor and indoor seating; both of which are equally tempting. The indoor décor is Mediterranean-inspired - more Spanish than Italian - with soft lighting and wood and iron panels that gave it a modern, yet nostalgic, air. We opted for the outdoor seating.
The menu was filled with pages of traditional Italian treats. The appetisers included some Italian salads, including La Bufalata and La Mozzata, which is fit for a large group wanting to share, as it features a large 500 gram piece of Mozzarella cheese. We also spotted some Bruschetta and Carpaccio. The main courses ranged from pastas and pizzas, to meat-based dishes, Risottos and, surprisingly, burgers.
As soon as we placed our orders, our table was garnished with a hefty bread basket. We immediately started munching on the doughy delights and used the olive oil and balsamic vinegar already. Our food arrived a little while later and to say it was pure eye candy is an understatement.
Our Caprese (65LE) - layers of tomato slices and mozzarella cheese sprinkled with basil and oregno - was delightfully light with, perhaps, some of the most delicious tasting mozzarella cheese we have ever had in Egypt. Our just-out-of-the-oven Neapolitan pizzas were just exactly that; thin-crusted, covered in real mozzarella cheese and baked to perfection in a wood-fired oven. We had opted for the Margherita DOP (67LE), a simple, traditional margherita pizza topped with some porcini mushrooms. We also went for the Diavola (60LE), which is topped with beef salami and fiery spices, which was pleasingly spicy and absolutely scrumptious.
Our pizzas were so dense and satisfying that we couldn’t even glance at the dessert menu, which featured quite an array of alluring options. We spotted some tiramisu, cheese cake, fruit platters, graffa, apple tarte and ice cream.
Fratelli La Bufala satisfied all our Italian cravings with its quality dishes; we fell in love with their mozzarella cheese and mouth-watering pizza dough. Our waiter was exceptionally helpful and quite fun to talk to and the whole place was impeccable. Sure, we paid a little extra for a simple salad, but it was absolutely worth every penny. Next time, though, we’re leaving room for dessert.