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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.
Sometimes you just need wholesome, dependable food – and there’s little you can depend on, when it comes to dining in Cairo. It doesn’t matter which cuisine, just one that you know you love and can have repeatedly. For this reviewer, that happens to be Italian, and while this is a cuisine we’ve discussed at length as the single most badly executed in Egypt, there are a few gems out there who get it.
One of these is a small diner on Road 231 in Degla Maadi called La Rosa. With a very casual atmosphere and framed photos of Italy combined with wine bottles covered in wax to set the décor, La Rosa is laidback and puts the focus on the food. The lighting is dim and when there’s music, it’s suitably low, only lingering in the background.
A waiter will greet you at the door when you walk in and set menus at the table for you. The prices at La Rosa vary greatly. On one side of the spectrum, you have very affordable pizza and pasta (27LE40LE), though on the other end, the main courses range between 75LE and 95LE.
We decided on the Pizza Funghi (32LE) as well as Tortellini (34LE) and Farfalle la Rosa (35LE). From previous experience we knew the Tortellini isn’t as filling as the other dishes and would serve better as an appetiser.
As per custom at La Rosa, a complimentary Bruschetta appetiser is served before the food. The soft in the centre, crunchy around the edges bread worked very well with the topping of seasoned and diced tomatoes.
The pizza at La Rosa is one of our favourites across Egypt for two reasons. The crust is the perfect thinness, crunchiness and doesn’t flap – and they don’t charge you 60LE for it.
Our Funghi Pizza was exactly that; the tomato sauce was delicious, the cheese wasn’t overpowering and the fresh mushrooms were the cherry on top of a very delicious cake.
Unfortunately, the pasta didn’t hold up as well. The Tortellini, one of the hardest to execute because of a specific folding technique to the pasta, came undone on our plate. While the ricotta cheese and spinach stuffing was flavourful and seasoned well, the cream sauce was a bit in terms of combining with the other flavours.
With the Farfalle la Rosa, consisting of pasta with pink sauce and cooked smoked salmon, was perfectly cooked and tasted fresh. The salmon wasn’t as plentiful as we had hoped, but delicious nonetheless.
While we may remember La Rosa as slightly better than what we experienced, at least in the pasta department, the pizzas were still up to standard and the restaurant prioritises the quality of the food over the shallow pizzazz that so many other restaurants seem to want to rely on.