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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.
Though Citystars contributes to the Cairo restaurant scene by sheer number of dining options alone, it's only at the InterContinental Citystars Cairo that one can escape the havoc of the mall for some fine-dining.
We know that the InterContinental’s chefs have a good grip on Japanese and Lebanese cuisines, at Shogun and Fayruz, but just to make sure no one felt left out, we visited their take on Italian food at Maestro.
For all its pomp and glory, the restaurant lay empty with outdated salmon-coloured upholstery on everything. The waiters, somewhat awkwardly, dredged up a guitarist from a back room who dutifully serenaded us with twangy, Mediterranean renditions of modern classics. This was actually a nice touch and made for a romantic, if a bit intense, setting.
A flick through the wine list held clues as to why business wasn’t booming; a bottle of Champagne cost 13500LE, and even the cheapest wine was 520LE. Needless to say, we got cocktails. Their Long Island Iced Tea (75LE) paled in comparison to their Side Car (70LE), which was a bitter blast of citrus with a good dose of brandy to even things out. Although the iced tea was nice, it lacked the subtler tastes we expected.
We were given multiple thick menus, but the restaurant only offers a limited selection of food. However, each dish is so unique and well thought out, that we assume this was done out of Chef Omar’s respect for his art.
First came an amuse bouche, which was a flavoursome morsel of chicken with boiled verdant broccoli and a drizzle of dressing, which showed great promise for the evening ahead. One of the less pricey starters is the eggplant rolls filled with goat’s cheese (90LE), which we cannot recommend highly enough. Melt-in-the-mouth cheese was cased in crisp slithers of eggplant over a bed of spinach, pine nuts and raisins. The warmth and flavours merged exquisitely, authentically tasting like Southern-European cuisine. We also sampled the prawn Carpaccio (135LE), which was served as four melon caps atop thinly sliced, salted prawns, each adorned with a single piece of fresh asparagus. The result was a gorgeous combination bursting with flavour. The salty prawns perfectly complemented the softness of the melon, leaving a wonderful aftertaste.
The chef's special, which was a mixed seafood grill (315LE), came in a generous portion and each piece of fish was perfect. Special mentions go to the beautifully tender salmon and the large, juicy prawns and we were relieved to find everything boneless. The dish came with a side of vegetables and some of the best mashed potatoes we've ever tasted. On the other hand, the shrimp tagliolini (155LE) offered fish that was meaty and tasty, but the sauce was too delicately flavoured, meaning that even the cress garnish stood out.
To round off the evening, we ordered a Theodor tiramisu (75LE) and a pineapple Carpaccio (70LE). The tiramisu was of an interesting composition, consisting of a dollop of thick cream cheese with a fan of chocolate stuck in it all swimming in a double espresso. The result was good but it became sickly quite fast. The pineapple Carpaccio, meanwhile, came as spiced slices of the fruit under ice cream and grilled peaches. We would have preferred the peaches to be softer and infused better with the flavours, but altogether, the dessert worked.
The restaurant is in a hotel for a reason; you will probably be yearning for a bed to sleep off the rich quality food Maestro serves up. Although the bill was pretty outrageous, it is still a tasty way to spend a lot of money.