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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.
On arriving to our review of Pepenero’s in Korba, we were a little hesitant to enter – even questioning whether we had the right address. Located in one of the less attractive old buildings on Baghdad Street, something seemed a little off.
Entering what only looks like an apartment entrance on the first floor, we quickly realised that we were wrong. The place has a comfortably large indoor area with comfy upholstered chairs and wooden tables, while the outdoor area, on the other hand, had a total of eight or nine wooden tables with beach-like cushioned wooden chairs overlooking the street.
On each wall, you could find greens coming out of pipes, lamps put inside jars and hanging picture frames of Italian architecture.
Seconds after we were seated, we were handed the menu, which, unless you are an Italian cuisine expert, is a little confusing, despite being written in both Italian and English. Needles to say, we needed assistance and the waiter was more than happy to guide us through.
The menu boasts all sorts of Italian eats from pasta, pizza, fish platters, beef and chicken dishes. The staff was extremely helpful and eventually we went for pizza Mama Giustina (80LE) and Filetto di salmone con farfalle (160LE) for our mains.
Soon after placing our order, we were served with complementary Italian bruschetta. With crispy Tuscan bread topped with a big amount of chopped fresh tomatoes mixed with olive oil, salt, chopped basil and garlic, Pepenero’s bruschetta would make any Italian kitchen proud.
The Pizza Mama Giustina arrived a few minutes later. Although essentially a tuna pizza, the real surprise was the type of Italian buffalo mozzarella, which was creamier and more buttery than expected, without being gooey, a la fresh mozzarella. The only other topping was onions and there was little tomato sauce, but it was overall a generously portioned and satisfying pizza.
Our second dish brought together brought together salmon and farfalle pasta; the latter was cooked al dente and smothered in a thick, white salmon cream sauce, but was under-seasoned. There were no problems with the seasoning of the salmon, though, which was extremely tender, full of flavour and boasted a delicious reddish-orange colour.
Our sweet tooth was acting up and between some interesting desserts such as Nutella calzone (100LE), Pizza Dolce (80 LE) and Chocolate Salami with ice cream (75LE), we opted for an Italian classic: the tiramisu (80LE).
‘Heavenly’ is what best word to use in describing Pepenero’s sweet and creamy tiramisu. Served in a cup with coffee-flavoured ladyfingers resting at the bottom, the mascarpone cheese mixture had a spot on consistency with an extremely light yet creamy texture. Garnished with cocoa powder, the dessert was the highlight of our meal. Ending this lovely hot summer evening with a fresh lemon mint juice (34LE), which was the perfect balance of sweet and bitter flavours.
Despite initial hesitancy, from the moment we stepped inside the restaurant until the moment we left, we enjoyed every single second of our evening. With excellent service, well-executed dishes and noticeably spotless cleanliness, Pepenero is possibly Cairo’s best kept Italian secret.