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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.
With so few restaurants in Cairo offering a consistent balance of good fod and good atmosphere, any restaurants that threatens to do so is music to Cairo 360 ears. The latest competitor in Heliopolis is Firestone; one of three restaurants, including Byblos and Rossini, situated in a small food court of sorts on the quiet Omar Ebn El Khatab Street.
Firestone specialises in wood fired pizza, but also serves a range of soups, salads and pastas, as well as a selection of limited main course options.
The food court itself is rather elegant, utilising a small make-shift waterfall and plenty of greenery. With a dominantly white and reddish-pink colour scheme and mostly plastic and glass furniture, Firestone is both aesthetically and physically comfortable, though the atmosphere could have done without the pop music playlist.
With drinks and dessert menus already on the table, the waiter handed us a larger, one page menu containing all the food. First, there’s the pizza section, ranging between 50LE and 70LE with additional toppings ranging between 10LE and 20LE.
From the appetiser options, we went for fried meat balls (38LE), The four balls served were fried in a batter and came with a barbeque sauce. The meat itself was rather bland, through the seasoning was pleasingly sharp and gave it a tang.
From the pizza menu, we opted for a Diavola Pizza, made with grilled sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms and fresh tomato sauce (58LE). The pizza was very decent in size and the fresh ingredients tasted excellent, but the edges of the pizza were burnt from the wood oven, hurting the presentation and adding a scent of burnt dough.
From the main courses, we chose the Firestone Fillet (84 LE); a grilled beef fillet with mushroom sauce and spicy capers, in addition to sides of sautéed vegetables and potato wedges. This was probably Firestone’s best dish, and well worthy of holding the restaurant’s name. A generous portion of tender, fresh and cooked-exactly-as-ordered meat topped with an untraditional mushroom sauce with capers that was ingeniously put together and surprisingly tasty.
The dessert menu contains very standard international menu options, except for one; the Gelato Al Forno (32 LE) – ice cream served on a warm, freshly baked cake covered in a layer of biscotti and stuffed with fresh fruit. While it was extremely generous in portion, enough to feed 2-3 people, it was also extremely sweet, so be warned if you don’t have that strong a sweet tooth.
The service was great, the food was delicious and quickly served, the restaurant was extremely clean and the waiters didn’t hover, making themselves available only when needed. You won’t find any the next steps of culinary evolution at Firestone, but you certainly won’t leave disappointed.