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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.
We often lament the state of Italian cuisine in Cairo restaurants. While it is of course in no short supply across both specialist Italian restaurants and other eateries that carry the maddeningly vague ‘international cuisine’ banner, few places in the capital deliver when it comes to authenticity.
Located in Downtown Cairo, Grazie, located on the second floor of the Hilton Ramses Annex, makes a good go of it. Despite being in the centre of Cairo, the restaurant has a rustic elegance about it; modestly chic décor; delicate displays of spaghetti alongside cooking oils and musical instruments, are as charming as the waiters who deliver excellent service.
There is a menu outside the restaurant so guests can look before entering and it displays many of Italy’s most iconic dishes such as Lasagne, Spaghetti Bolognaise and Penne Arrabiata.
After being seated, we were given a complimentary ‘shot’ – a green, mint-flavoured hot beverage – then, but a few moments later, the waiter arrived with another complimentary snack; a small plate of black pepper crackers with an additional tangy, tomato sauce.
For starters we ordered the Italian Salad (33.25LE), which consisted of a generous bed of fresh lettuce topped with chicken breast, tomatoes, cucumber and green peppers drizzled with an Italian dressing. It was delightfully fresh and the dressing gave it a nice, aromatic kick.
To follow we opted for Spaghetti Bolognaise (33.25LE) which was very generous in portion and very nicely presented, too. The edge of the plate was decorated with fresh finely-chopped parsley, framing the mound of spaghetti and meat/tomato sauce, and garnished with cherry tomatoes, a cracker and asparagus. The addition of grated-parmesan cheese topped off what was a top-notch tangy tomato sauce and basil, though the meat was meager in amount
Italian tradition dictates that one finishes a meal with a coffee or espresso and Grazie have provided a large variety of coffees on their menu, though there are also a range of soft drinks, cocktails and hot chocolate. We ordered a small espresso which was strong and robust and the perfect finish to this heavy meal.
Despite advertising itself as an Italian restaurant, Grazie also serves a large variety of Middle Eastern dishes such as Shish Tawook and Kofta with Rice.
But despite this, its location and its relative modesty, Grazie offers a pleasantly simple dining experience complete with good food at affordable prices.