Walking into Seoul Barbeque for the first time, there’s a chance you might feel slightly out of place.
Maybe it’s the refrigerator in the corner of the restaurant, the loud Korean conversations floating out from most of the occupied tables, or the television tuned to historical drama series The King of Legend (which is pretty entertaining, if a little hard to follow); whatever the reason, Seoul Barbeque has a coziness that is more typical of a living room – specifically, one belonging to a family of South Korean expatriates – than an actual restaurant. Even the framed images hanging on the wall displaying a variety of Korean mountains and cityscapes seem to be more a symptom of homesickness than a genuine attempt at décor.
Push past that initial wave of hesitancy, though, and you will be rewarded with a fully satisfying dining experience, and one that is infinitely more authentic than any of the "trendier" and far more pretentious Asian eateries populating Cairo.
True to its name, Seoul Barbeque caters primarily to carnivores. The barbeque options precede the menu’s appetizer section, and every table in the restaurant has its own built-in grill. Several types of poultry, meat and seafood are available to barbeque or grill in several different ways, and the process is assisted by a waiter with a large pair of scissors to help cut your meat of choice – which arrives from the kitchen in big, wet, slaughterhouse slabs – into more digestible pieces.
As indicated by its lengthy menu, Seoul Barbeque offers plenty of options for anyone with an appetite, vegetarians included. Those eager to sample authentic Korean cuisine can, for example, try the oxtail or spicy octopus soup, while less adventurous diners will probably stick to the more familiar likes of chicken, or mushroom soup. Seeing as the spicy octopus soup was unavailable at the time, I went with the shrimp soup, which, by being bland and a tad too oily, was the night’s only false note.
As with most Korean restaurants, complimentary starters arrived in the form of kimchi – a selection of vegetables that in this case included cabbage, cucumbers, onions, and red, green, yellow and jalapeno peppers – heavily fermented in garlic, ginger and lots of chili. The jalapenos were particularly appetizing, but should probably be avoided by those who don’t enjoy seriously spicy food. The cabbage, meanwhile, seemed to be more of an acquired taste, and reactions to it were evenly divided.
Kimchi can also be ordered in ‘pancake’ form, with or without seafood. With more orders on the way, we opted for the plain pancake, which was good, if a little, well, plain. The pancake comes with a side dish of soy sauce and chopped vegetables, though, which dramatically enhances the pancake’s flavor. The same sauce also came with our other starter, deep fried vegetables, which were crisp, fresh, and delicious, with or without their sauce.
For the main course, I wanted to try something new, and ended up ordering cuttlefish in spicy sauce, having no idea what exactly a cuttlefish was. As it turned out, and as most readers probably know, cuttlefish belong to the same family as squid and octopuses, and, according to Wikipedia, have one of the largest brain-to-body size ratios of all invertebrates. Which may be impressive, but it doesn’t change the fact that, apparently, I don’t like cuttlefish. Too chewy. That said, though, there was nothing wrong with the dish itself, and the accompanying vegetables, and slimmer, less gelatinous chunks of cuttlefish were plenty enjoyable.
Our other main, fried shrimp in red chili sauce, was heavenly, although it tasted more like chicken than shrimp (it was shrimp, we checked). Regardless, the shrimp, breaded and bright orange, were perfectly fried, beautifully spiced, and came covered in a thick, rich sauce peppered with chili seeds. As is the standard, this dish also came sitting in a nest of cooked vegetables, strongly complementing the chicken-shrimp.
The menu does offer a variety of Korean teas and beverages, but by that point, we couldn’t have possibly ordered anything else, which isn’t a regret only because it left so much more to be discovered on future visits. After clearing our dishes, our waiter, who throughout the night had been attentive and polite, if not as outgoing as the delightful and endlessly patient woman who took our order, served us a few slices of sweet melon.
Moderately-priced, authentic, and surprisingly cozy, Seoul Barbeque is the place to go for unfussy Korean cuisine. Or if you just want to watch the latest episode of The King of Legend with an enthusiastic crowd.
Seoul Barbeque: 25, Rd. 263, Maadi. Tel: 27537328 – 0122261672 – 0125633645