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Zamalek, Cairo, Egypt.
Hana: Korean Barbeque Re-opened in Zamalek
Having gained many fans in Cairo for its Korean cuisine, this Zamalek restaurant has been closed for a few months now. Recently, Hana Barbeque has reopened at a new spot in Zamalek; much to its loyal patrons delight.
The new location is on Hassan Assem Street (Just off of Taha Hussein Street and Mandarine Koueidar), which can be easily spotted by the red and white glowing sign and flashing Open sign on the door. At the time of this reviewer’s visit, Hana Barbeque was swarming with locals and expats alike; a tell-tale sign that patrons here appreciate the authentic Korean cuisine and the restaurant’s quality service.
The restaurant has a bigger space and simple decor; providing more room at peak dining hours. One of the advantages of this well-established restaurant is the reasonable prices of the tastes, which has helped earn Hana its position as a favourite Zamalek dining spot.
As soon as you’re seated, a slew of complimentary side dishes are brought to the table, including the traditional kimchi, fried and roasted potatoes and a delicious mixture of marinated octopus and onion. Fresh juices include lemon and orange for a reasonable price of 8LE per glass.
For an appetiser, four dumplings (12LE) are served freshly fried and stuffed with minced beef and spices; providing a heavier side to the light complimentary dishes. If you feel like soup, try their chicken corn soup (12LE), a warm, creamy and simply satisfying soup. However, we felt morally inclined to avoid the sharks fin soup (18LE).
Seeking a hot and filling dish, our order of hot noodle dish (45LE) was disappointing; so much so that we had it sent back to the kitchen after a sample of the cabbage-heavy broth that the noodles were drenched in.
Famous for their barbeque dishes, Hana Barbeque’s built-in grills at the table make grilling to your specific taste an easy but sometimes messy situation.
Grilled options range from around 40LE to 60LE, including shrimp, chicken and pork rinds. Opting for beef ribs (55LE), our plate was stacked full of juicy meat marinated in a light teriyaki sauce that was tender after a few short minutes on the grill, pairing well with the fried rice (18LE).
Also for 55LE, our sweet and sour shrimp came with a hefty amount of tasty shrimps soaked in the sauce and mixed with carrots, onions and a sweet yellow apple. However, the sweet and sour chicken (40LE) tasted more like a sweet dessert such as loqmet el adi than a meat dish: the chicken pieces were dipped in batter then deep-fried and covered in thick syrup that made it hard to identify the chicken flavour through all the sweetness.
Hana Barbeque is a great option when you want to satisfy those carnivorous cravings that attack when you’re least expecting them. However, it's a case of hit-and-miss at this restaurant: some walk away swooning, while others vow to never return; so enter at your own risk!
Amongst the many Asian restaurants in Cairo, Korean cuisine in particular has been on the rise. The big problem, however, is the grouping of Asian cuisines under one roof, because it’s the same problem international cuisine restaurants have – diversity trumps quality.
Maadi’s Gaya is one of the oldest Korean restaurants in Cairo and one of the first recommendations that pops up when talking about Korean cuisine. A previous Cairo 360 review highly praised the restaurant’s authenticity and made note of how most of the staff and clientele are actually Korean – a strong, if presumptuous, indicator to the true level of authenticity.
Since then, several new restaurants have opened up around Gaya including Zentro and Kokio, so we headed over to see how they’ve kept up with the competition. Simply put, it hasn’t kept up – in fact it’s very easy to put forward the argument that it has gone downhill.
The simple, comfortable diner feel remains unchanged and we opted for crab Kim Bab (40LE) from the appetisers, Beef Bulgogi (65LE) and Fried Chicken with Sweet and Sour Sauce (60LE) for our mains, alongside Vegetable Fried Noodles (30LE) and Vegetable Fried Rice (20LE).
What came next was a series of heart-breaking disappointments. The Kim Bab is a Korean variation on sushi featuring rice, with sesame oil rather than vinegar, as well as crab, eggs, cucumbers and carrots. While interesting in theory, the flavour is bland unmemorable – especially considering the number of elements and ingredients.
The Sweet and Sour Chicken was decent, featuring carrots and pickled cucumbers which we found to be strange and unfitting. The chicken itself was well marinated, but overcooked and, combined with the scarce Vegetable Fried Noodles that lacked flavour and noodles, the dish was a miss.
The Beef Bulgogi - a classic Korean grilled meat dish - fared even worse. The meat was overcooked to a point where it was undesirably chewy, while the hints of sauce it was topped with did little to enhance the Vegetable Fried Rice we ordered to accompany it. Add to that, the fact that the rice was also overcooked, and dish is a complete miss as well.
Like so many Cairo restaurants, Gaya just hasn’t been able to maintain its former glory. There’s little to no reason to go back to Gaya, despite them serving both pork and alcohol. While the service, cleanliness and general ambiance were decent, the quality and quantity of food were less than average. What a shame.