Egyptian treats available most hours
Now, don’t take that out of context. Please. Here’s my reasoning: Gay chaps get all the girls. I’m serious about this. These fellows may be on the other bus, but they are sensitive, they are sophisticated, and as “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” has proven, a hell of a lot more stylishly turned out than us straight slobs. This explains why every woman I know has at least a couple of gay chums whose friendship she treasures much more than she does mine: She can confide in these boys, you see, and she feels safe with them.
The downside to this fashionable preference by the female of the species is that, if taken to its logical extreme, it could spell the eventual doom of the human race. So, if we straight fellows want to continue the business of mating and procreating, it behooves all of us to get into bed ― figuratively speaking, of course ― with our gay counterparts and pick up a few tips on primping, preening and other useful secrets.
So where does the gay populace congregate? In Itaewon, the “place to be” used to be known as “Homo Hill” but has recently been re-christened “Brokeback Hill” for reasons too obvious to go into. This is the steep, narrow alley that runs parallel to the equally aptly named “Hooker Hill.” Lining its slopes are bars and clubs with names like “Queen,” “Always Homme” and “Why Not?”
Now as I was saying, gay chaps are sensitive, artistic souls with refined taste. Did someone say taste? Yes. There is only one restaurant on Brokeback Hill and that is “Pharoahs.”
An odd location for an Egyptian restaurant, you might think, but the Seoul mosque is just up the road and around the corner. And as co-owner Tony le Rhodes puts it: “Gays have to eat too, and late on Friday or Saturday night, it is like the Sydney” ― Tony, who is also a rock drummer with, he claims, a fan base of 1,500 Koreans, is Australian ― “Mardi Gras up here. It is also the safest place in town, and the rents are reasonable.”
The menu is basic, offering Middle Eastern and North African standards. We start things rolling with Hummus (5,000 won or $5) and Yogurt Salad (5,000 won). The hummus ― i.e. a puree of chick peas ― is served in a circular blob, dressed with oil for moisture and set off with a sprig of parsley. It is a smooth version, not as nuttily textured as some, but very pleasant, and served with warm pita fresh from the oven. The salad is excellent: chopped cucumber in a refreshing plain yogurt, with a touch of black pepper for flavoring. These are both excellent, light summer dishes.
Among the mains, the first is the best: Chicken Kebab (10,000 won). The chicken is smooth and moist, browned from the grill, served with pita and a side salad of shredded lettuce, onion and carrot ― good stuff. The Kofte (minced beef, grilled; 10,000 won) was not quite as successful. Although served with the same side salad and pita, it was a bit dry and seemed to me to be crying out for a sauce. Finally, the Beef Couscous (8,000 won) was not a winner. While the couscous itself was fine, the beef was soft and overdone, and the sauce was a sweet cinnamon-flavored gravy. Some may favor this but I didn’t ― I would have preferred a spicy Algerian harissa by far.
By the way, I may have made a mistake in not ordering the falafel ― from the looks of the neighboring table, it was excellent.
I must take issue with the drinks selection. In this day and age, when highly gluggable brews like Hoegaarden and Krombacher are widely available in Seoul, why on earth does Pharoahs offer only Budweiser and OB (each 5,000 won)? These are, arguably, the two most flavor-free lagers on the face of the planet, and this restaurant is in the midst of a zone full of thirsty chaps with sophisticated taste buds. Unforgivable. There is also a house wine and soft drinks available.
Service is always in sight ― it is a small place ― and Tony is a colorful character for a chat. Pharoahs also does outside catering.
Verdict: A good reason to visit Brokeback Hill, even if you’re straight as an arrow. Especially as Tony claims he stays open until 5 a.m. on weekends and is available even after closing time. “If you are hungry ― knock on the door!” he says. I have yet to meet a Seoul restaurateur that responsive, so I’m calling his bluff. Reader! Should you find yourself in this vicinity in the wee hours ― try him out.
Address:150-7, Itaewon Dong, Yongsan Gu
Hours: Flexible, but very late (see text)
Dress: Come as you are
by Andrew Salmon