It was time to take a break from Egypt, so her royal self and I decided a week in El Gouna was in order. This orange and white holiday village on the Red Sea, just north of Hurghada is, geographically, part of this country, but that is where the connection begins and ends.
When I first started coming to Gouna in the mid-‘90s, there was one hotel and it had one restaurant. It wasn’t very good. Then the Mövenpick was built and we gained our first decent place to eat, El Sayadin. It’s still there. Perched on a wooden peer overlooking the turquoise-white water, it has a daily catch to choose from and you can a glass of cool white wine and some mezzes while your sea bass and calamari is being cooked to order.
Framed between the mountains and the beach, in the last ten years El Gouna has blossomed into a desert oasis with its own rhythms, a mixed ex-patriate community of Cairenes and Europeans, plenty of hotel rooms and apartments to rent, and by now over eighty bars and restaurants to choose from.
Grilled meat and fish are readily available as is fuul and tameya at the Foool House and shawerma at Shawerma on Coal. There is even a branch of Abou El Sid if you find yourself missing your wara einab, molokheyia and sharkeseya.
But if you really want to take a break from Egypt, you will find everything from fine French and Belgian dining to Italian, Thai, Greek, German, Mexican and British. We had some great Cornish pastries at Smuggler’s Pub, a friendly little hideaway in the New Marina. Nearby there is a shop called Zanzibar that sells Genoa salami, mortadella, Black Forest ham and prosciutto. All of this is flown in straight from Europe and not available in Cairo.
El Gouna is a chilled place. The only source of stress is figuring out what you want to have for lunch. There are several ways to approach this problem.
Method one: Go to Moods or The Club House, meet some of the locals, tap into their restaurant gossip network. Either one of these places will make a fine starting point for eating your way through your holiday. Moods sits at the end of the new marina with a great view of the harbor, its own little beach, coffee, shisha, cocktails, and plenty of people to talk to. On our first morning here I was super-impressed with their salmon-avocado salad and her royal self with a grilled fillet salad. Perfect.
The new marina is one district in El Gouna; Downtown the other. If Moods is the nerve center of the new marina, The Club House is the heart of downtown. With a pool, a beach, a full-service restaurant and a bar, it’s also a great place to meet people and in fact you never really have to leave. Most days we ended up eating at least one meal at either Moods or The Club House and visiting friends at both.
Method two for figuring out where to dine involves walking around and seeing where everyone else is eating. With a casual stroll through either district you will immediately pick up on which places are popular. Word of advice: most of the time you can eat when and where you want but on busy holidays such as Sham El Nessim or any Eid be sure to book when you find a place that looks good to you because they fill up fast in the evening. Using the strolling method you will discover immediately that the popular places are La Scala and Pier 88 for Italian, Saigon for Vietnamese, Le Deauville for delicacies such as foie gras au torchon, and Le Garage for gourmet burgers. I highly recommend all of these places. You get what you pay for though. At Le Garage the wagyu burger is priced at EGP 392! Regular burgers will run you around EGP 100.
The third method for finding a restaurant is to ask someone who knows. In this case you are stuck with me. My greatest discovery on this trip was Zia Amelia (downtown). Newly opened two weeks ago and run by a couple from Naples, despite wanting to try everything Gouna has to offer we still ate here twice in a week. Fresh grilled sardines, squid stuffed with homemade sausage, a roasted pepper salad with an olive and anchovy sauce, spinach and ricotta tarts, crème caramel with a splash of Cointreau: this place soared.
There is much more to choose from but these are our favourites. Avoid the touristy places and do not eat anywhere that is empty. Walk around, explore, make some new friends, use your culinary common sense, take a nap, do it all over again. Take a break from Cairo. You might never go back.