It’s more than just sushi these Dubai dining juggernauts
Winner – Best Japanese Time Out Dubai Restaurant Awards 2012
Zuma, DIFC The décor is awe-inspiring, the place is always buzzing and the food is pretty good too. Try the salmon and tuna tartare: it’s well-seasoned and comes packed into a rectangular wooden dish, where you scrape out the filling onto wafer-thin crisps. The Alaskan king crab legs poached in butter are meaty and neatly served, so you won’t have to worry about making a mess. Meat lovers will be tempted by the sumptuous, but slightly tough Korean BBQ lamb chops, with six on each serving, or the rich, melt-in-your-mouth foie gras and jam. But if you really want to be impressed, save your appetite for dessert – the green chilli pineapple and coconut is out of this world.
Highly commended – Best Japanese Time Out Dubai Restaurant Awards 2012
Nobu, Atlantis, The Palm Refined Japanese fare with a Peruvian twist is the best way to describe the delicacies that come out of Nobu’s kitchen. Its signature yellowtail sashimi with jalapenos, rock shrimp lobsters in a light, crunchy tempura and spicy cream sauce might win over some diners, but the price tags will send most running. Divert your gaze to the sleek décor. Soft lighting and fish trap-style curved wicker panels lining the walls and ceiling never fail to impress.
Highly commended – Best Japanese Time Out Dubai Restaurant Awards 2012
Okku, The Monarch Dubai Okku has gone from strength to strength since opening its doors in 2009. Booking a table is essential – those that don’t will find themselves positioned at the no-frills sushi counter, which is an experience unjustified by the final bill. Although extensive, the menu is designed with sharing in mind: small plates of crunchy soft shell crab and spicy rock shrimp provide the perfect warm-up to traditional skewers of chicken yakitori and juicy shitake mushrooms, before the big plates arrive, brimming with melt-in-the-mouth wagyu beef and, of course, the by-now obligatory black cod. While the food and service cannot be knocked, Okku’s preference for catering to the business side of town means the bar area can become quite boisterous at weekends. Definitely worth a visit, however.
Benihana, The Walk JBR If you like your meal with a little bit of banter, a lot of noise and the (remote) possibility of singed eyebrows, Benihana is just the ticket. Request a seat at the teppanyaki grill, because that’s where all the fun is. The menu offers a number of hearty options including assorted seafood (scallops, prawns and salmon) and surf and turf (lobster tail and fillet mignon), and the chef will entertain you with the usual gimmicks – banging utensils, getting the grill to breathe fire like a dragon and catching prawn tails in his hat. All teppanyaki options include rice, salad and artery-clogging (but delicious) desserts – deep fried ice cream or deep fried banana with ice cream, if you dare.
Armani/Hashi, Armani Hotel In terms of location, there are few restaurants that could top chic Japanese eatery Armani/Hashi. Make sure to book a seat outside (weather permitting), nestled under the world’s tallest building, with unmatched views of the Dubai Fountains – the atmosphere is exquisite. The food doesn’t disappoint either. Portions are small, so expect to order an assortment of dishes. Starters include wagyu tataki drizzled with a ponzu-style dressing and scattered on a bed of greens. For something slighty more adventurous, order the quick-seared salmon fillet with truffles and crème fraîche or tuna and salmon tartar with caviar. Between dancing fountain shows (they light up to music every half hour) don’t forget to check out the dessert menu, which offers treats such as a devilishly good mango brulee with coconut ice cream.
ET Sushi, Jumeirah Emirates Towers Competing with a number of the city’s biggest names, including nearby The Ivy and Tokyo@the Towers, ET Sushi is a high-end sushi train and à la carte restaurant that serves up signature delights, as well as more standard Japanese fare. The interior is light, airy and welcoming, and the atmosphere pleasant. Dishes like the spicy salmon tartare with hot mayonnaise, cabbage and avocado bring this eatery up a notch, and the whatchamacallit rolls, topped with a seared slice of wagyu beef and melted cheesy mayonnaise, are delicious. The foie gras with sticky rice is also worth a try and meat lovers will go ga-ga over the tender lamb chops with a katsu-style mustard dipping sauce, cooked to perfection. The only downfall is that the menu is a little over-ambitious, with not all menu items actually available. Any reservations you might have will vanish, however, as soon as the dessert arrives – particularly the delectable lime crème brûlée with sweet chestnut cream.
Kisaku, Al Khaleej Palace Few restaurants in Dubai can boast a full house at lunchtime, but Kisaku, a traditional Japanese gem in the semi-boutique Al Khaleej Palace Hotel, seems to be a hit with the city’s discerning Japanese-loving diners. And this is no surprise – the menu is thick, the dishes affordable, the food dangerously good and the service is far from amateur. Diners pass through curtains to reach the main dining room, and can then choose between a table and the sushi bar. Those at the latter seem to be mostly Japanese expats who come to giggle away at the obscure Japanese TV programmes played at both ends of the room. The fatty tuna sashimi is sure to leave a lasting impression, as will the tasty, teriyaki-style mushrooms on skewers and the succulent white fish and onion tempura, not forgetting the fresh soft-shell crab tucked away within the delicious roast crab sushi rolls.
Miyako, Hyatt Regency Dubai Sticking to its strict code of serving only Japanese cuisine, not diluting its menu with other Asian dishes and employing Japanese staff, Miyako is on the right path. Although relatively small, this ambient, serene eatery feels open and expansive, yet intimate and warm at the same time. And while there's beauty aplenty in the decor, it's the food that underlines Miyako's brilliance. The sushi is impeccable – craft and precision is evident in every lovingly put-together roll. The fresh fatty tuna dazzles, but the best thing on the mammoth menu has to be the Kaisen Kaminabe – poached salmon, scallops and vegetables cooked in front of you. Though every seat has a bum on it, you'll never find yourself waiting for service, nor with an empty bowl in front of you for long. There are plenty of sushi restaurants in Dubai, but very few measure up to this level of excellence.
Sakura, Crowne Plaza The Crowne Plaza Dubai is hiding a secret within its dated walls. Exceptional food at reasonable prices with refined service is what makes a good dining experience, and Sakura satisfies on every level. The decor – a kitsch mix of enlarged stereotypically Japanese photos and oddly shaped windows – is its only downfall. The menu is simple, yet boasts one or two options that you won’t find at even the best Japanese restaurants in town, such as the delightful crunchy salmon skin maki rolled in spring onions, and the Japanese answer to hot pot, shabu shabu. Prices are reasonable and the food is as good, if not better, than most mid-range restaurants in Dubai. The dessert menu could do with sprucing up, but if it’s green tea ice cream or tempura ice cream that makes you happy, then look no further.
Sho Cho, Dubai Marine Resort & Spa While it’s clear Sho Cho is not in the same league as Dubai’s more refined eateries, its expansive menu and seaside views keep the venue high on the socialite’s hot list. This beach hut-style, al-fresco eatery serves up large portions of the usual suspects: deep-fried soft shell crab, gyoza, hand-rolled maki and sashimi. While Sho Cho’s creations are standard issue in most up-market Japanese restaurants in Dubai (think crunchy rock shrimp and yellowtail sashimi with jalapenos), there are a few lesser-seen alternatives such as the kingfish ceviche – delicate tartare-style sashimi infused with lemon juice and scooped up with crunchy corn chips. If you want to grab a table closest to the beach, you’ll need to book ahead, as this place gets ridiculously busy. But that doesn’t seem to harm the service, which is attentive without being overbearing. The best part is that you can enjoy dinner and drinks before heading off to the hotel’s many other nightspots.