There is more to Japanese food than sushi. Discover it
Time Out Dubai staff
Winner – Best Japanese Time Out Dubai Restaurant Awards 2013
Zuma Time Out Dubai’s winner of Best Japanese last year is still at the pinnacle of the city’s dining scene. Tokyo-based design house Super Potato has created a serene, stylishly understated space in which beautiful bamboo features combine with intricately carved wood and chiselled stone and granite in distinctly Japanese patterns. There’s no mistaking Zuma for anywhere else. There’s a pleasant buzz both in the more informal bar/lounge area and the main restaurant split over two levels, where, we should point out, the minimal space between tables prevents a private dining experience. There are no negatives about the food, though, with the menu featuring melt-in-the-mouth sashimi, expertly crafted rolls and sushi, delicious grills from the robata counter and a host of signature dishes, including the much-talked-about miso-marinated black cod. Each dish is invariably well presented and full of subtle, delightful ingredients and flavours, and we applaud the balance between traditional Japanese recipes and more contemporary creations. Service is friendly and efficient, meaning there really is nothing we don’t like about the Zuma experience. But it won’t come cheap. Open for lunch Sat-Thu 12.30pm-3pm; Fri brunch 12.30pm-3.30pm; dinner Sat-Wed 7pm-midnight, Thu-Fri 7pm-1am; bar and lounge open Sat-Wed noon-1am, Thu-Fri noon-2am. Gate Village 6, Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), www.zumarestaurant.com, firstname.lastname@example.org (04 425 5660).
Highly Recommended – Best Japanese Time Out Dubai Restaurant Awards 2013
Nobu With 25 restaurants across five continents, celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s influence and fame is well and truly global. It’s no surprise that Dubai is part of the network. Yet the restaurant’s unlikely marriage to Atlantis, with its childishly overdone underwater theme, is altogether less obvious, because there’s an unshakeable clash. Nobu’s dark interior is a genuine marvel, from the delicately patterned ceiling and flower-shaped wood carvings to the giant ‘baskets’ resembling fishing nets. And the food matches the surroundings, each dish a delight to behold and savour. While the menu offers traditional Japanese fare, dining here is about venturing off the beaten path and enjoying the creativity and novelty of the chef’s signature dishes that fuse Japanese with South American flavours so well. The black cod with miso is a well-known standout, but there are plenty more treats. Service is top-notch, the friendly staff putting to rest any fears you may have about such a prestigious venue being snooty. In fact the whole experience would be flawless, but for the overly loud music from 8.30pm. Open Fri and holidays noon-3am; Sat-Wed 7pm-11.30pm; Thu-Fri and holidays 7pm-12.30am; bar open daily 6pm-1am. Atlantis The Palm, Palm Jumeirah, www.noburestaurants.com/dubai (04 426 2626).
Highly Recommended – Best Japanese Time Out Dubai Restaurant Awards 2013
Okku With its fluorescent blue jellyfish tank, dark, masculine interior and black staff uniforms, Okku could be straight out of a James Bond movie. Even the somewhat aggressive approach to table bookings, complete with the threat of a no-show fine, fits the bill, but don’t let this deter you. Because once seated, Okku’s softer side reveals itself, through the friendly wait staff and the warm flicker of candles at each table. Dishes are meant for sharing, with a selection of smaller plates, sushi and salads leading up to more substantial dishes, like the ever-present miso black cod. Bear in mind, though, that ‘starters’ are actually not much smaller than ‘mains’. Don’t miss the excellent sashimi salad, the cuts of raw tuna, salmon and yellowtail melting in the mouth, or the wonderfully light Taraba Summer Roll, generously filled with fresh crab. All seafood is said to come from sustainable sources, so you can tuck in without hesitation. As the evening progresses, the lounge-style atmosphere comes into its own, the bar area alive with activity and the music adding to the buzz. Okku promises a night to remember, albeit a pricey one. Open daily 7pm-2am. The H Hotel, One Sheikh Zayed Road, www.okku.com (04 501 8777).
Armani/Hashi Few restaurants can boast such an exclusive setting, at the base of the world’s tallest skyscraper, with tables spilling out onto a spacious terrace overlooking glassy pools and the world’s tallest fountain. If you’re looking to entertain guests, business associates or a date, you’ve come to the right place. Inside, Hashi exudes the same trademark style and understated sleekness as the rest of the hotel, while outdoors candlelit tables and those famous views await. There’s an extensive menu featuring exquisite signature dishes, including the ever-popular black cod, as well as sushi, raw fish, tempura, robatayaki, teppanyaki, rice and noodle dishes. Portions are small, especially considering the prices, but ingredients are high quality and dishes well presented, as you’d expect, with even the simplest – such as the single-ingredient grilled eringi mushrooms – proving a success. Does the food reach the heady heights of the building it’s prepared in? Not quite, but with such fine surroundings you’ll barely notice. Open daily 7pm-11pm. Armani Hotel Dubai, Downtown Dubai, dubai.armanihotels.com (04 888 3888).
ET Sushi With seating spilling out into Jumeirah Emirates Towers’ Shopping Boulevard, ET Sushi is a small, casual sushi joint suited to a quick lunchtime or evening bite, although its sleek, smart interior and high prices mean it’s unlikely to be an everyday destination for most. As you’d expect from the name, sushi is the menu’s main focus, with diners able to pluck masterful rolls from the conveyor belt or order their favourite makis à la carte, to the sounds of J-pop on the stereo and the latest Japanese animations on TV. Teppanyaki, salads and mains including delicious soft shell crab, wagyu beef, teriyaki dishes and noodles also make an appearance, but our recommendation is to stick with the signature sushi – all expertly-rolled creations with fresh, delightful flavours. Service is a little confused and could do with a bit of tweaking, but for a casual Japanese feast, ET Sushi won’t fail to deliver. Open Sun-Thu noon-11.30pm; Fri and Sat 12.30pm-2.30pm, 7pm-11.30pm. Jumeirah Emirates Towers, Sheikh Zayed Road, www.jumeirah.com (04 319 8088).
Hanabi The Asiana’s original Japanese restaurant is clearly a hit among the hotel’s mainly Asian guests, but it’s more than worth the trip if you’re after authentic, traditional Japanese cuisine. The main dining area is no match compared to neighbouring Korean restaurant Sonamu’s high ceilings and imposing decor, but it’s still a comfortable, if slightly cold space. The four private dining rooms, however, offer a more intimate and traditional environment, complete with tatami floors, sunken seating and inset decorative walls. Depending on the time of year, opt for one of the generous, warming hot pots (the oden nabe is our favourite) and then order as many smaller dishes as your appetite will allow. Sushi, sashimi, yakitori skewers, tempura, wagyu steak and grilled fish and meats all feature, and are expertly prepared and presented, but don’t disregard the chef’s seasonal recommendations, where you’ll find a few more unusual dishes. Prices are by no means steep, so you shouldn’t mind being a little experimental, making for an altogether satisfying dining experience. Open daily noon-3pm, 6pm-11pm. Asiana Hotel, Salahuddin Road, Deira, www.asianahoteldubai.com (04 238 7777).
Honyaki Since opening in the summer of 2011, Honyaki has been going about its business quietly and confidently. The restaurant’s environs are relaxed and straight-forward, though fantastic views of the Madinat complex and the Burj Al Arab make it a far more memorable venue than the countless ‘flat-pack chic’ Japanese restaurants constantly popping up all over Dubai. The food, meanwhile, is excellent. The scallop is perhaps, one of the most velvet-smooth cuts of sashimi you’re likely to taste in Dubai, while the crab tacos are exhilaratingly fresh. Likewise, the dynamite rolls – artful mosaics of caviar, eel, sticky rice and wasabi – are, true to their name, explosions of taste. The dishes win full marks for flavour, though high prices might leave some unwitting diners with a bad taste in their mouths. However, forgetting this, the quality of the food and the views are a winning combination. Open daily noon-midnight. Souk Madinat Jumeirah, www.jumeirah.com (04 366 6255).
Kisaku Don’t let the hotel’s somewhat odd exterior and dated decor put you off, because the food at Kisaku is excellent. Popular with Dubai’s Japanese residents, the restaurant’s simple interior of grey stone tiles, wooden ceiling and sushi bar certainly doesn’t look award winning, but it’s pleasant enough, with additional private dining available with sunken seating on tatami mats. Things start to get exciting, though, as soon as you open the menu. It features a range of very reasonably priced set meals as well as sushi and sashimi. There are light bites, too, such as delicious kinpira (sautéed and simmered burdock and carrot), salads, tempura, teppanyaki, various noodles and rice dishes like unadon (with freshwater eel) and even onigiri (nori-wrapped rice triangles). Ingredients are wonderfully authentic, with orders brought to your table by friendly, attentive staff. It won’t take long to realise you’ve found a true gem of a restaurant, and, best of all, you can order a feast, sampling the full range of cooking styles for under Dhs500. Well worth visiting again and again. Open daily 12.30pm-2.30pm, 6.30pm-11pm. Al Khaleej Palace Hotel, Al Makthoum Road, Deira, www.alkhaleejpalace.net (04 223 1000).
Miyako The Hyatt Regency restaurant celebrated its 25th birthday in October 2012 (that’s 100 in Dubai restaurant years), yet shows no sign of surrendering to the ‘cooler’ competition in the south of the city. The restaurant’s modestly sized interior is paved with slate-like stone and the furniture is comprised of dark wood. Two teppanyaki tables stand slightly elevated at the back of the restaurant, partially obscured by sliding partitions. The notable presence of Japanese businessmen winding down after a day at work, bespeaks the restaurants authenticity – as does the meaty, exquisitely fresh tuna sashimi. Nigiri sushi options are expertly prepared and as fresh and flavourful as the sashimi options, while hot dishes spoil for choice – the niku ramen is a genuine delight. The restaurant also offers an array of ‘set menus’, which transpire to be set platters featuring rice, a main dish and miso. Miyako succeeds by doing the simple things right and doing them extremely well at that. Open daily 12.30pm-3pm, 7pm-midnight. Hyatt Regency Dubai, Deira, www.dubai.regency.hyatt.com (04 209 1234).
Sho Cho The cool Ibiza-style setting by the hotel’s private beach justifies Sho Cho’s enduring popularity. While there is indoor seating within a modern, minimalist interior likened to a ‘submarine’, it’s all about the outdoor area, a stone’s throw from the sand and waves. The white, nautical theme is further cooled by blue lighting, and the place looks and feels like the deck of a yacht – albeit with a bar, DJ (on selected nights) and bouncers, lending the place a club vibe that’s great for post-work drinks, but less so if you’re looking for an intimate dining experience. The menu is a combination of traditional Japanese dishes and contemporary takes with Western touches, including some rather fine and creative Sho Cho rolls. Many rave about the signature dish – rock shrimp tempura with green chilli mayo – but we’ve found the batter a little overpowering. Indeed, the food lacks refinement and attention to detail (the sharing platter for two, for instance, arrives with an uncongenial three of everything). Our advice? Stick to the makis and remember you’re paying for the location. Open daily 7pm-3am (last food order 1.45am). Dubai Marine Beach Resort & Spa, Jumeirah, www.dxbmarine.com (04 346 1111).