Kanpai - review

Kooky new Japanese joint in Souk Al Bahar

Does Dubai need another Japanese-themed nightspot? With Sake No Hana establishing itself on the scene earlier in the year, Souk Al Bahar now has a new young upstart vying for your dirhams. Kanpai (meaning ‘cheers’ in Japanese) is, like a lot of its rivals, a restaurant, bar and lounge. The bar space is lit with moody hues, and feels industrial and stark. With red and purple neon strobes, distressed walls and exposed pipework in the heavens, it reminded us of a posh version of the bar in classic sci-fi flick Blade Runner.

TV screens are dotted throughout and when we visited they were showing, appropriately enough, manga films. Sipping on our drinks, we watched as unfortunate Japanese cartoon characters dysmorphed into giant, fleshy balloons before combusting into an unfortunate mess. Having grown up watching cheerful Disney animations, we were fascinated with the macabre goings-on and, with no sound, the incomprehensible creativity of the narrative felt mysteriously cool – much like a Bjork record, it’s bonkers, a bit brilliant but mostly baffling.

Perched on leather chairs at the sleek, black piano wood bar, we opted to choose from a menu of conventional mixed drinks with a Japanese twist. Made in front of us by the capable mixologist, the beverages may not have been the most memorable we’ve tried, but they were refreshing, balanced and decent quality.

Easily the best thing about our visit were the prices. The fact it was happy hour during our visit allowed us to soak up the experience for a very reasonable Dhs24 a pop – you’d be hard-pressed to find a better price in Souk Al Bahar.

With a DJ booth in the far corner and a sophisticated sound system, it’s clear this venue has aspirations beyond being somewhere to grab a quick drink. And we’re genuine fans of the slightly kooky details. At the entrance, there’s a samurai statue that reminds us of Ice Cube’s house on MTV Cribs, along with an imposing warrior mask to the rear of the place (with menacing lights for eyes). It may be too early to tell, but with skilled staff and a highly competitive happy hour, Kanpai is definitely in with a good chance at attracting a cool crowd, drawn to it’s subtle playfulness and live DJ. We’ll be watching with interest.

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