Reif Othman, former head chef of past Time Out Dubai Restaurants of the Year Zuma and PLAY has opened his own restaurant in Dubai, and it promises affordable and authentic Japanese food.
Reif Japanese Kushiyaki in Dar Wasl Mall in Jumeirah threw open its doors to the public this week (Monday September 9), and the Singaporean chef couldn’t be more excited.
“It’s fantastic, we’ve been really busy, it’s crazy,” he tells Time Out Dubai. “I’ve always wanted my own restaurant, but it’s come a bit out of the blue, really. I’ve been looking for a space, and this came up and worked out.”
The restaurant seats just 29 diners, while a terrace with room for 30 will open for winter. And there’s an open-plan kitchen with a chef’s table – a counter bar with four seats – for a more intimate experience.
The key thing with the new restaurant, as he keeps coming back to, is affordability. And after ten years in restaurants in Dubai, he has a close-eye on the dining scene.
“People don’t spend so much now, so we’ve watched the prices closely. We’re looking at around Dhs80 to Dhs150 per head,” he says. “We want to keep it affordable so people can come in and enjoy a good meal at a good price.
“Dubai has changed dramatically in the past decade that I’ve been here. There’s now a different crowd who want a different thing.
“I’m keeping it about ‘us’, you, me, locals, residents, not just the high-rollers anymore. We’re a home-grown brand and that’s how I want it to be.”
As a man who’s headed up high-end, extravagant kitchens and experiences including Zuma, PLAY and Billionaire Mansion, this is a more casual route for him. Reif Japanese Kushiyaki is unlicensed and “low-key”, he says, and that’s how it will remain. “Those days of the crazy stuff are gone now, this is my focus,” he adds.
And what about the menu? It’s laid out into a tick-box style system with seven sections, and expect some authentic, affordable street food.
Kushiyaki are bamboo skewers common in Japanese and Singaporean street food. And while yakitori actually refers to chicken skewers in a teriyaki sauce, kushiyaki covers more, and there are 13 types found on Othman’s menu.
Kushi katsu includes crispy baby squid (Dhs42) and rock shrimp with chipotle mayo (Dhs58).
Other kushi includes many different cuts of chicken – thigh, wings, skin, heart, neck et al to minimise food wastage – as well as Angus beef with a choice of sauce and veggies including cauliflower with black sesame sauce, mushrooms with wafu sauce and baby sweet corn with chilli herbs.
“The focus is on kusiyaki so you’ll find beef, chicken, katsu seafood. But there are also dishes such as claypot rice, ramen and more,” he says.
“What’s my favourite dish? I can’t choose. Probably the kagoshima ramen. Or the chicken rice. Or actually the molten cake (with peanut butter praline and salted cashews) for dessert.”
Other highlights on the menu include gyoza, raw dishes such as sea bass, salmon and beef, while “star dishes” include chilled pasta with mushroom and pickled kombu (Dhs45), Reif’s wings (Dhs16) and steamed bun burger, which is an Angus patty with wagyu tartar and veal jam (Dhs65).
As well as minimising food wastage, the first bottle of filtered water is free for diners, there are no single-use plastic straws and staff wear t-shirts and aprons made from recycled plastic bottles.
And as the new, home-grown eatery is owned and operated by Othman, expect to see him behind the stove, roaming the restaurant and overseeing everything in his very hands-on role. There are 13 in the new team, many of whom he’s worked with for up to ten years, and he’s enjoying taking the helm.
“I’m not just a chef, I’m an entrepreneur – my name is my brand,” he says.
“Having my own place is great as I can do whatever I like here, it’s my baby – I feel very blessed. I’ve always had the idea and now I’ve had the chance to do it. It’s amazing.
The restaurant will be closed every Monday, to ensure staff have a well-deserved day off, while it’s open for both lunch and dinner the rest of the week.
As a fan of home-grown concepts Othman says his favourite area to eat is JLT.
“There are loads of good restaurants there,” he says, citing places like Wokyo as his go-to spots. “But to be honest I prefer to stay in and eat my wife’s cooking.”
And can we expect any more restaurants in the pipeline?
“This is my focus for now, a year or so, let’s stabilise then who knows next year I might look to branch out,” he says.
With a CV as strong as his is, we’re sure the new restaurant will draw plenty of interest.
Open Sat, Sun, Tue, Wed noon-11pm, Thu-Fri noon-midnight. Dar Wasl Mall, Jumeirah, www.reifkushiyaki.com (04 345 0761).