This tiny little Japanese restaurant is really quite unlike any other in Dubai… 

When the decadent Heian court ruled Japan from 794 to 1159, life was very ritualistic. The aristocrats would eat delicately prepared multi-course meals that would last for hours, their faces powdered white and their teeth blackened. These court dinners were the beginning of the modern kaiseki, Japan’s answer to the degustation dinner.

Rather surreally, there’s now a 28-seat, eight-table kaiseki restaurant at the Opera District called Kohantei. The team of seven are all from Japan, and the space is very traditional. Kaiseki are meant to be served in humble surrounds, and that’s what you’ll find here: shoes off at the door, tatami mats, bright lighting, tiny tables and kneeling service.

The attention to detail from Executive Chef Ueda & Manager Mika is second-to-none.

The first bite of our six-course Sakura menu (Dhs350 per person) was a rare sliver of wagyu paired with a warming pickled wasabi (none of that horseradish-dressed-up-as-wasabi tripe), and every bite thereafter was as much of a delight. Each plate was impeccably presented, and all elements on the plate were bite-sized, ready to be picked up by a chopstick. The Kohantei team told us that the bite-sized tradition began in the Heian court so the noble didn’t mess up their elaborate make up.

Wagyu is the restaurant’s speciality, and they go to great lengths to source from the best farmers in Japan (although there is also some Aussie wagyu on the menu).

It’s the details that make Kohantei executive chef Hisao Ueda’s food so special: soy sauce is mixed with a traditional broth to add subtlety; slivers of yuzu and ground white radish add tang and body to a broth; and on the sashimi plate a sliver of cucumber is cut into the shape of a tiny leaf, just because.

Kaiseki dining is all about balance, harmony and seasonality – so we’ll not talk you through each dish, as Kohantei’s team cook with whatever produce they have sourced that week, and the set menus change weekly, if not daily.

Each plate we had as part of the Sakura menu (Dhs350 per person) was artfully presented.

The restaurant’s primary focus is wagyu, and they go to great lengths to source from the best farmers in Japan. With the Dhs350 Sakura menu you will sample Grade A3 beef from Australia, as well as Sendai beef from Japan (the latter really does taste better). To sample the crème de la crème – Ozaki – you’ll need to plump for one of the pricier set menus (the most expensive is Dhs1,100).

The space itself is very traditional

There is an a la carte menu for those who want to pop in for some sake, prawn tempura soba (Dhs58) and a shabu-shabu pot (Dhs130); and you can also order wagyu a la carte, with prices ranging from Dhs100 to Dhs750.

Our advice? Go for a set menu and let the talented team guide you through a kaiseki, because dining here is as much a cultural experience as it is a culinary one.

Dubai Opera District, Downtown Dubai, Mon to Sat 12.30pm to 3pm, 6.30pm to midnight. Tel: (04) 243 4951. Taxi: Dubai Opera.

Kaiseki etiquette

01. Don’t turn your back to your host when removing your shoes.

02. Only use your chopsticks to pick up your food to eat (don’t spear food with them). When not eating, place them gently on the hashi oki (chopstick rest).

03. Consume your soup directly from the bowl, using both hands.

04. When eating the sashimi, place a small amount of wasabi on the fish, then dip the fish into the soy.

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