The best places for Japan fans in Dubai
From Hello Kitty spas to cat cafes, sushi spots to ramen joints, we bring you the best of Japan in Dubai…
Located in view of the QE2 at the new Marina Cubes development at Mina Rashid is an authentic Japanese street food gem. Spheerz started out as a stall at Global Village back in 2016, and its take on takoyaki – a ball-shaped snack filled with small pieces of octopus – quickly became a foodie favourite. Their new sitdown restaurant serves up other Japanese specials including okonomiyaki (a savoury pancake), yakitori and gyoza. Pull up a seat at the counter and watch as the chefs flip dozens of mouth-watering ‘spheerz’ – it’s mesmerising.
Spheerz, Marina Cubes, Mina Rashid, Sun to Thurs noon to 11pm, Fri and Sat noon to midnight. Tel: (04) 330 1404. facebook.com/spheerzuae
Yakitate means “freshly baked”, and you’ll be amazed by the huge range of beautiful cakes, breads and pastries this boutique bakery churns out. The fluffy Japanese cheesecake is their best-seller, but you’ll also find adorable character sweets like Hello Kitty buns filled with custard, or Pikachu cheese tarts. Or if you’re after something savoury, you should order the weird but tasty rice and ramen burgers. FYI, a second Yakitate branch is now open at Ibn Battuta Mall.
Yakitate, ground floor, Al Ghurair Centre Extension, Al Rigga, daily 8.30am to midnight. Tel:050 583 6389. yakitate.co
This colourful new restaurant in the Dubai Design District will transport you to the neon-lit streets of Akihabara, Tokyo’s famous electronics district. You’ll find find plenty of crowd-pleasers on the menu – think chicken katsu curry and yaki soba – but the true star of the show is the Tokyo-style Neapolitan pizza, made from top quality Japanese flour and salt, and baked in a wood-fired oven. Oishii, indeed. Be sure to check out their inventive cocktail list, too – wasabi margarita, anyone?
Akiba Dori, Building 8, Dubai Design District, daily noon to midnight, until 2am on weekends. Tel: (04) 770 7949. facebook.com/akibadori
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D3 is also home to a tiny ramen restaurant which serves up some of the city’s most slurp-worthy bowls. Take your pick from a variety of broths including shoyu (soy sauce) and shio (salt), paired with hand-made gyoza (Japanese dumplings). The restaurant shares its space with the uber cool Selectshop Frame, which describes itself as “the region’s first Japanese lifestyle culture shop” and stocks a selection of Japanese clothing labels, homewares and vintage records. The in-house barista is on hand to make you specialty coffees as you browse.
Yui, Building 7, Dubai Design District, daily noon to 10pm. Tel: (04) 243 4217. selectshopframe.com
If you’ve ever watched Iron Chef, you’ll be very familiar with Japanese celebrity chef Masaharu Morimoto. His eponymous restaurant opened in the Renaissance Downtown Hotel earlier this year, and boasts a team of specialist sushi and teppan chefs who have come from Morimoto restaurants around the world. A spacious outdoor terrace offers spectacular views of Downtown Dubai, but if you’d prefer to be transported to Tokyo, there’s a 10-seater sushi counter where you can watch chefs work their magic on gleaming cuts of raw fish.
Morimoto Dubai, Renaissance Downtown Hotel, Dubai, Sun to Wed 6pm to 2am, Thur to Sat 6pm to 3am. Tel: (04) 5125577. morimotodubai.com
*ALSO READ* Review: Morimoto Dubai
Zuma is synonymous with high-end Japanese food in Dubai. Located in DIFC’s Gate Village, this fancy restaurant is a bit of a celebrity hotspot, with everyone from Shah Rukh Khan to Diddy heading here while in town to satisfy their sushi cravings. Plates are designed for sharing, izakaya style – the miso-marinated black cod is a must-try, while many consider Zuma’s sushi and sashimi among the best in Dubai.
Zuma Dubai, Gate Village 06, DIFC, Sun to Thurs noon to 3.30pm, 7pm to 1am, Fri & Sat 12.30 to 4pm, 7pm to 1am. Tel: (04) 425 5660. zumarestaurant.com
Another big name in the world of Japanese cuisine is Nobu Matsuhisa, whose portfolio of more than 40 restaurants around the world includes a sought-after spot at Atlantis, The Palm. The likes of Jennifer Lopez, Khloe Kardashian, and David Beckham have all tucked into Nobu’s famous miso black cod. There’s also an extensive menu of sake and signature cocktails, making it the perfect place for a little pre-dinner tipple.
Nobu Dubai, Atlantis The Palm, Sat to Weds, 6pm to 11pm, Thurs and Fri, 7pm to 11.30pm. Tel: (04) 426 1000. atlantisthepalm.com
Katsuya by Starck
Katsuya – the global restaurant brand and brainchild of LA-based master chef Katsuya Uechi – is located in the Jumeirah Al Naseem hotel, in a space conceived by French interior designer Philippe Starck. The menu definitely leans more towards fusion than traditional Japanese, with dishes like edamame hummus and Wagyu sliders, so this is a good place for people who aren’t so familiar with the cuisine to dip a toe in. A second Katsuya restaurant opened in The Dubai Mall this year, too.
Katsuya by Starck, Jumeirah Al Naseem, Madinat Jumeirah, Dubai, open daily, midday to 1am. Tel: (04) 419 0676. katsuyarestaurant.com
This tiny Japanese restaurant (it only has 28 seats) can be found in the Dubai Opera district, and offers a fine-dining ‘kaiseki’ experience, which is basically Japan’s answer to a degustation dinner. Kohantei’s team cook with whatever produce they have sourced that week, and set menus change weekly, if not daily. It’s very traditional – think shoes off at the door, tatami mats, and kimono-clad staff.
Kohantei, Dubai Opera District, Downtown Dubai, Mon to Sat 12.30pm to 3pm, 6.30pm to midnight. Tel: (04) 243 4951. kohantei.ae
Another little gem of a Japanese restaurant can be found in the Bulgari Resort Dubai on Jumeira Bay. Hōseki – which literally means gemstone – has just nine seats, so you can expect a very exclusive experience. Chef Masahiro Sugiyama offers a two-hour omakase experience, which translates to “I’ll leave it up to you”. Using seasonal ingredients imported direct from Japan, Chef Sugiyama selects all the dishes for you, taking guests on a one-of-a-kind culinary journey.
Hōseki, Bulgari Resort Dubai, Jumeira Bay. Tuesday to Saturday, 12.30pm to 3.30pm, 6.30pm to midnight. Tel: (04) 777 5307. bulgarihotels.com
Located in Le Meridien Dubai near the airport, this restaurant is quite possibly the next best thing to booking a flight to Tokyo. Fans of Japanese cuisine flock here for the authentic food – you’ll find everything from sushi to sukiyaki on the extensive menu (not to mention the impressive sake selection). There’s also a live teppanyaki table, sushi bar, and traditional private tatami rooms which are great for big groups.
Kiku, Le Meridien Dubai Hotel & Conference Centre, Garhoud, daily 12.30pm to 2.30pm, 6.30pm to 11pm. Tel: (04) 702 2455. kiku-dubai.com
An oldie (it’s been around for two decades) but a goodie, this humble restaurant just off Sheikh Zayed Road comes highly recommended from Japanese expats and those who have spent time living in Japan. You’ll find simple but hearty dishes like omu rice, katsudon, and ramen on the menu, all at very reasonable prices.
Bentoya Kitchen, Al Kawakeb Building, Sheikh Zayed Road, Trade Centre Area, daily 11.30am to 11.30pm. Tel: (04) 343 0222. bentoya.info
Another classic Japanese restaurant is Miyako in the Hyatt Regency Dubai, which opened its doors in 1987 – making it the city’s oldest Japanese eatery. The restaurant underwent a refurb last year, and now boasts an open kitchen with a teppanyaki counter, dining room with sushi bar, and traditional tatami room. It’s an extensive menu, but we recommend trying one of the traditional hotpot dishes, like sukiyaki or shabu shabu, which are designed to be shared.
Miyako, Hyatt Regency Dubai, Deira, daily 12.30pm to 11.30pm. Tel: (04) 209 6914. hyatt.com
Nippon Bottle Co.
This cool little speakeasy is hidden behind a bookcase in the lobby of Dusit Thani Dubai, and is dedicated to Japan’s unique drinking culture. The menu boasts an impressive selection of sake, cocktails, and whisky – including Suntory, so you can do your best Bill Murray in Lost In Translation impression. There are a few snacks on offer, too, like edamame and mini wagyu sliders.
Nippon Bottle Co., Dusit Thani Dubai, Sheikh Zayed Road, daily 4pm to 2am. Tel: (04) 357 0779. dusit.com
If you’re the sort of person who follows the mantra “a place for everything and everything in its place”, then you’ll love Japanese lifestyle brand Muji, which is famous for its minimalist deisgns. This soothing store stocks everything from slippers to stationery, but it’s the storage options you’ll fall in love with – you’ll find containers for even the tiniest trinkets. Muji has two standalone stores in The Dubai Mall and JBR, and its products can also be found in Debenhams at Mall of the Emirates.
Muji, The Dubai Mall, lower ground floor, daily 10am to midnight. Tel: (04) 419 0203. muji.com
It was a sad day when Japanese bookstore Kinokuniya in The Dubai Mall moved and lost its beautiful cafe overlooking the Dubai Fountain, but it’s still the biggest and best bookstore in Dubai. It’s said to stock more than a half million books and a thousand magazines in English, Arabic, Japanese, French, German and Chinese. Manga fans can spend hours browsing the selection, and there’s plenty of figurines to geek out over.
Kinokuniya, The Dubai Mall, level two, daily 10am to midnight. Tel: (04) 434 0111. @KinokuniyaDubai
It’s known as the Japanese version of a dollar store, and while most prices in its Dubai stores are around the Dhs7 mark, you’ll still be amazed at what you can pick up with a ten dirham note. Everything is imported from Japan – household supplies, beauty products, gifts, pet clothes… it’s almost impossible to walk away empty-handed. There are several stores across Dubai.
Daiso, The Dubai Mall, lower ground floor, daily 10am to midnight. Tel: (04) 388 2902. daisome.com
Hello Kitty Beauty Spa
Love all things Hello Kitty? You have to visit the adorable Hello Kitty Beauty Spa in Jumeirah (and there’s also a branch in The Dubai Mall). All of your standard salon services are available, but everything comes with the special Kitty-chan touch. They also offer services for young girls, mums & daughters packages, and host birthday parties, too.
Hello Kitty Beauty Spa, Town Centre Jumeirah, first floor, daily 10am to 10pm. Tel: (04) 344 9598. hellokittybeautyspa.com
Ailuromania Cat Cafe
Ok, so the cat cafe concept might have originated in Taiwan, but Japan has become famous for its feline-friendly coffee shops. Dubai’s first (and as far as we know only) cat cafe is located in Jumeirah, and is home to 20 rescue cats. The cafe has even started hosting cat yoga sessions, so you can find your zen in the most purrfect surroundings.
Ailuromania Cat Cafe, 844 Jumeirah Road, Sun to Weds 11am to 10pm, Thurs to Sat 11am to 11pm. Tel: (04) 321 6661. @AiluromaniaCafe