Review: Ikigai, a Japanese restaurant worth crossing town for
If there’s one thing Dubai isn’t short of it’s Japanese restaurants. So, is there room for one more?
Dubai’s appetite for Japanese cuisine knows no bounds. From the highfalutin likes of Zuma and Hoseki, to the authentic temples of Kohantei and Kimura-Ya, we’re never far from our next sushi roll or sliver of wagyu.
Which begs the question, have we reached peak sashimi?
The team at Ikigai are leaving nothing to chance. The latest project from Reif Othman and The First Group, this sleek izakaya-style restaurant and bar in Dubai Marina ticks all your mod-Japanese boxes.
You’ve got your sultry setting with sculptural light fittings, graffiti murals, neon signage and an industrial-chic edge. There’s a showpiece central bar pouring sake and yuzu-spiked cocktails. And then there’s the menu, loaded with tricked up Japanese street foods that are perfect for sharing over a drink.
It’s the kind of buzzy place you could happily pop in for a few rounds of gyoza, karaage chicken and crispy squid after work, or catch up with the girls on Tuesday’s ladies’ night.
But then you’d be missing some of the more nuanced treasures on the menu. Think: torched wagyu with black truffle ponzu, or seared salmon with jalapeño soy.
Head chef Minho Ted Shin steers us towards the hamachi with citrus white ponzu (Dhs82), flown in fresh from Japan that day. He layers the hamachi with wafer-thin slices of winter melon, dabs of kimchi puree, and discs of cumquat for a gentle bittersweet tang that enhances the delicate fish. Clever stuff.
The Ikigai tacos are another hit, filled with diced salmon, citrus mayo and the briny pop of flying fish roe (Dhs23 per piece). And sushi fans will find nothing to fault in the spicy tuna maki (Dhs73), which gets its mild heat from a lick of yuzu koshu.
But it’s the Ikigai burger (Dhs78) that’s worth crossing town for: a smoky-sweet delight with blush-pink wagyu, shards of crisped bacon, caramelised miso onions, and char marks on the potato bun from a quick spin on the grill.
If you think potato has no business being in a dessert, then you’re missing out. The sweet potato semifreddo with fried mochi (Dhs40) is the kind of multi-textured treat that has you duelling it out for the last bite, with earthy-sweet ice cream, a rubble of black sesame soil, crunchy tuille, and cinnamon-dusted mochi balls that are like chewy doughnuts.
Feeling full? Just like Dubai’s Japanese dining scene, we reckon we can squeeze one more in.
Ikigai, 1st floor, Millennium Place Dubai Marina, Al Marsa Street, Dubai Marina, Sun to Sat, noon to 11pm (bar opens until 1am). Tel: (0)4 550 8114. ikigaidubai.ae