Review: 99 Sushi Bar and Restaurant Abu Dhabi
Has it earned its place in the Michelin cosmos..?
Last year’s announcement that the Michelin Guide would be landing in Abu Dhabi for the first time sent anticipatory shockwaves through the city’s network of restaurants. How many coveted Stars would be plucked from the skies and laid upon the fruit of the capital’s blossoming dining scene?
The answers came in November. 42 restaurants made it into the inaugural Guide, from which three of the city’s elite eateries were deemed to have stood above the rest of the field, winning a place in the global zodiac of Michelin Stars.
99 Sushi Bar and Restaurant was one of the chosen. A Japanese fine dining establishment with roots in the culinary crucible of Madrid. The Abu Dhabi outpost is located inside the Four Seasons Hotel on Al Maryah Island, and here on this Friday afternoon, the venue’s sheltered waterfront terrace is already piling on the charm.
We’ve been invited on a tour of the 13-course Fuyu Tasting Menu (Dhs950 per couple) which takes a bisecting line straight through the restaurant’s signature creations. 13 courses, 13 engagements with cuisine and craft, and we hope 13 reasons why 99 Sushi delivers on its red hot reputation.
The art of soy
The voyage heaves off from shore with a pair of chu-toro (tuna belly) hosomaki pieces, but before tasting we long-pour a lake of soy sauce. It’s invitingly chestnut-toned, and unsure about the protocol of drinking soy in Japanese restaurants, we lift the dish up and nervously check over our shoulder to see if anybody is watching. The brand’s culinary director, Chef Ruben Guerrero catches us in flagranti. He nods. Permission. We take a sip. There are fermented notes of caramel, of brandy and honey. It’s in this condimental detail, we find reason number one.
Plates are swapped and we’re confronted with dishes (and reasons) number two and three. Edamame, but not as we know it. Seared in Kobe beef fat, togarashi and truffle this simple legume ascends to an entirely new dimension. An augmented reality where finger-licking is practically unavoidable. There’s an oyster too, with yuzu pearl and foam. Wildly polar flavour and texture points that harmonise on the palate.
Reasons four and five arrive. Sake tiradito, a nikkei crudo salmon ensemble served with crispy skin and inky blots of truffle mayo and coriander oil. It is subtle, stubborn, and refreshing. The restaurant’s capumiso soup is a fusion dish with a nuclear core of miso, tofu, leek and truffle, and in terms of mouth experience — it’s an astounding achievement. Complex simplicity, a millefeuille of evolving flavour shades.
Lucky number 13
Next, there’s uni (sea urchin) tempura maki; fake nigiri (with Wagyu tartar on potato croquette); toro flambé nigiri; carabinero nigiri; and foie & maguro zuke. Compound ‘reasons why’ cascading onto our busy tabletop. The fatty tuna nigiri features yamato spirit-grade cuts of otoro, the fake nigiri whilst a playful jeu-de-bouffe is deadly serious in culinary intent, and the artful plate of carabinero (prawn) alone is responsible for a Babellian library of taste tomes.
The final savoury course is the robata wagyu skewers. Served on a box-shaped konro-style grill, with aromatic smoke plumes painting the tender beef above. It’s pure theatre, smoke and skewers, texture and tone, a cabaret of intense olfactory stimulation that results in a meat dish worthy of a standing ovation.
Our culinary cruise comes to an emotional end with an impossibly light Japanese souffle, it’s served with caramel ice cream. It’s an edible metaphor for what’s gone before. Crafty themes and the intelligent pairing of flavour and form to contrast and enhance the end result.
Verdict: This menu is a masterwork. The restaurant is one of very few in the region that deliberately dares to do things differently, and manages to pull it all off with an immaculate scoresheet.
Four Seasons Hotel Abu Dhabi, Al Maryah Island, midday to 3.30pm and 7pm to 11.30pm. Tel: (02) 672 3333, @99sushibaruae