A real contender for Dubai’s sushi serving crown…

My number one trigger in food writing is being invited “on a culinary journey”. It’s cliched, tired, often used erroneously and if you ever see me using it unironically, you have my full permission to invite me on an expletive-ridden condemnation journey. You’ll see it sat alongside phrases like “instantly transports you to [insert nationality of cuisine]” – and I know they don’t mean it literally (although I have also seen people using the prefix ‘literally’) – but it just feels lazy.

That said, I genuinely think Iki Sushi and their pair of omakase experiences might have the most organic claim to figuratively transporting you to another place. The interior design, the pageantry of dress, the service, the grand theatre of the chef-adjacent tabletop preparation – it all conspires to perform the most astounding sort of cerebrally transportive conjuring trick.

There are two dining sessions at Iki, one at 6pm and one at 9pm, available from Thursday to Sunday at its KOA Canvas location, at the back end of popular Al Barari eatery, Lowe. Your menu path is split between Kyo (Dhs1,000 – three appetisers, and 10 pieces of sushi) and Miyako (Dhs1,500 for five appetisers and 11 pieces of sushi). They both come with miso soup, maki rolls and a sweet omelette finish.

It’s a boutique set-up with scant seating that drives an intimate mode of dining. The decorative elements are a Kurosawa film still – dark wood, Japanese steel and a kitchen area cloaked by a downlit white drape, emblazoned with the inked ‘Iki’ character. A shrine of sufficient sanctity to host the revered art of authentic sushi making.

The Iki cheffing team are just months into their Dubai residency, and as they methodically go about preparing their station for service, there’s a level of deliberateness that conveys a lifetime of gradually whetstoned skill. And a certainty it could all be equally well performed blindfolded.

Starters include an uni amuse bouche, a seabream dashi, scored squid and a lacquered tranche of unagi. For me, there’s immense joy to be found in confronting your ever-maturing palate with the jostling subtleties of Japanese cuisine, and the Iki appetisers are a fertile proving ground for the endeavor. The sushi element is so far beyond anything I, personally, have experienced in Dubai – it effectively resigns its bigger name competitors to the same category as supermarket-bought, plastic soy fish, sushi selection boxes.

In the throes of the heavily ritualised fish slicing and rice molding, the chef’s face seems to contort as if he’s mouthing a mantra. “Is he reciting something?” I ask my dining date. I never found out. I was concerned it might be rude to ask. We’re just voyeurs in this rite. With a combination of precise ceremony and trained muscle memory, he lays the pieces out one by one. Pike, yellowtail, chutoro, more squid, sea bream – thumbed with warm rice that’s been marinated in whisper-sweet rice vinegar. Bites brushed with caramel-toned soy and wasabi, occasionally slashed with perfumed citrus barbs of yuzu.

At the ‘starting from’ price tag, it’s not within the means of most to be a regular Friday night out. But if you are a genuine sushi mega fan, it’s a lot cheaper than a round trip to Osaka. Which, realistically, is the sort of distance you’ll have to travel to get an equally authentic mouthful of sabered seafood.

More cash-splashing justifications can be found in wee small Iki details. If you snaffle for a bottle from the sake menu, you get to choose from an ornate collection of colourful blown-glass drinking vessels. Our more searching questions for the chef, require a translation from the exquisitely uniformed waitress. Outside, the Careems of Dubai cruise by. Inside, Japan has us now.

Verdict: a bullet train to sushi supremacy in Dubai

KOA Canvas, Al Barari, Thu to Sun 6pm and 9pm seatings only, from Dhs1,000. Tel: (0)58  579 4272. @iki_sushi_dubai

Images: Provided