Gone are the days when Japanese food was all about raw fish. We live in an age where western kids pack home made california rolls for school lunches. Sushi is passe, even Aussie grannies know what urumaki is. You can buy edamame beans snap frozen in the freezer at Carrefour now. For Japanese restaurants to distinguish themselves in the sea of pink crab sticks, puffs of spearmint green wasabi and shiny black nori that colours almost every street in CBDs around the world, they must now give us more than a boring old hand roll. Here’s a couple of options in Dubai that bang it up a bit.
sushi-chez sushi salmon roll

Kaiten-zushi

Starting with the one that everyone knows, but never fails to disappoint, conveyor belt dining, otherwise known as Sushi train. It’s been in Japan for over fifty years, but only in Dubai for ten. It was invented by an ingenious lover of asahi beer, who ran his restaurant with too few staff. He saw the conveyor belt at the local brewery… lightbulb! Yo Sushi brought it to Dubai first, and so we’ve been eating urumaki off bold coloured plastic plates and bowls for a while now. It’s surreal watching perspex domes full of petite and identical dishes glide around in front of you.I can’t help but dream that one day there will be a domino like conniption down the rail, and I can watch all the giant contact lenses tumble to the floor while nigiri and edamame fly through the air directly into my mouth.

yo sushi

The concept is not really about the food – it’s about immediacy. First it found its niche with the express work lunch. But it’s morphed and now found that it’s favourite customers are three-year-olds, who enjoy the show that comes with dinner, the vibrant colours, and the smiles they get from other diners as they ‘choo choo’ happily away eating green vegetables and a healthy dose of iodine in nori – food they’d never touch at home.

Where to go:
You’ll find Yo Sushi at the Dubai Mall, Marina Mall, Festival City, Mirdiff City Centre and the DIFC.
Last time I went to Scoozi, they also had a sushi train. Unusual find in an Italian restaurant, but hey, Dubai’s an international city, no? And the food was decent. Now Cafe nearby have a more continental conveyor (untested by moi).

sushi-train2

What to eat:
At Yo!, try the crispy salmon skin hand rolls, the ‘yo roll’ (salmon and avocado maki), and order some gyoza, which you won’t find on the train (most hot dishes have to be ordered separately). Scoozi had a super crab salad. The trick is to hold back until you see exactly what you want – it’s like the Japanese version of yum-cha, and you’re likely to be struck down with eyes-bigger-than-belly syndrome, or worse, a belly-bigger-than-pants complaint. One dish at a time, people.

Let’s Roll!

Let’s take a step up now, past the haven for bacteria like the self-serve non-refridgerated dining experience above. A home grown sushi restaurant designed by the already successful owners of Sho Cho (a japanese restaurant/nightclub by the beach at Dubai Marine Resort in Jumeirah that has manged to survive Dubai’s chopping and changing very nicely), and strangely named Chez Sushi. It’s not French fusion (fortunately) and I don’t get the french word in the name, but it’s worth a stop none-the-less. It works off the concept unveiled in the US by Yuen and Peter Yung, who established the How Do You Roll? franchise. But as far as I know, the first of its kind in Dubai.

sushi-chez sushi offering3

sushi-chez sushi mochiIt’s a hip little spot, bathed in lime green, neon red and circle patterns mimicking maki in a minimalist way. The ingredients are displayed separately, and are so perfectly presented they appear fake, waxy, like sampuru.

The colours are insanely bright, the corners too sharp, the curves too precise. But real they are, and here’s where the uniqueness of this little venue comes in. Customers are encouraged to select their own mix of ingredients, starting with brown or white rice, moving through the main ingredients (cooked or raw fish/chicken/meat in the main), veggie adds and then the coating.

Chez Sushi and their “Let’s Roll!” concept at this stage has only one venue at Wasl Square, near Safa Park, but their website suggests more are forthcoming. I see this as inevitable.

What to eat: Mix it up! So, for my kids, lets go brown rice, chicken teriyaki, mango and yuzu dressing rolled and coated with tempura bits . For me, white rice, rock shrimp, cucumber, spicy mayo and tobiko pearls to coat. Or maybe I’ll stick with the salmon… Other items to look for are their nori chips (coated in filo and deep-fried), some superb mochi (best in Dubai possibly…?), and tempura rock shrimp (which will rival PF Chang’s dynamite shrimp).

(fish-eye-fun snaps occurred at the launch. I really hope they keep it – I need more pictures in me with inane Japanese props – see the crazy duo hiding below)

Izakaya

manga girl-sized   Lastly, and holding a special place in my heart currently, is Izakaya Restaurant, recently opened in the Marriott Marquis. It’s got a few things going for it, but the main one is the adhesion to the Cosplay Izakaya style. For those who are new to this, it’s a combination of cosplay – costume, which can take many forms, but in the case of restaurant service, usually dresses the females in wacky maid costumes, similar to those you would associate with Manga, or Japanese animation – and then Izakaya, a casual, sharing style of dining, which traditionally involves copious amounts of sake (sakaya = sake shop).

sushi-izakaya urumaki

There’s nothing quite like Izakaya in Dubai. Manga Sushi may have provided some inspiration, as would have sleek venues with sharing menus and modern aura like Okku and Zuma. But Izakaya has taken it all a step further, combining both in a melange that both creates and defeats all notions of ‘cool’ in one foul swoop. Diners will love the futuristic lighting and the pixellated decor, which occasionally splits to show traditional geisha paintings in boothes. Geektastic. The waitresses (didn’t catch a male one on the night we dined) are a treat to the eye, especially the green haired and sparkly-stilettoed Wasabi girl, who grates fresh wasabi root over shark skin and onto your plate.

sushi-izakaya wasabi girlThe food and drink is the other thing going for Izakaya. The menu is small and simple, but dishes have been selected with care, and created with style. It’s tasty, very, very tasty. The sake list is likewise small, but well chosen, with a range of styles that can take the diner on a reasonable tour. Wines are scarce, but very well priced, and also very good. The best thing? Four people, leaving full to the brim, after two bottles of good wine and two caraffes of sake, and a bill of 1000AED (yes, it was a big night). I’m sure prices like that can’t last, so I’m going to be dining quite a bit until they figure out they should be charging more.

Izakaya can be found at the JW Marriott Marquis, Business Bay, Dubai.

What to eat:
Unagi – possibly the best I have ever had, good enough to convince my eel-loathing husband to change his tune. Also don’t miss the seafood pancake topped with katsuobushi, a smoked, thinner-than-paper tuna skin that seriously tastes like bacon. A great example for those who have been previously unadventurous. Tuna tataki also is one of the better ones around.

sushi-izakaya tuna tataki

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So – your sushi glossary for today:

  • Kaiten-zushi – conveyor belt sushi
  • sampuru – shiny, plastic food used in restaurant window displays.
  • cosplay – costume-play, dress-ups for grown-ups
  • izakaya – shared dining, lots of small dishes
  • sakaya – a sake shop
  • manga – Japanese comics
  • anime – Japanese animation (quite stylized) that you will find in manga
  • kaiseki – fine dining, japanese style. Many courses
  • hashi – the use of chopsticks
  • Katsuobushi – smoked tuna skin, beautiful when shaved paper-thin
  • itadakimasu – “I humbly receive” – what you say when given your food (unless the waiter is horrible)
  • oshibori – hand towel (impolite to use it on the face or neck)
  • akachōchin – the red lanterns you will usually see outside an Izakaya
  • yōshoku – western food in Japan
  • tsukidashi – a tiny appetiser, or amuse bouche. Should be free, but not always
  • sunakku – the japanese word for snack bar.
  • kanpai – cheers!
and five points for anyone who can tell me what Nyotaimori is without googling it…
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sushi-chez sushi fish eye fun sarah sallyOther Japanese Restaurants in Dubai for those who prefer it authentic and without the gimmicks:

  • Kisaku at the Khaleej Palace
  • Miyako at the Hyatt Regency
  • For sake lovers, try Yukaru, in the Asiana Hotel (also izakaya style)
  • For something basic, try Bento Ya
  • My favourite when I am cashed up… Hashi at the Armani Hotel

And, if you want information from the real deal, try this blog: www.dubaisushi.com

Disclaimer – Chez Sushi had me to their launch with their compliments. I have eaten there since and paid for it.

16 thoughts on “Choo choos, Manga and sass. Where you dirham buys more than just sushi.”

  1. This is perfect! I'll try Chez Sushi and Izakaya soon. I'm looking for other Japanese restaurants with good ramens, tepannayakis basically, japanese but non-sushi, any recommendations?

  2. Ha ha – snooze and you lose. My post in the planning has nothing on that fantastic glossary. You are SO good at this sort of post. And yay – I made your blog in photographic glory. Tokyo at the Towers (Emirates Towers) has a fantastic choice (from a non-sushi expert).

  3. So glad you reviewed these. Chez Sushi's pick 'n mix concepts intrigues me, as does Izakaya and what I call a Japanese gastro pub. One of my most memorable nights out in Tokyo…sharing tables with strangers probably helps! Yuraku at the Asiana hotel also mimics this concept. I can also vouch for Tomo, I've been back a couple of times since my review and it's so incredibly authentic and extremely reasonably priced, bordering on cheap for a licensed restaurant. Chef Takahashi has brought his Japanese clientele from Kisaku (Khaleej Palace hotel)…always a reflection of a good restaurant.

  4. Wow! Seems like now the Hedonista has given up her Srilankan garbs and have worn the Japanese ones… we love Yo Sushi coz they are very child-friendly. And I have to be honest – I haven't tried all that you have mentioned. Your photographs are becoming sharper and sharper and more beautiful day by day… tips Hedonista!

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