Kaiseki Zen Cafeteria is a recently opened Japanese restaurant in the China Cluster of International City, Dubai’s unofficial China Town – now that’s a first. Kaiseki—in the simplest of terms—refers to a multi-course Japanese meal. It can also refer to excellence in culinary skills—a fusion of food and art. Big shoes for this self-proclaimed cafeteria to fill. Perhaps that’s why the Chinese owner, a cheerful finance graduate from Dubai, has dropped the term Kaiseki from his promotional material and—misleadingly—refers to his restaurant as Zen, a brand name owned by my buddy Nicky and his award-winning restaurant—Zen in JLT. To avoid confusion I shall refer to the new boys as Kaiseki.
The interior of Kaiseki is well designed with cubicles on one end, table and chairs in the middle and a private dining room with a horigotatsu, a traditional Japanese table that’s low to the ground and has a recessed floor beneath it so that people can stretch out their legs, on the other end. Surprisingly, there is a fully open kitchen inside the restaurant which yes, gives the restaurant a distinct kitchen smell and yes, some smokiness too (although we found neither intolerable). That aside, I’d say they’ve done well with the interior.
I found the food a combination of hits and misses. Our fried Sanma or Pacific Saury starter was exquisite; it’s an oily fish masterpiece one must eat but not touch least you want to smell (reek) of fish for the rest of the day—chopstick mastery comes in handy here. Our table of three thoroughly enjoyed the Kimchi Nabe, a popular, fiery winter hot pot dish. Although not nearly the best I have had in Dubai, the Unadon was delicious, if a tad too sweet. My favourite dish though was the must-try Wasabi Mustard Conch (yes, they’re snails). If all of these were hits, then what, I hear you ask, were the misses—the sushi, which was more like what you get at Sumo than at a proper Japanese restaurant.
What service lacked in professionalism; you know, soup being served without bowls, used plates being taken but not replaced, etc., it made up for in friendliness—the owner in particular was all over the restaurant. I liked this little newcomer and I sincerely hope it does well. There’s certainly no Japanese restaurant in International City which comes remotely close to Kaiseki Zen Cafeteria. This in itself makes it well worth a visit. Is it worth driving across town for? Not unless you’re in the mood for a hidden gem adventure, in which case it certainly is. But remember, it’s Kaiseki not Zen—which is in JLT and just happens to be my favourite Asian in town.
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Xerxes physically dines at, or orders from, each and every venue he reviews. He pays in full for whatever he and his companions eat, drink, take away or occasionally throw at each other. Xerxes accepts no money, gifts, discounts or free meals in return for reviews or favouritism. What you have read was NOT influenced in any way by the venue. Join me on Instagram @ravenousxerxes or email me on email@example.com.