Does Dubai need another Japanese Izakaya-style restaurant? We seem to read about a new one popping up almost every other week. Well, renowned Dubai chef, Reif Othman (of Zuma, Play, Billionaire Mansion and Reif Kushiyaki fame…in case you’re from out of town…or from another planet) and the First Group seem to think so. Hence the newly opened Ikigai Restaurant and Bar on the 1st floor of the Millennium Place Hotel in Dubai Marina. It’s interesting, just a couple of days ago my friend, Bruce was telling me about this Japanese book he was reading called…Ikigai, the reason for being. And now I find myself dining at a restaurant of the same name – talk about stepping into the twilight zone – nene-nene nene-nene…
Central to its handsomely decorated interior is an uncluttered panoramic bar which sets the laid-back, chill-after-work tone of the restaurant…which is what izakaya is all about. There are high tables closer to the bar and semi-cubicles against the outer walls (where we sat) and an outdoor lounging area which, surprisingly, was still in use at this time of year. A testament to Reif’s star-power, although only a few weeks old, the place was buzzing when Yousef and I got there. So, interior and ambiance – check. But what about the food?
I’m not a fan of Reif’s Kushiyaki enterprise and came with low expectations. Perhaps that is why I enjoyed so many of the items @yousefalulama ordered (Mashallah, he knows his Japanese cuisine). Highlights for me were the raw, thinly sliced carpaccio-style fish and meat, particularly the Tuna with Truffle Ponzi and also the Hamachi. The Spicy Tuna Tacos were good too if a little gimmicky. I regret ordering the Nigiri; they were oversized…prompting chomping rather than chewing. Next time I will stick to Sashimi. Another disappointment was the Kakiage Burger which was totally out of place. It was the only thing I did not finish. All this said, we both enjoyed our meal.
Ikigai is managed by a Romanian beauty by the name of Madalina, a veteran of other Othman enterprises, including Zuma. Her friendly personality and attentiveness made up for whatever lapses in service we encountered (excusable considering that the restaurant has only been open a couple of weeks). Yousef and I both agreed, shortcomings aside, that we would be back. Ikigai – definitely worth a visit.
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Xerxes (pronounced Zûrk’seez) 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 his culinary journey on Instagram: @ravenousxerxes or reach out to him via email on firstname.lastname@example.org.