Where To Find The Best Japanese Restaurants In Abu Dhabi
When it comes to memorable dinners, few restaurants have quite the same impact as a Japanese venue. Their sleek interiors, clever cocktail menus and incredible ingredients make for dining that is as refined as it is delicious. Knowing your nigiri from your temaki is all well and good, but unless you know the right places to visit, it’s all for nought. Luckily, when it comes to sophisticated restaurants, the Japanese options in Abu Dhabi can’t be beaten.
Finding quality is not your problem here, instead, deciding which one to check out is the biggest headache you’ll have. Here then, in alphabetical order, are six of the capital’s most impressive Japanese restaurants, based on first-hand experience.
99 Sushi Bar & Restaurant
This is a place you’ll want to get dressed up for. From the waterfall on the way in to the understated black, gold and red interior, smart-casual is the very least you’ll feel comfortable in. Before you get to the dining room, there’s a small bar area. We recommend stopping off for an aperitif, the mixologists are excellent. On the other side of the dining room is an impressive, if cosy, terrace. Once you’ve finished your meal, head outside for a shokuzen sake.
Food wise this Japanese restaurant (which, oddly, originated in Spain) serves the best ingredients, prepared simply, and presented beautifully. We recommend the lamb gyoza, spicy tuna tartare and the tuna okonomiyaki to start – the ‘pizza-style’ presentation of the latter is superb. The menu is filled with sushi options, and we’ve never really had a bad dish, but the flambéed nigiri are particularly good.
Table choice: On the right of the long dining room as you enter, there’s a wall of seating. Grab one of these tables and those facing outwards will have a view of the bustling dining room and out of the windows back towards the city.
Good for: Tuna. You can’t go wrong with any of the tuna dishes here.
Standout feature: The overall theatre of the place. It’s not in-your-face dramatic, but the way the dishes are prepared and presented is mightily impressive.
Four Seasons Hotel Abu Dhabi at Al Maryah Island (02 672 3333).
KOI Restaurant & Lounge
If you’re searching for excellent Japanese cuisine, Koi mustn’t be overlooked. The brand has outlets in Las Vegas, LA, New York and Bangkok, as well as in the UAE capital – and offers style and substance across all of them. And while it sometimes gets overlooked in favour of the always-excellent Zuma, it still has plenty going for it.
The dining room is an impressive space but the lighting and atmosphere give it a romantic feel, which is why you’ll often find the place packed with couples.
The menu is fairly long, but our picks include the seared tuna with jalapeño and garlic chips. The perfectly seared fish is drizzled with a slightly sweet, slightly acidic sauce, complemented by a kick from the chilli pepper and the crunch of the garlic. Along with the fatty tuna, it’s a delicious combination of textures and flavours. While the sushi options seem to run on for pages, for those who like to keep it simple, there are favourites such as California rolls, to make the decision a little easier.
If you like to get main courses in Japanese restaurants try the miso-bronzed black cod. The buttery fish is an excellent example of this ever-popular dish.
Table choice: This high-ceilinged venue doesn’t have many nooks and crannies to tuck yourself away in, but we’ve always been happy near the bar.
Good for: A stylish evening out that isn’t too pretentious.
Standout feature: The evening brunch held on weekends is a brilliant way to experience the restaurant.
The Collection, The St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort, Abu Dhabi (02 678 3334).
Matsu on Yas Island offers the chance for traditional Japanese dining. This hidden gem sits upstairs in the clubhouse of Yas Links Golf Club. On your first visit you might wonder if you’re in the right place, but once you get to the staircase leading to the restaurant you’ll begin to hear the chatter of diners and the gentle clinking of chopsticks on plates.
There’s a small bar area, but we’d rather have a drink in the club’s Hickory’s bar downstairs, so recommend heading straight to your table. There’s not much in the way of fancy interiors here, just like the food, the room is kept as simple as possible. When it’s cool enough, take a seat on the terrace, which is extremely calming and has super views out over the links.
The menu moves from cold and hot starters through sushi and on to grills and tempura dishes. You’ll also find noodle dishes, bento boxes and more. You won’t find anything with added sparklers or dry ice here, but you will get classic Japanese ingredients, dishes and techniques.
Table choice: We recommend sitting outside on the calming terrace.
Good for: Traditional Japanese dishes.
Standout feature: The terrace has brilliant views over Yas Links and out to the water.
Yas Links Golf Club, Yas Island (02 556 0096).
This more casual restaurant is brilliant for gathering a group of friends. It’s set in the pretty, but often quiet, Venetian Village, which overlooks the canal as part of The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal. The area has some excellent places to eat, and Tokyo Grill is no exception.
Inside there’s a modern dining room, with a long counter-seating area looking on to the sushi chefs and robata grill. It’s the latter that the restaurant is best known for, with a good selection of fish, meat and vegetable skewers. The Teriyaki chicken thigh is our favourite, but the soy-marinated salmon fillet and lamb skewers are also good choices. There’s a set tasting menu available all-day, every day, which is great if you’re spoiled for choice.
Table choice: Outside, with a stunning view of the capital’s grand canal or at the counter inside.
Good for: Rotobiyaki dishes. The Japanese grill is the venue’s speciality.
Standout feature: The interiors are fun and funky.
Venetian Village, The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal (050 696 9503).
Tori No Su
This venue at Jumeirah at Etihad Towers is another with a more traditional take on Japanese cuisine. It’s also a very atmospheric place to dine, with a big open kitchen that allows veteran chef Ando Takashi and his team to show off their skills. It’s classed as a kaiseki restaurant, meaning it specialises in a multi-course experience, showcasing the chefs’ skills in pairing tastes and textures.
We recommend heading to the yakitori section of the menu for perfectly grilled skewers of meat before moving on to the innovative Agidashi soft shell crab, which puts the crab front and centre of the dish in place of the traditional tofu. There are also bento boxes and set menus available for anyone who just can’t decide, and plenty of sushi options. There’s a teppenyaki counter for those who want a bit of theatre along with their food, too.
Table choice: The booths in the centre of the restaurant, looking onto the open kitchen are our favourite.
Good for: Letting the chef prepare a kaiseki menu for you.
Standout feature: The open kitchen where you can watch the genial chef at work.
Jumeirah at Etihad Towers, West Corniche (02 811 5666).
Saving the best until last? We couldn’t possibly comment. Zuma Abu Dhabi is perhaps the finest restaurant in the UAE, with a less clinical dining room than its Dubai sister and incredible views over the waters surrounding Al Maryah Island. When you arrive, there’s a staircase down to the restaurant, which only adds to the anticipation. Once inside, order a drink from the impressive oak bar before eating. The whole room is open plan, so you can scan for your table from here, too. Make sure you book in advance, because there is rarely a day this place isn’t fully booked.
The menu is much the same as at Zumas across the world, which is one of the things that makes the venue so impressive. The level of service and cooking rarely drop below exquisite. Staff act like they know exactly what you want, even from your first visit, never missing a beat when it comes to filling up drinks, removing empty plates and bringing your next dish.
Pretty much everything is brilliant here, from the sashimi and sushi to the classic miso black cod. We recommend the squid with chilli and lime and prawn and black cod gyoza to start with and the tiger prawn tempura. The mains are all superb. You can’t go wrong with any of them, though the spicy beef tenderloin is our pick. This is a must-try experience.
Good for: The all-round experience
Standout feature: The spicy beef tenderloin.
Al Maryah Island (02 401 5900).