Restaurant review: Netsu, Mandarin Oriental Jumeira
Best known for its Warayaki cooking style - a technique that employs a grill fired up with rice straw to sear the meat - it's quite the sight to behold
Did you know that Japan hosts a regular Wagyu Olympics? It was one of many 'fun factoids' that my date and I would find lobbed our way during what turned out to be a very enjoyable evening at one of Dubai's hottest Japanese steakhouses: Netsu at Mandarin Oriental Jumeira.
The contemporary restaurant has several key draws. But it is best known for its Warayaki cooking style - a technique that originates from the Kochi region of Japan and employs a grill fired up with rice straw, instead of coal, to sear its meat to perfection. The straw is imported in bulk straight from Japan, and it's rather a sight to see the chefs in the open kitchen setup grab bunches of it to set aflame.
As we're led to what is reportedly the 'best seat in the house' - a spot right at the open kitchen counter - we're given fair warning: it can get a bit warm. The flames routinely hit about 900°C. We're separated from the two-metre-high flames by glass though, so it's really only the chefs (and their steaks) that have to contend with the fiery temperatures.
In no time, we're greeted by Nick - a wellspring of information about everything on the menu - who soon proceeds to give us as much food for thought as he does for our palates ("did you know Kobe is not the best Wagyu beef on the market?"). Nick is quick to note our dietary preferences before setting off to "design" our tasting menu for the evening. From there on, it was all aboard the gastronomic train. Next stop: Food-Induced Bliss.
Something we have consistently observed in our culinary adventures around town is how fine dining restaurants almost consistently knock the ball out of the park with their starters and desserts, but always stumble over the mains. Not so at Netsu. Read on.
Food (4/5): Every dish - from the Korean Fried Chicken (Korean food in a Japanese restaurant? Just ask Nick for trivia) to the Spicy Veggie Hot Stone Rice - gave us almost no chance for complaints. Three of the dishes even took us by surprise when they scored: the grilled corn, broccoli with wafu dressing and toasted sesame (how could broccoli taste so good?), and the eggplant with sweet miso and bubu arare (this one is apparently a bestseller, and that's saying something for a steakhouse!). We weren't mighty fans of the corn tempura or the tomato salad, but judging by how we wolfed down the Wagyu Beef Gyoza and Prawn and Avocado Maki Rolls, those are not ones to miss. The star of the show, for my partner, was the delectable Wagyu Truffle Sukiyaki, a thinly sliced preparation of melt-in-your-mouth meat with sweet soy and caramelised onions. The dessert tower - consisting of assorted ice cream mochi, chocolate fondant, and fresh fruits - brought our evening to a sweet close.
Ambience (3.5/5): Despite it being a weekday, the venue filled up quite quickly with young couples, a group of Emirati women celebrating a birthday (complete with staff singing), and business partners. It's a contemporary location for sure. And the design reflects that the open kitchen is meant to be the centre of attraction, with a running counter all around it.
Service (4.5/5): Few things take away from a fine dining experience than servers who don't know their food or lack the conversational skills to 'lift' the evening. Nick ticked neither of those boxes; he was up for chatter but also gave us sufficient room to enjoy the evening ourselves. Did you know the eggplant starter is grilled, then fried for exactly 13 seconds? You will, if you've got this lad at your table.
Presentation (4/5): These guys know their audience. Not only was there excellent attention to detail to the styling of the dishes (the maki rolls arrived on a 'smoking' triple tiered tower), they know how important presentation is for the 'gram. One of the most hilarious points of the evening occurred as we were preparing to click a shot of one of the dishes. Suddenly, our table was 'lit', thanks to a server who spotted us and quickly stepped up behind us with an actual handheld lamp to brighten up the shot.
Value for money (4/5): The most prized item on the menu is the Japanese Miyazaki Wagyu that comes at an eye-watering Dh360 for just 100gm. The prized slab of meat comes with a marble score of nine. That said, you can expect to shell out about Dh500 for two. But for food that doesn't disappoint and service that's nothing short of stellar, it's only acceptable to put your money where your mouth is. If you know what we mean.