Katana Robata and Sushi Bar, The Address Downtown Roundabout, Dubai
Katana brings a different Japanese dining concept to a city already spoilt for choice, and gets it flame-grilled right
Katana's opening has been much awaited in the city. For a place that offers a wide variety of high-end Asian cuisine offerings, that must come as a surprise. But not really, since Katana is a huge name already, as a very popular robata and sushi bar on the famed Sunset Strip in Los Angeles. It's obviously a celebrity favourite already.
While the fire at The Address Downtown delayed the opening here, Katana opened with a grand launch in April, and is strategically located between Souk Al Bahar and the Dubai Mall, with decent views of the fountains and more than stunning ones of the Burj Khalifa. The night we were lucky enough to be there, the iconic building was more than its usual visual talking point, with a laser show being projected onto it. Breathtaking, but that didn't distract from the culinary and ambience of Katana at all.
We've seen plenty of stunning restaurant interiors while dining out in Dubai, but Katana still took our breath away with its unusual placement of different décor elements against each other. Rock faceted walls offset what looked like Japanese wall murals, and what can only be described as teardrop lights falling from the ceiling. The private dining areas are divided by Japanese-inspired screen panels, and the seating is in complementing concrete grey shades. But the highlight are the gorgeous petal-motif chandeliers that dot the space.
Coming to the menu, Katana doesn't just serve up any Japanese - it specialises in a culinary technique called Robatayaki, their version of barbecue - with bamboo-skewered food slow grilled over an open flame or hot charcoal. Verbally shortened to "robata", it's what promises to set Katana apart from the rest of the upmarket Japanese haunts in the city, and it does live up to the promise. Besides robata, the menu also offers the regular favourites of sushi, and plenty of fusion-style dishes. As their menu says, "We honour the centuries old cooking style with a menu featuring 'Japanese Tapas' and other traditional styles of Japanese comfort food."
The menu itself is not too large or overwhelming, and you have a choice of meat and poultry, seafood, and vegetables cooked the robata way; premium steaks cooked over Japanese Bincho charcoals; seafood; tempura dishes; sushi and sashimi; besides a handful of soups and rice and noodle mains.
Our robata-yaki starters are a smart pick of chicken (Negima/Chicken with green onions), with a Wagyu beef special accompanied by Black Pepper Sauce; and seafood - Miso Marinated Black Cod. While the chicken and beef skewers whet our appetite for things to come, we were really waiting for the cod. Everyone knows that black cod is the litmus test of any Japanese restaurant, and Katana's stands up to the pressure. Its soft texture is well offset by the marination, but some diners might just find it a tad salty for their palate. The robata is also served with a selection of three dipping sauces: soy mustard, ginger and ponzu, with the ginger for the vegetables, soy for the meat, and ponzu as the seafood sauce.
Next up is another seafood special, the Maguro Carpaccio / Tuna Sashimi with Wasabi Soy Truffle Oil, Arugula, Avocado and Parmesan and shaved Parmesan cheese. Quite a mix of flavours and ingredients there, and we loved the carpaccio. Not that the sashimi was lacking, but then we aren't seasoned eaters of Nigiri sushi, and the rawness is definitely a more acquired taste.
Robata or not, we were certainly waiting to dig into our sushi too, and our platter doesn't disappoint, with a selection of Tuna Belly/Toro, California rolls with Crab and Avocado, Crunchy Tuna/Spicy Tuna Tempura with Avocado, and the Spicy Tako Roll/Yuzu Octopus and Avocado rolled with Spicy Tuna. Might seem like a lot of tuna and avocado there, but trust us, each of those rolls presented an entirely varying look and taste.
Dessert had to be different too, and though we eyed the Green Tea ice cream - a personal favourite - we decided to keep up with the "eating different" theme and dig into the Azuli Beans Brownie ice cream, a choice we did not regret. The not-too-sweet brownie had a great nutty flavour and crunchy texture that we couldn't get enough of.
One of the highlights of our experience at Katana was the attention paid to detail and the serving staff's interest in guiding us through the menu, and when we had our doubts, helping us make selections. This, apparently, is a key part of Katana's philosophy - a concept they call "grazing" over the menu, the manager informs us. They don't want diners to be overwhelmed, or have the act of deciding what to order take away from the actual fun and dining experience.
Our rating: 4/5
What we liked: The robata-yaki concept; the personalised service; stunning interiors and ambience
What we didn't like: The seafood was consistently better than the meats
Location: Katana Robata and Sushi Bar, The Address Downtown Roundabout, Dubai Fountain Street. Ph: 042778808