Yuraku

News of Yuraku’s opening will have caused much excitement among Japanese diners and food buffs. It’s the city’s first ‘izakaya’, a casual, bar-oriented style of dining rarely seen outside of Japan: I was intrigued to see how the concept would translate to Dubai’s dining scene. Greeted by a warm and gracious Japanese welcome, my dining partner and I were guided into a fun and colourful venue. It was divided into three spaces: a long strip of seating lining the bar, a more classic ‘dining space’ style setup, and a corridor of private karaoke rooms that looked ever-so-slightly dated, but to quirky, ambient effect. Kabuki woodcuts and prints of cherry-blossom-laden boughs in the foreground of famous castles (Himeji-jo, we suspect, in case you’re curious) adorned the walls; the ceiling was lined with paper parasols in a bright, simple palette, while neon-lit Japanese beverage bottles lined the room, and huge ceremonial beverage drums appeared everywhere. It was a little kitsch, but I liked the suitably ‘nightspot’ feel. We took a seat in one of the cosy corners alongside the bar and glanced through the menu of small casual-dining plates. Perhaps not one for Japanese purists, the menu was characterised by intriguing continental-Japanese fusion and, unusually for any menu in Dubai, a section of vegetarian specials. Before we ordered, a small amuse bouche arrived: delicately thin slices of creamy halibut with refreshingly sour yuzu. With our bouche thoroughly amused, we began ordering a mixture of small plates to share (we had three menus to choose from: the usual menu, plus separate lists of monthly and daily specials). The dressing for the tofu, tomato, radish and cucumber salad was a little creamy and mayonnaise-like for my liking, but had a good sesame flavour. The tofu was exceptionally good, offering giant chunks with a wonderfully creamy texture, and the combined effort was pleasurable. The soft-shell crab tempura featured a little cross-Asian fusion and was highly enjoyable, with unusually juicy flesh encased amid the crunchy legs. The avocado and cheese tempura offered a more outlandish fusion, and while I maintain that these were not really tempura, as a soft, creamy and hearty croquette-style item they were lovely. Sadly the tuna tataki let the side down: the black pepper sauce was too abrasive and the tuna flesh was tough and chewy. Back on track, the marinated mackerel carpaccio with blue cheese sauce was an exciting invention. Strangely, the blue cheese, which I’d thought would be too jarring, was barely noticeable, adding only a background richness. The plate looked distinctly Japanese in its subtle elegance, yet between the chewiness of the flesh, a fresh sourness in the marinade and the crisp bite from the translucent strands of raw onion on the side, the flavour was reminiscent of northern European matjes herring, and happily so. Similarly, the aglio olio e peperoncini- style pan-fried aubergine was un-Japanese, yet the aubergine was tasty and packed with flavour. I strongly suspect Yuraku won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, perhaps appealing more to Asians excited by the fusion rather than those looking for authentic Japanese food. But for those willing to experiment and discover some clever gems on the menu, the mixed drinks, karaoke and plenty of Yuraku’s food could combine for a fun night out. (04 238 7777). The bill (for two) 1x soft-shell crab tempura Dhs70 1x avocado tempura Dhs45 1x tofu and tomato salad Dhs55 1x tuna tataki Dhs50 1x aubergine Dhs40 1x mackerel Dhs55 2x large water Dhs36 Total (including service) Dhs351

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