Chef Izu Ani is a bonafide Dubai culinary hero. You only have to visit any one of his many outposts across the emirate to agree. Exactly a year ago, we reviewed his Greek-Mediterranean DIFC restaurant, Gaia, where the tuna with truffle oil, the lobster pasta and the wood-oven fired baby goat, still has us reminiscing after all these months.
Now, Ani has opened a new Asian restaurant in City Walk’s The Square, called Aya (which means beautiful in Japanese).
Cherry blossom trees, white tablecloths, large mirrors, muted lighting, and an artistic creation on the ceiling set the tone for this licensed restaurant that has both indoor and outdoor seating.
The remarkably well-trained staff, who offered on-point recommendations all along, helped us navigate the menu which is divided into soups, mezze, buns, rolls, raw and rice, josperyaki (grills), mains and sides.
From the mezze, we begin with the crispy calamari. While it’s easy to ruin this by leaving it a few seconds longer in the pan, Aya doesn’t make that mistake, with the slivers of Szechuan peppers balancing the lime squeezed over it. From the raw and rice selection, the yellow tail usuzukuri – thinly sliced fish, the Japanese equivalent of Carpaccio – with a with a daikon salad and green citrus topping was a winner, though it was crispy crab roll in unagi from the rolls section which came next that was by far the star of the starters – the crispy tempura blended perfectly with the avocado.
If you’ve got the appetite for another starter, scour the buns menu and then settle on the Wagyu Katso sando 9+ – a very high grade of wagyu beef – finished with a special in-house barbecue sauce and placed between slices of Hokkaido bread.
For the mains, we opted for the herb-marinated lamb chops from the josperyaki section of the menu which was accompanied by whipped feta cheese. The Spanish octopus meanwhile had a Japanese condiment red yuzu kosho glaze and was placed within a coriander emulsion. Our final choice for the mains was the wagyu short rib with pastrami spice and chipotle barbecue sauce served alongside umeboshi – a Japanese plum sauce. The beef was so tender that it simply slid off the bone with only the slightest nudge.
For desserts, the Japanese cheesecake is a portion large enough for two, while the sticky date pudding with maple cinnamon ice cream will more than adequately satisfy any sugar cravings. And although we didn’t order it, the kitchen sent out, compliments of the chef, a pistachio crème brûlée which was another brilliant preparation with a custard base that was lighter than air.
Aya is an Asian restaurant that’s worthy of your full attention. Chef Izu Ani, take a bow – again.
Aya, The Square, City Walk, Dubai. Saturday-Wednesday noon-1am, Thursday-Friday noon-2am. Tel: (04) 343 3330