It’s something of a cliché to say that a restaurant transports you to its country of origin, but that is truly what Kohantei does.
We leave the Plaza Level, outside the Dubai Opera, and step into the restaurant – through glass doors, then curtains – and slip off our shoes in traditional Japanese fashion, as we’re greeted by the friendly staff.
It’s a seriously small restaurant, with just 27 seats. There is a communal banqueting area made up of just five small tables, and there are three private dining rooms. The décor is every bit as Japanese as we would have hoped, with handmade works of art on the wall, tatami flooring and classic sliding shoji doors dividing the restaurant.
We’re shown to our table in one of the private dining rooms, with a traditional sunken table, with room underneath for our legs.
When it comes to the food, you have a couple of options. You can either partake in the à la carte options, or enjoy one of the five kaiseki multi-course menus, which range from six to eight courses, from Dhs395 to Dhs1,155 per person.
The menu changes daily, based on the ingredients that the owner, Ben, and the executive chef, Hisao Ueda, get delivered from Japan each week.
Our experience starts with a trio of small cold starters – a marinaded broccoli-like vegetable, fish, and a bean and tofu dish. They are all presented in a fuss-free way that lets the super-fresh ingredients and marinades do the talking.
A light spring soup follows, packed full of seasonal bamboo shoots and light white fish. And then there’s a selection of sashimi. The tuna and flying fish are highlights – both are tender and distinctly flavoursome.
As you enter Kohantei, awards line the walls – not for the restaurant itself... yet – but for the Japanese farms that supply the restaurant with the finest wagyu. Our waitress brings the Japanese and Austalian wagyu to our table for us to admire before it’s cooked, but before long it’s back, ready to be enjoyed.
It truly is the highlight of our meal. It’s served with two different soy sauces – one for each meat – but it doesn’t need any extra flavour at all. The meat is ridiculously tender. We finally GET wagyu!
And the meal doesn’t end there. A wagyu croquette – almost like a super-luxurious burger surrounded by panko – is served next, along with a round of nigiri. The bite-sized sushi pieces are topped with fresh salmon and red snapper. Tender and almost sweet, the fish is simply sensational.
With a cup of green tea and some seasonal fruit, our meal comes to an end, and it’s time to go back out, into reality! Next time we have itchy feet and feel the need to get out of town, we’ll be satisfying it with a trip to Kohantei, aka Little Japan.
INFO: Kohantei, Plaza Level, Dubai Opera, 04 243 4951, kohantei.ae