Restaurant Review: Okku

Dark, brooding, mysterious and the only restaurant we know of that comes with its own jellyfish, Okku proves a stylish spot to sample some genuine Japanese…
Thursday , 14 February 2013
60 seconds with Chef Hugh Sato Gardiner
60 seconds with Chef Hugh Sato Gardiner

Dubai is not a city short on sushi. Most of us barely have to travel a kilometre from home in search of a salmon skin roll. However, it’s fair to say that in its ubiquity, sushi in this city can sometimes be viewed rather more as conveyor belt fast food than as the succulent, nuanced and masterfully put together delicacy the Japanese intended. Thankfully, whenever one becomes sashimi’d out, there is Okku, to remind us of the joy that can be experienced from a Japanese meal done well.

The experience begins the moment diners cross the threshold from the lobby of The H Hotel. Dim lighting, staff who look like they took a wrong turn on the way to a catwalk show and, at the centre of the bar, a tank full of ethereally dancing exotic jellyfish, alerts diners to the fact they’re in for a suitably high-end experience.

But while the setting is impressive, it’s on the palate that OKKU really wields its power. Yes, there is sushi, and it is exquisite. Try some. Try lots. But venture further into the menu too, for Okku is so much more than a sushi spot.

A plate of ‘O Style’ hotate is as much a statement of intent as a starter – Japanese food but not as you know it. Seared scallops, still quiveringly soft centred, topped with fig and chive and served with a truffle goma sauce which could be used as an oral explanation of the term umami. Similarly impressive is the hushihu salad, a big-flavoured bowl full of crisp shards of duck, cabbage, daikon, mixed leaves and leeks, topped with zingy pomegranate and a plum-amazu dressing.

Seared wagyu beef served with a variety of sauces and volcanic salts is a masterclass on how to treat a cow and, paired with truffle fried rice with garlic, spring onion and black sesame seeds, it caused a serious silence to befall our table until the very last morsels were greedily swept up. A dish of braised veal short rib in ginger and soy was a melting, savoury delight, while the dynamite king crab legs with spicy mayonnaise were a seafood lover’s dream.

No, Dubai is not short on sushi, nor is it short on fashionable eateries in which to see and be seen. It is, however, a city which sometimes values style over substance. Okku, which opened in 2009, is proof that the two can co-exist. It’s a restaurant that is going from strength to strength and, if its bulging reservations book and bustling bar are anything to go by, will continue to do so for a long time to come.

60 seconds with Chef Hugh Sato Gardiner

What three ingredients could you not live without? 
Miso, sriracha chilli and ketchup.

You work with so many different flavours – what is the key to balancing them?
It’s all about the Umami flavour, which is difficult to describe in words. It lies within the principle tastes of sweet, sour, bitter and salty, but has a distinct property of balancing flavours, making things moreish!

What’s been your biggest kitchen disaster? 
One night in NYC, an obnoxious chef used way too much sake in a dish while sautéing. The fire suppression system triggered and there was foam everywhere. We were forced to shut down immediately and all I can say is that it was not an easy clean-up job. We were not amused and I don’t think the guests were either.

What would your last meal be?
In-N-Out Burger in the US.

What’s you culinary guilty pleasure? 
Nothing exotic - I love French fries!

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