FACT visits Kushi by Reif to see if it’s as good as the constant queue of customers would lead you to believe…
Living through a global pandemic has resulted in a change of dining habits for many of us. Evenings spent dining out at restaurants were soon replaced with take away dinners in front of the television. Yet, our penchant for quality food and the need to feel that we were getting value for money remained a priority.
Battling against the odds, homegrown chef Reif Othman opened a new restaurant during the height of the pandemic and was one of just a handful to do so. Kushi by Reif, a casual dining concept that specialises in street food opened in May, initially as little more than a dessert and chirashi counter. With things slowly returning to some normalcy, Kushi has now turned into a fully-fledged restaurant space that is drawing the crowds to Palm Jumeirah.
Situated in the new Nakheel Mall on the trunk of the man-made Palm, Kushi by Reif is perfectly suited to its location in Depachika Food Hall, a gourmet food paradise named after the dedicated food halls that sit beneath Tokyo’s department stores. Depachika brings something new to a city that seemingly has everything, and we’re immediately reminded of similar concepts that lie in the likes of Harrod’s and Selfridges in London. Speciality coffee roasters, cheese rooms, and shelves laden with Arabic sweets are all triumphantly displayed across shiny glass counters and towering tiered displays. Still, there is a significant buzz and a clamour of people surrounding one particular venue – welcome to Kushi by Reif!
Much like Reith Othman’s other Dubai restaurant, Reif Japanese Kushiyaki, visitors know exactly what to expect and also, to expect to queue for their fix of Japanese comfort food. Kushi is smaller than it’s predecessor but no less charming and despite the food hall location, the competent team make us feel immediately welcome. As we take a seat near the open kitchen, we can’t help but admire the camaraderie of the chefs who work tirelessly to create picture-perfect gyoza and steaming bowls of ramen for the throngs of people waiting in line.
Followers of chef Reif will likely recognise some familiar dishes from his other ventures, yet there’s still plenty of new things to entice even the most dedicated of repeat guests. The concise menu of casual street food is broken down into seven sections – Sandos, ramen, donburi, Reif fries, gyoza, Kushi, and those all- important cakes.
Beginning with the Chicken Katsu Sando, a dish that has seemingly appeared on every Dubai menu overnight, we’re still impressed by the precision and flavour profile achieved by Rothman and his team. Crisp deep-fried marinated chicken breast with plenty of seasoning is layered between a light and fluffy milk bread that is quite literally to die for. Whether you opt for the chicken, Wagyu or soft shell crab iteration of the dish, we believe it will be enough to convert you to the cult of Reif (if you aren’t already).
Ramen is a tricky dish to perfect, and with four versions on the menu at Kushi, we are torn between the 18hrs Ramen and the 72hrs Ribs Ramen. Both feature a deep and flavourful broth that is further enhanced and complemented by the tender proteins that float within. Ramen has become a staple comfort food for
many of us, and even more so during the recent lockdown. While many places throughout the city disappoint in their offerings, Kushi’s ramen is an easy contender for one of the best in town. Donburi bowls and a first for Reif, French fries, are new dishes that have been purposefully conceptualised for Kushi by Reif and feed perfectly into the food hall surroundings to provide a quick bite that satisfies both time and flavour requirements. The Gyu Don featured thin slices of lightly seared Angus beef, upon a Japanese rice bowl and adorned with a runny onsen egg. This is perhaps our favourite menu item due to the onsen tamago, the low temperature slow-cooked egg that brings a silken almost velvety texture to the dish.
Desserts have been a core focus of Kushi since its inception and introduce Reif’s signature Japanese spin on classic desserts. Expect prominent Asian flavours in the likes of the Goma (sesame) cheesecake, matcha rolls, yuzu éclairs and tiramisu boba. Each of the ten desserts offered are not only visually striking but bursting with unique flavour profiles from ingredients that many of us may not be accustomed to.
The 3C Chilli Chocolate Cake brings a fiery warmth to a decadent chocolate cake and makes for a perfect pairing of ingridients, yet it’s the intrigue of the Banana Passion that had us enamoured. Visually the dessert appears as a lone banana, vibrant in its yellow colouration but still containing the brown blemishes expected from the tropical fruit. Take a fork to it and you’ll soon realise that what appears to be banana skin is a chocolate shell, encasing a banana cream, passion fruit curd and Japanese granola with pecan caramel. This particular dessert leaves a lasting impression, much like the overall experience of dining at one of Reif’s concepts. Service is casual but effortless as the team flit from the open kitchen to the tabletops with ease and friendly demeanour. Chef Reif himself is often on hand to greet guests, welcoming them into his restaurant like old friends and striking up effortless banter that adds excitement and inclusivity to this in-demand dining experience.
Kushi by Reif may be fast and casual but feeds into a market that has often been overlooked in Dubai. The result is a concept that bridges the gap in its approach to dining by offering premium ingredients at affordable prices.
If it’s street food and a sense of comfort that you’re after, then Kushi by Reif is well worth a visit and if you’re still not quite ready to venture outside, fear not, for the entire menu is also available for home delivery via Deliveroo. ✤
GO: Call (0)50 423 1885 for more information.