With a slew of new openings, Chef Izu Ani shows little signs of slowing down and rounds out a busy 2019 by venturing into a new culinary direction with the opening of Aya in the popular dining enclave at City Walk. FACT’s David Tapley visits for an afternoon of delicious food…

Aya which means ‘beautiful’ in Japanese is exactly that, an exquisite restaurant that boasts impeccable interior design and a menu of high-quality Japanese dishes to match. The restaurant space presents bright interiors, an expansive bar area, sushi counter and an open show kitchen where guests can peek through the glass into the inner workings of a busy kitchen. With ample seating both inside and outside on a pleasant garden terrace, guests can opt to sit amongst cherry blossom trees with twisted bows in full bloom or beneath large abstract light fittings. There truly is no bad seat in the house and Aya feels like a natural progression for Chef Izu as he turns his attention to a new cuisine.

Aya’s menu is interesting and takes traditional Japanese dishes while injecting them with a Mediterranean twist in a menu that comprises of mezze, buns, rolls, raw, josperyaki, mains and sides. We begin with the Seaweed Salad(AED80) which comprises strands of thick purple seaweed as opposed to the expected wakame. The delicate seaweed is piled generously upon a robust tarama and works in conjunction with the pronounced flavour of the cured fish roe. The Short Rib Gyoza(AED80) with their shish sweet and sour sauce are lightly fried and the durable skin wrapper gives way to the rich and tender short rib filling which could easily make for a standalone dish.

An interesting menu choice, the octopus ‘takoyaki’ croquettes (AED85) are a delight. Lightly fried and adorned with tuna flakes the crisp exterior of the croquette gives way to a warm filling of diced octopus swimming in a hearty sauce that is at once warming and comforting. From the raw section the yellowtail(AED80),  smoked salmon gunkan (AED65) and nigiri selection (AED200) are all must order dishes with the sushi being rather exceptional thanks to the utilisation of fresh ingredients and the clever use of small jellies placed upon the cool raw fish to add additional bursts of flavour, with each of the six pieces becoming progressively spicier in a novel approach to sushi presentation.

TheWagyu Katsu Sando (AED150) has probably become the most Instagrammed dish of 2019 but has only recently started appearing on menus here in Dubai. Though the price point is a touch high for what is essentially a sandwich, it’s the premium 9+ Wagyu that is the commanding factor. Lovingly wedged between thick slices of sweet Hokkaido milk bread and slathered in Aya’s signature BBQ sauce, it’s near-impossible not to get caught up in the hype, for the dish is an absolute sensation.

The beauty of a menu such as Aya is that there is no filler and each and every dish could be considered a must order and in all honesty we could’ve structured our entire dining experience around the appetisers. The mains, though limited in number, maintain the consistency for quality that Aya successfully strives for, take for example the Spanish Octopus(AED175) a tender tendril, lovingly coated in a sticky red yuzu glaze that successfully manages to strike the ideal balance between sweet and spicy. An accompaniment of coriander emulsion completes the plate.

With a variety of meat and seafood options cooked on the josper grill our pick would be the Scottish Salmon (AED170) with its teriyaki glaze and pomelo salad. A plate of distinct Asian flavours that complement rather than detract from the flaky protein that has been infused with teriyaki.

Chef Izu has managed quite the incredible task in curating the menu for Aya and the way in which he balances Asian flavours and International influences is as astounding as it is impressive. This notion continues all the way through to the dessert course and the Brown Butter Ice Cream (AED120), a literal mountain of dairy, enhanced via the addition of hazelnut crumble and olive oil sponge that is presented a la minute and brings a unique textural counterpart to the dessert. Easily enough for two people to share.

Aya marks another strong opening from Chef Izu and it would seem as though he has the Midas touch, turning each one of his culinary endeavours into a success story. Aya sits comfortably alongside the likes of Lima and Toro + Ko in City Walk’s licensed district known as The Square. It brings an exciting fine-dining concept into an area that is otherwise very much focused on causal eateries. Sure, the price point is a little higher than other restaurants in the vicinity but as the old saying goes “you get what you pay for” and at Aya that equates to an exceptional dining experience anchored around excellent food and strong service.

The menu has a delicate mix of whimsically elaborate rolls, buns and a Josperyaki with a life changing Wagu Katsu sando with Aya bbq sauce and Hokkaido Milk Bread straight from the streets of Tokyo. In true Izu style the quality and gastronomic technique is second to none, with help from a gregarious collective of experts lead by Head Chef Christopher Blake, formerly Chef at Zuma Dubai. Chef Izu Ani, said: “Dubai has been waiting for a fresh concept that layers traditions and flavours, creating beautifully delicate dishes that guests will not find anywhere else. ✤


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