Liz O’Reilly heads to M By Mirai at Al Aali Mall for a delightful taste of Japan.

As my dining companion and I arrive, I’m immediately struck by the number of people around us in the outdoor seating, both at M By Mirai and its neighbours. This certainly seems to be the latest hot place to spend a leisurely Thursday lunchtime.

Inside the restaurant is a cool minimalist space with woodpanelled walls, hanging lanterns and great artwork. There’s also a small, very cool roof terrace which, today, is full. Taking advantage of the gorgeous, balmy weather, we’re seated outside where a dancing floor fountain trickles nearby and there is lots of greenery.

Chef Lin comes out to say hello and tells us he will prepare a selection of both popular dishes and menu items and I take the chance to request the Chicken Kushiyaki, the description for which has already whetted my appetite.

First to arrive at the table is the Confit Crispy Duck Salad which comes with spicy mixed baby leaves, sweet melon, pickled cucumber and spicy-sweet peanut soy. The duck leg meat manages to be both crispy and tender at the same time and the accompaniments really bring out the flavour giving a salty-sweet combination.

The Yellowfin Tuna Steak is seared to perfection, juicy, pink and tasty coated in crunchy breadcrumbs, it’s a great marriage of textures complemented by the mirin soy layu dressing. We both go back for more.

We also try chicken katsu maki, making the most of the traditional Japanese comfort food that sees the chicken coated in breadcrumbs and fried until golden brown. The maki are seguma wrapped and topped with fresh ginger and pickled, red sweet chilli making for a delicious contrast to the tangy yuzu mayo within. These are a definite favourite.

Kari Kari Maki looks amazing with its crabstick coating giving a vivid red-orange colour. The inside of cucumber and spring onion with spicy mayonnaise brings an interesting, crunchy texture thanks to a generous helping of crispy salmon skin.

In a nod to local flavours, we are also served a delicious platter of fried haloumi sitting atop sliced avocado that is perfectly ripe and tasty (how do they do that? It’s a feat that always eludes me at home). Served with spring onions and shredded radish, the accompaniment of sweet, runny honey and a liberal dusting of sesame seeds makes this the perfect combo of sweet, nutty and salty with the tang of the cheese perfectly offset by the honey.

The Chicken Kushiyaki is every bit as good as I expected, warm and melting thigh meat with spring onions, sliced jalapenos, teriyaki sauce, lime and togarashi, the latter, with its mix of chilli and spices, lending this humble dish a fabulous depth of flavour and a delicious kick of heat.

We finish the main dishes with Chef Lin’s speciality, an amazingly presented whole lobster served with unipara sauce made from sea urchin, butter and soy mirin. I must admit, lobster is not my favourite shellfish but this is exceptional. The flesh is perfectly rendered, juicy and tender without a hint of chewiness and so well seasoned that we keep going back for more despite already being very well served. Of all the dishes we try, if I had to pick just one to recommend, this would be it.

Finishing on a sweet note we are treated to a trio of excellence. Looking absolutely picture perfect, the tiramisu is decorated with an edible gold chocolate disc and sits sweetly upon a crunchy biscuit base that blends perfectly with the rich, creamy topping. The topping brings forth just a hint of coffee without being overpowering.

The Coconut Bavaroise is another showstopper with coconut mousse sitting in a shell made from dark chocolate which gives the appearance of an actual coconut shell. Coupled with sliced pineapple and mango puree, this is a taste of tropical paradise. For me, the piece de resistance is the chocolate fondant – a light chocolate sponge oozing hot, sweet chocolate hazelnut cream. My stomach is already full but, when this arrives, I simply cannot resist and, before we know it, my friend and I have cleared the plate.

Our feast is accompanied throughout by a selection of amazinglooking drinks. The Japanese Temple, a bright pink concoction of hibiscus tea, pomegranate and lemon, topped up with 7-Up, is a firm favourite, closely followed by Shiso San – Shiso syrup with lime and yuzu that is so very refreshing.

The office calls and we say our goodbyes but I note that this little corner of Seef is still buzzing and my initial observation that this is THE place to be on a Thursday afternoon has proved correct. For both atmosphere and food, I feel I’ve found my Thursday spiritual home and I can’t wait to come back and sample more of M By Mirai’s extensive menu. ✤