I would never profess to being an expert on Japanese cooking, but I do feel that when it comes to food, I know right from wrong. And there was enough wrong with a recent meal at Hanabi, the Japanese restaurant at the Asiana Hotel in Dubai, to ensure that I left feeling thoroughly disappointed.
Having previously enjoyed an excellent dinner at the hotel’s signature Korean restaurant, Sonamu, I had high hopes for Hanabi. Alas, it was not to be. Soon after we began to flick through an interesting but by no means obscure menu, a waiter approached and asked if we needed him to explain it. We said no, but did ask which dishes he particularly recommended.
Bypassing the sections dedicated to grilled meat and fish, the tempura options, sushi and sashimi, maki, appetisers and crispy-fried bits and pieces, he flicked straight to the back of the menu and advised that “most European people order the bento box”. We smiled, said that wasn’t for us and struck out on our own.
After sipping on some middling miso soup and concluding that the tuna sashimi was acceptable but by no means remarkable, a promising-looking plate of beef tataki with ponzu arrived.
From the first mouthful it was clear that something was wrong. The sliced meat was frozen in the middle – we’re talking icy particles in the mouth and pools of water leaching out on to the plate as it thawed. When we told our waiter, he replied: “No, it isn’t.”
We politely explained that rather than asking a question, we were stating a fact. When a replacement appeared 10 minutes or so later, the dish was presented and garnished differently and the sauce was much stronger than before; while the beef was no longer frozen, it still tasted of very little.
In theory, simmered scallops in miso butter sauce sounded absolutely delicious. In reality, I have rarely, if ever, encountered such sorry looking and tasting scallops – tight, shrivelled little things that had clearly been boiled hard and as a result, had the consistency of rubber. The miso sauce, although pleasant on first tasting, had an acrid, burnt end-note to it that lingered on the palate.
Unfortunately, two grilled shiitake skewers did little to interrupt our litany of complaints. My friend bit into hers first: “Are your mushrooms really gritty?” she asked, just as I registered the crunch of sandy granules in my mouth.
Although reasonably priced at Dh5 for two pieces, lotus root tempura was far from fabulous: the tempura batter lacked seasoning, was thick and heavy rather than light, and tasted, quite unforgivably, of old oil.
The same fate also befell the prawn version of the dish. We both noted that the battered vegetables were nice and crunchy, but I think we were in clutching-at-straws territory by this point.After sitting for a good 15 minutes surrounded by a selection of half-empty plates, we decided it was time to leave and asked for the bill. While it’s not pleasant writing a review as negative as this, Hanabi really didn’t offer up any redeeming features. There is much room for improvement here.
A meal for two at Hanabi, Asiana Hotel, Dubai, costs Dh376, including service charge. For reservations, call 04 238 7777. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and all reviews are conducted incognito