Honyaki is a small, sleek restaurant, tightly squeezed into a corner of Madinat Jumeirah. The spacious outside terrace area, with its views of the Burj Al Arab, will be lovely when the temperature drops, but at the moment it makes more sense to step into the narrow black-and-red restaurant and hope for a table (strangely, it doesn't take reservations).
More upmarket than your average conveyer-belt sushi place, less glitzy than the likes of Zuma and Nobu, Honyaki occupies a comfortable space somewhere between the two.
From beginning to end, the service we received was notably good. Jasmine, the waitress who looked after us, was charming, well informed and attentive without being overbearing. This was utterly refreshing.
At Honyaki there's no standing on ceremony when it comes to ordering. You simply pick up a pencil and tick whatever takes your fancy. The steamed edamame beans were tender, vibrant green and just the right side of salty; my friend's miso soup was light, flavourful and nourishing, with chewy mushrooms and chopped chilli adding texture.
These two dishes arrived quickly, which was great, but mere minutes later so did everything else we'd ordered. Not only was our table too small to cope with the onslaught, it was also quite overwhelming. The kitchen may argue that dishes are served as and when they're ready, but the customer experience also needs to be considered. Whether it was intentional or not, we felt as though we were being rushed.
The tuna sashimi was served simply, on a pile of crisp, white noodles and although it was fresh, it wasn't particularly flavoursome. The tuna tataki, on the other hand, was excellent: slices of slightly seared fish were sweet and silky with a restrained drizzle of truffle miso dressing adding a rich, savoury note.
At Dh35 for two canapé-sized portions (presented on white china spoons), the wagyu beef was expensive but very tasty. The slick of thick, sweet soy sauce, tiny mound of white rice, sliver of perfectly rare meat, sprinkling of golden deep-fried garlic and strands of crispy red chilli complemented one another perfectly and made for a delicious mouthful.
The slow-cooked duck was served in wafer-thin slices; the meat was very tender yet still retained its texture and dots of wasabi salsa provided flashes of hot, bitter flavour. My friend found it overpowering but I thought it was just right. The wagyu beef tataki showcased a piece of umami-rich meat perched on top of a small rectangle of rice and a raw beef patty, which clung to its faintly gingery, slightly sweet marinade. Both were good. Veering back into sushi territory, a Californian temaki cone was large and well presented but tasted rather bland.
The majority of the food was served artfully arranged on black slates, providing a nice canvas for all the different colours and textures. Be warned, though, (sushi plates notwithstanding) that the portion sizes are as delicate as the presentation and the cost can quickly mount up.
If you visit Honyaki and sample just the sushi and sashimi offerings, you will no doubt find the fish fresh and each dish competently prepared. Opt for a few dishes from Chef Keneth Kim's Selection, though, and you'll be in for a treat.
• A meal for two at Honyaki, Madinat Jumeirah, costs Dh378 not including service. The restaurant does not take reservations, for more information call 04 366 6730. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and reviews are conducted incognito.