With its ambient lighting, chill-out music and sleek, attractive staff, Okku sets out to position itself as one of Dubai's hippest restaurant destinations.
Okku delivers outstanding food, but an unfortunate finish
With its ambient lighting, chill-out music and sleek, attractive staff, Okku sets out to position itself as one of Dubai's hippest restaurant destinations. I was intrigued to find out if, as well as providing plenty of urbane opulence, it could also deliver high-quality food.
We settled into a corner table in the buzzy, intimate restaurant and a small bowl of tender edamame beans flecked with Maldon salt quickly arrived - the perfect thing to pick at while waiting for our starters. We ordered three, which, given that the portion sizes are quite small, turned out to be just right for two people. The calamari with creamy yuzu mayonnaise was near perfect: curls of hot, crisp coating encasing tender squid delivered just the right amount of chilli kick - enough to light up the dish and our taste buds, without the danger of overpowering them.
Slivers of gossamer-thin wagyu beef tataki were also rich and delicious. We both felt that the truffle-oil dressing, however, added a slightly synthetic note to what was essentially a really fresh-tasting dish. The quality of the ingredients was such that it would have been just as good, if not better, had the true flavour of the beef and crispy garlic been left to speak for themselves. A delicate portion of ruby-red tuna sashimi provided the perfect balance to the other two starters. The slices of meaty fish were spanking fresh - just the way they should be, particularly when eaten raw. And the shredded ginger and sweet yuzu-soy sauce provided a welcome clarity on the palate.
For one of our main courses, the duck we selected may not have been the most authentically Japanese option on the menu, but it was delicious. Shredded crispy, crunchy duck, piled on top of slim cucumber matchsticks, with a slick of pungent plum sauce running down the side. Hang authenticity.
The other main course was equally successful. Black cod is ubiquitous on high-end Japanese restaurant menus, but there's a reason for that - done well, it is a thing to behold. Okku's offering is certainly a high calibre one, just falling mere shades short of the Zuma version. That said, it was still very, very good: the pearly white fish was buttery in the centre, with sticky, blackened edges. Be warned though, it is an extremely rich dish and is perhaps best shared between two.
After the main course plates were cleared, I happened to glance down at my watch and was surprised to see that we'd only been in the restaurant for an hour, meaning that two courses had been served pretty rapidly. This in itself is not a criticism, but it did make what followed seem even worse, I think. The service up to this point hadn't been brilliant. It felt a touch haphazard, as we were looked after by three or four different people and dishes were placed in front of us without explanation. At this point, though, things took a real downward turn. We were simply left alone: no dessert menu was proffered nor were our water glasses refilled. The restaurant didn't seem especially busy, but as waiters and waitresses glided by, it became more and more obvious that we had been forgotten. Fifteen minutes or so passed and I became pretty antsy, shuffling about in my seat, but to no avail. After 35 minutes, we both turned, very deliberately, to stare at a cluster of waiters. Eventually, someone (who hadn't served us before) made their way over. At this point, even if we had been presented with a dessert menu, I think we would have declined. As it happened, we still weren't offered one, so merely requested the bill.
After an evening of fantastic food, it seems a real shame this restaurant fell at the final hurdle. Of course, this could well be an isolated incident, and I hope it was. Nevertheless, it still mars the memory of the meal. If the level of consistency and attention to detail provided by the front of house staff was improved, then Okku really would be a force to be reckoned with.
Ÿ A meal for two at Okku, The Monarch Dubai Hotel, One Sheikh Zayed Road, including service, but not including dessert, cost Dh585. Reservations 04 501 8777. Reviews are conducted anonymously and meals are paid for by The National.