A calm atmosphere and fresh tastes set Kazu apart from Abu Dhabi's other Japanese restaurants.
Kazu: isolated flavours
Anecdotes from friends who visited Yas Island in the weeks after the Grand Prix centred on the same points: the island has great food but the atmosphere is that of a doctor's waiting room. Time will tell whether people accept Yas as part of Abu Dhabi rather than a distant attraction, and already the place is looking busier. But on an early Friday afternoon in January, when hotels in the city bustled with brunch crowds, we arrived at Kazu to find only a handful of other diners. A fair number of them were Japanese, a good indication that Kazu has gained an early reputation for authenticity. A few more people arrived over the course of our meal, but for the most part, we ate in relative calm - which suited me perfectly.
The fact that Yas is a fair distance from most of Abu Dhabi's homes appears to make it (at least for now) a little prohibitive as a dining location. Lucky for us: service at Kazu was especially attentive and quick in a relaxing, airy atmosphere that benefits from huge windows overlooking the Yas Marina. I almost fell asleep in the sun a few times - not the greatest compliment to my dining companion, I admit, but a great one to the restaurant.
The food was as clean, fresh and neat as Kazu's surroundings suggest. The joy of good Japanese food is in not being overwhelmed by flavours but in having a few simple tastes break through. This is where Kazu succeeds - our edamame was suffused with garlic and chilli so delicate it was barely recognisable, but it gave the warm beans a better-than-average punch. When it comes to Japanese food, I often err on the side of caution, always to my regret when I try any of my companions' dishes. True to form, I went for the salmon skin roll starter, something that never disappoints but that never jumps out and astonishes me, either. Lighter than your average sushi roll, it came wrapped in a thin cloak of radish that was occasionally difficult to break through. My companion's temake yellowfin tuna - essentially the contents of a sushi roll in a seaweed cone - was light and fatty in satisfyingly equal measure, though the seaweed wrap was almost impenetrably tough.
Luckily, no such challenges were presented by the main courses, although we cursed our restraint as soon as we spotted the size of our portions. In retrospect, we ought to have guessed that a Dh38 main course at a restaurant in the Yas Hotel would not have been enough to fill us up. It may be wise - and well worth it - to go for more than one main course from the teppanyaki grill. My chicken with lime and black salt was an extraordinarily light swirl of salty, sour and sweet tastes. My companion's lamb chops were delicate, but our mains cut rather lonely figures on the table; we felt as though we had ordered children's portions, and the side-dish options were minimal. Some advice from the staff to combine both courses would not have been amiss.
The best part of the meal was dessert, which placed Kazu above the realms of ordinary Japanese restaurants, which Abu Dhabi does not lack. My chocolate tart was so thick and rich it could have passed for a Premier League footballer, and was gently complemented by a light wasabi ice cream, the undoubted highlight of the meal. I feared it would be too gimmicky, but it turned out to have a sharp taste without being at all spicy. It would have worked perfectly well (and maybe even better) on its own. My companion went for just such an option, a simple bowl of green tea ice cream. It was a perfectly light end to the meal, but - as I have always felt about anything flavoured with green tea - devoid of a distinguishing taste.
We left hardly 75 minutes after sitting down (not bad for a three-course meal), and wiser as to how we might order next time around. If the crowds continue to stay away, too, we might even visit more regularly. Kazu, Yas Hotel, Yas Island, 02 656 0600. Our reviewer's meal for two cost Dh400. Restaurants are reviewed incognito and the meals are paid for by The National.