Stepping out of the lift on the third floor of Sofitel Dubai Downtown, the wide and sleekly dark entrance to Wakame is an immediate contrast to the hotel’s bright, crystal-draped lobby. It’s another upmarket Asian restaurant for the city, but with a mix of Chinese and Japanese cuisine along with a chef whose intent is to craft a distinct menu, it looks to stand on its own away from comparisons of Zuma or Nobu.
Inside, a sprawling, open-plan layout is adorned with contemporary décor such as lighting encased in faux crab baskets and black walls whimsically sculpted like oversized fish scales, while touches of traditional Asian culture can be found throughout, like an antique Chinese cupboard. On view from both the dining room and the bar, a sushi and dim sum counter is full of action throughout the evening as meticulously created Asian bites are steamed, rolled and served.
Lobster tacos at Wakame
In the bar, where a DJ provides a soundtrack of laid-back beats earlier in the evening, ramping up the BPMs as the night progresses, there’s no denying the creativity behind the cocktail menu created by bar manager Julian Zoetmulder. Submitting to his recommendations, a large Asian teapot makes a steamy appearance with old-fashioned glasses harbouring an enormous chunk of ice and freshly plucked mint leaves.
This is Mog’s Punch, a refreshing mix of Korean soju, strawberry, mint, lemon, apple and pomegranate with Prosecco that goes down all too easily. It’s delicious, but I’d be remiss not to recommend the dessert-like Ong Dau Phong, a treat with Wakame peanut-butter whiskey and Wakame spiced-Himalayan honey that is best described as a peanut-butter smoothie with a kick – if you have a sweet tooth, it’s a must-try, but one will likely be enough.
Taking a seat in the dining room at one of the minimalistic chairs and tables made from light wood, a spread of Asian cuisine begins to fill the table. Head chef Lloyd Roberts is the man behind the menu, and arrives at Wakame with an impressive résumé: Jamaican via New York City, he worked in the US hub with the likes of Jean-Georges Vongerichten at (now-shuttered) Vong and Nobu Matsuhisa at Nobu Fifty Seven, before setting off to taste test the rest of the world where he helmed kitchens at the launches of Nobu in both Moscow and Budapest.
Interior design is elegant and opulent at Wakame
Basically, he knows a thing or three about innovative Asian cuisine. Opening a large bamboo steamer basket, puffy spinach and cream cheese dim sum are savoury and velvety – a nice contrast to crisp and refreshing lobster mini tacos topped with yuzu guacamole and salsa. Daintily plated yellowtail hamachi sashimi is a ceviche-like delight, accompanied by orange jelly, pickled carrot and tomato, and yuzu soy; while a crispy eggplant salad with soft burrata takes a delectable Asian turn with yuzu truffle enriching the flavours.
From the menu’s “Large Plates” I’m treated to tender, glazed, grilled lamb chops marinated in Korean spices that matches exceptionally well with a side of tangy grilled asparagus in sesame and onion dressing; but it’s the marinated Chilean sea bass, oven roasted with a jalapeno and ginger marinade, crisp with a flavourful tang on the outside and succulent and rich on the inside, that may have been the ultimate highlight of the evening.
Until, of course, colourful mochis – rice cakes filled with ice cream – appeared alongside a dark chocolate fondant filled with white chocolate and matcha for a decadent finale. It’s still a bit too early to tell if indeed Wakame will stand tall and distinctive alongside the city’s other Asian heavyweights, as chef Robert aims to do, but with food and drink menus full of creativity and passion, it’s certainly off to a good start.
The assorted mochis are a must for dessert at Wakame
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