Restaurant review: Kyo on The Palm in Dubai gives Japanese food a French twist

Located at the start of the prestigious strip – next to Spinneys – one of Kyo’s best features is its stunning 200-seat outdoor garden.

Kyo Restaurant & Lounge. Courtesy Kyo Restaurant & Lounge
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Kyo, the newly-opened Japanese restaurant on The Palm in Dubai, has been quietly making a name for itself as the Golden Mile Galleria’s best-kept secret.

Located at the start of the prestigious strip – next to Spinneys – one of Kyo’s best features is its stunning 200-seat outdoor garden. This contemporary oasis, surrounded by greenery (including bonsai), elicits calm. I feel like I could easily lose myself here for a few hours.

The restaurant’s interior is smaller – it seats about 50 – and has a cosy, yet sophisticated feel. The colours are warm, with accents of red and wood. Japanese artwork tastefully accents the walls and the sushi bar. The one glaring error, though, is the music. The upbeat jazz does not complement the serene Japanese setting and needs to be addressed.

Naturally, the menu includes a thoughtful selection of sushi, all freshly prepared at the central sushi bar. We skip it on our visit, however, opting to try some more unusual Japanese fare.

There is an inspired list of starters that feature interesting combinations: tuna, watermelon, olive chimichurri and shiso; pumpkin tofu, black grain and sweet and sour sauce; and oxtail, nappa cabbage and citric ankake sauce.

We go for the hotate with scallops, chestnut milk and sea urchin tongue, and the ebi no gyoza with prawn and wasabi dressing.

I was not wild about the strong fishy flavour of the sea urchin tongue, but the scallops are cooked well and come with five crunchy balls of tasty wakame tempura (fried seaweed).

Much better are the gyoza – a beautifully presented plate of six plump dumplings lined up like soldiers. Topped with an aesthetically-pleasing earthy wasabi foam, they are filled with prawn, matsuba (a Japanese leafy green), carrots and negi, which add depth of flavour. This is the first sign that the chefs here go the extra mile. Negi is a green onion, similar to leek or spring onion. Instead of opting for one of these, which must be more readily available here, the chefs are aware of the value in using negi, the authentic Japanese ingredient.

I order the veal short ribs for my main – a dish that quite simply takes my breath away. I’m a big fan of food cooked slow and low, producing rich, flavourful meat that falls apart in your mouth. Not enough restaurants here do this, so when you find a place that does, you remember it. These short ribs are braised for 50 hours – the result is juicy, rich meat that falls off the bone. The sweet, teriyaki sauce it is swimming in works on all levels.

The chefs start cooking this meat two days before they serve it to you and that patience pays off. Don’t miss these ribs.

Our second main is just as good – but there is not enough of it. The three jumbo shrimp we get are not enough for a main course. Portion size aside, the dish delivers. The shrimp are smartly seasoned with sansho pepper (made from the berries of the prickly ash tree), which lends a tangy, slightly citrusy flavour. Lime and almond boost the flavour even more.

I was surprised to learn that Kyo’s three main chefs are French, Mexican and Indonesian. In fact, there is not a single Japanese chef in the kitchen – but head chef Grégory Goulot, who honed his skills working alongside Japanese chefs in his native France, certainly knows how to execute this cuisine. This French background also explains the sophisticated presentation of many of the dishes. There is French flair at work here and I love it.

Our desserts are complicated concoctions of flavours that work well together. One, simply titled “ginger”, is a Japanese take on tiramisu. The robust flavours of ginger, chilli orange and lemon grass outshine the mild taste of coffee in this dessert. There is a lot going on here, but it works.

The fondant, meanwhile, is fairly traditional (and a guilt-free, perfectly sized portion), but the bits that come with it – a refreshing apricot sorbet, sliced strawberries and a single umeboshi – give this classic dessert a distinctly Japanese twist.

Umeboshi, incidentally, is a plumlike Japanese fruit. It is very salty and should be eaten with a spoonful of cake and ice cream, not alone. Trust me on this.

Kyo is a slice of sophisticated calm on The Palm, without any rowdy crowds (it is unlicensed), and the price point is fair. Don’t miss the creative mocktails – try the berry beer with crushed and whole mixed berries, ginger beer, elderflower and cranberry juice. You can thank us later.

Our meal for two at Kyo Restaurant and Lounge, Golden Mile, Dubai, inclusive of three mocktails, cost Dh525. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and conducted incognito. To book, call 04 557 5182