Soon JLT review: Playing Mario on a robot with Japanese delicacies on the side

Chicken sando, Wagyu skewers and potently flavoured vegetarian dishes are all on the menu

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Following from Hawkerboi and San Wan, Jumeirah Lakes Towers adds another culinary feather to its cap with the opening of Soon. Located in the triangulated arena that also includes Nola and Mythos, Soon is part restaurant, part lounge.

It also marks the only Japanese izakaya restaurant in JLT (not counting the sushi delivered by cloud kitchens), which is good news for the area’s residents such as myself, who subscribe to the UAE’s penchant for the cuisine.

Where to sit and what to expect

I’ll tell you what I did not expect: a life-size robot custom-created from old electronics.

A robot that offers videogames is part of the anime-inspired decor. Photo: Soon

Not only does this automaton double as an active radio, but you can also play games such as Super Mario and Donkey Kong on its scratchy-looking screen.

It’s all part of the vibe, given the restaurant is inspired by the anime and gaming culture from the eclectic 1980s.

Robo Boy aside, Soon walks the line between restaurant, lounge and (after-hours) nightclub with ease, with scattered seating around tables low and high, plus booths, bar stools and couches curved along the length of its makeshift dance floor.

Take your pick depending on whether you want to converse with your guests or just enjoy the (rather loud) music.

The menu

Dishes benefit from the addition of creative sauces and garnishing. Photo: Soon

This is a menu that’s dominated by appetisers, with a selection of concise but thoughtfully curated mains.

As such, my dining companion and I began and ended our meal with a selection of small plates (there are two dozen, plus five types of skewers).

From the raw bar, we got the shima aji (Dh65) with burnt leeks, cloud ear, takuan, shiro soyu cream and shiso oil. Japan’s prized fish is usually served in high-end sushi bars, and the real flavour only comes out when it’s aged. Soon cures its shima aji for two days, which brings out a sweet yet earthy flavour profile, further accentuated by the leeks and takuan, a pickled preparation of daikon radish, and the creamy shiro soyu garnish.

It is evident from the start that sauces and garnishing are a big draw on this menu. In the unagi oshizushi maki rolls (Dh80 for six pieces), for instance, the grilled eel comes with sweet and salty kabayaki, which is brushed on and left to infuse into the rice, then topped with the nuttiness of sesame seeds.

Likewise, the crispy eggplant mochi (Dh45) comes with sansho pepper-caramel sauce, offering an explosion of sweet, spicy and sour flavours in each bite. The deep-fried mochi batter, meanwhile, offers altogether pleasant contrasting texture to the traditionally spongy vegetable.

Another textural option for vegetarians, the king oyster skewers (Dh40 for two) come with tare, sesame and chilli, with the crunchy mushrooms arranged around the stick in a ribbon-like spiral, making this dish rather good for the ‘Gram.

Despite not being squid lovers and despite being told “the meat can be rather tough, but it’s tasty”, we get the mongo ika skewers (Dh55 for two) upon the server’s recommendation.

The good news? If you’re sensitive to the seafood smell so often exuded by squids, it’s masked here with a delectable caramelised coconut amazu and aromatic yuzu kizami. The bad news? The meat is too tough for my palate, so I end up using it as a scoop for all that delicious sauciness.

By far the star of the skewer show is the Wagyu tsukune (Dh85 for two).

The prime-grade meat comes with a dipping accompaniment in the form of a soy-dipped egg yolk infused with truffle kabayaki sauce, a reduced mix of sugar, mirin, soy sauce and vinegar – a true blue yakitori staple.

Having travelled far and wide for a chicken sando, it would be remiss not to try one at my neighbourhood eatery, and I am pleased to report Soon’s chicken katsu sando (Dh55) is not only a shade cheaper than its Reif-Pickl counterparts, but also retains the messy sandwich’s moreish appeal.

We use three types of miso – Saikyo miso, shiro and aka miso
Brian Hoang, chef, Soon

“Sandos are always going be subjective, as everyone has their own take,” says chef Brian Hoang. “But basically it comes down to the bread and the mixture of meat. Here we do Hokkaido milk bread with a mix of chicken thigh with the fat still in the skin to give it an extra layer of moisture, and coated with spicy tonkatsu sauce. It’s elegant, but also deliberately straightforward, so people recognise it.”

While we did not have room for mains, dessert was a Hochija custard (Dh40), with a contrasting sweet and salty flavour profile, courtesy of soy caramel, kinako and crunchy honeycomb (the current star of the pastry world).

On the cards for my next visit: the chef-recommended chocolate cassette.

A chat with the chef

Chef Brian Hoang is inspired by Vietnamese cuisine. Photo: Soon

Chef Hoang is from Vancouver, and has worked in Canada, the UK, Australia and Hong Kong before moving to Dubai. While he initially trained in French fine dining, he picked up the scent of modern Asian cuisine across his 16-year career. As such, he describes his cooking style as “playful but still respecting tradition”, and says some of simplest seeming dishes he whips up are actually the most technically challenging.

“I’m a firm believer that simplicity is one of the keys to a successful kitchen. My favourite ingredient to cook with at the moment is miso. We use three types in Soon – Saikyo miso, shiro and aka miso. They all have their role to play in the menu and have been made into dressings, marinades, sauces and even ice cream,” says Hoang.

Other than the dishes we tried, the chef recommends the following: stuffed BBQ chicken wings and lamb neck kakuni for meat eaters; Saikyo miso black cod, mud crab udon and scorched chirashi clay pot for seafood lovers; and spinach ohitashi for vegetarians.

“Vegetarian dishes have always been important to me when I’m building a menu as they are a staple part of my own diet,” says Hoang. “I am influenced equally by Buddhism and Vietnamese cuisine, which has a lot of veg influences.”

Pro tip: pre-order the spinach ohitashi, which was sold out on the evening we visited. “The rolled spinach is seasoned with kombu jelly, so it has natural umami from the seaweed that is them combined with herbaceous sesame dressing and chilli and shiso oils, for a dish that’s light and nutritious but still comforting,” says Hoang.

The chocolate cassette dessert sits on the other end of the lightness spectrum, and comes with caramel, yuki beans and popping candy all ensconced in an edible edifice that's meant to be smashed open. Suffice it to say, I’m glad I live within walking distance.

Price point and contact information

The small plates, raw bar and skewers range from Dh20 (for the edamame) to Dh95 (for the maguro tataki). Mains are for between Dh95 and Dh170, while desserts are Dh40 a pop.

Soon JLT in Cluster P is open daily from noon to 1am. Reservations can be made by calling 055 434 0575.

This review was conducted at the invitation of the restaurant

Updated: September 15, 2023, 10:19 AM