The Mandarin Oriental Jumeira, Dubai is the new place to be seen in Dubai's "old money" suburb of Jumeirah. Pick up your car from the valet at 10pm on a Friday night, and you'll be waiting a while because this place is packed (glass half-full – you'll get to ogle plenty of million-dirham cars while you wait). The busy new hotel is home to high-end Japanese restaurant Netsu. The city is not short of pricey sushi spots – think Okku, Zuma, Nobu and Morimoto – so does Netsu have what it takes to make a name for itself? We went down to check it out.
Where to sit and what to expect
In the cooler months, sit outside on the terrace for a resort vibe and a soundtrack of crashing waves. If you’d rather have a side of EDM while you dine, sit inside for a buzzy, high-end-restaurant feel.
We sat at the bar facing the kitchen, which was particularly entertaining: the curved and surprisingly comfortable wooden bar stools give an all-encompassing view of the kitchen, and face the warayaki grill. This traditional Japanese straw grill is the showpiece of the kitchen: it can reach 900°C and gives meat a smoky flavour.
Sit next to it and you’ll not only feel the warmth, but will also see dramatic flames and smell a distinct odour of toasted rice. Our waiter proudly told us that the straw used on the grill comes all the way from Kochi, Japan: discussing the provenance of rice straw with a waiter from Russia while sitting metres away from the Arabian Gulf was a very only-in-Dubai moment.
Who's eating there
On a Friday night, you'll be surrounded by a cross section of high society: there was a table of six beautifully dressed Emirati women in their twenties to our left, a retirement-age couple from India behind us and a family of four from Australia battling the heat outside (their hint of sunburn and resort wear suggesting they were tourists rather than residents).
Netsu feels as high-end as Zuma and Okku, but the music isn’t so loud as to distract from your conversation.
The menu is split into many sections, and works well for groups so that you can sample a smorgasbord. It's not purely Japanese, either: Korean flavours come through, too. One option is to select the signature tasting menu (Dh550), with which you can sample, among other things, the absolutely perfect Korean fried chicken, which is crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.
You'll also get a signature piece of Wagyu on this selection, so that you can taste the smoky flavour the rice straw grill imparts; and the yellowtail tiradito (Dh78) – the generous slices of fish are flavoured with both heat and citrus, a nice twist.
The sides on offer at the restaurant also sing: "I'd come back just for the corn," my dining partner said, satisfied, after sampling a perfectly seasoned cob smothered in kelp butter (a plate of which costs Dh55).
Dessert-wise, you won’t want to pass on the chocolate fondant – an oozing, warming plate of chocolate with an umami kick thanks to lashings of miso in the caramel (Dh68).
Any of the steaks – you can plump for the Wagyu, or opt for a cheaper, but still very prime, cut of USDA beef. We’d recommend the latter, as it goes for Dh205 for 300 grams rather than an eye-watering Dh1,150 for 300g of Japanese Miyazaki Wagyu rib-eye.
Netsu takes its steak seriously, so no matter how pricey you go, you’ll still be able to glide through the cut with a dinner knife. The chefs baste the meat throughout the three-step grilling process, meaning there’s char from the dramatic flames, but also plenty of flavour.
A chat with the chef
The chef behind the concept is Ross Shonhan, who was once head chef at Zuma and Nobu in the UK, and is now the man behind London’s very successful Japanese comfort-food spot Bone Daddies.
He recommends the Wagyu beef short rib (cooked in the Korean bossam style; Dh350), but says the ultimate comfort food is the galbi-marinated beef rib with pickled red chillies ("It's marinated for two days, grilled, it's amazing"; Dh320).
Shonhan says Netsu is distinct from other high-end Japanese restaurants because it "does not even serve black cod miso" (an oversaturated dish, for sure). "Our focus is on lesser-known traditional beef dishes of Japan and new dishes specially created from our warayaki grill," he says.
Price point and contact information
This restaurant isn't cheap, but it can be either a date-night treat or a blowout, depending on how you order. You could get one meat main and a smattering of sides and a dessert to share for under Dh600, or you could blow your budget with one dish – the millionaire sandwich sets you back Dh1,000, comprising Wagyu beef between two slices of white bread with gold flakes. We would recommend the former.
For more information or to make a reservation, contact Netsu at the Mandarin Oriental Jumeira, Dubai, on 04 777 2232
This review was conducted at the invitation of the restaurant