Founded in 2004 by restaurateur Marios George, the first Nozomi in London was a huge hit with Saudi travellers.
Its Riyadh outpost quickly became known as one of the best fine-dining establishments in the kingdom. In March, Al Moajil Hospitality group took the Japanese restaurant to Matal, the new corniche development in Al Khobar – and this one's bigger and better than ever.
Where to expect and where to sit
Located on the second floor of the food complex in Matal, Nozomi is described as a “hidden gem” by chef Pawel Viktorek, culinary director of Al Moajil Hospitality.
Viktorek, who has been in the kingdom for three years and has had experience heading Zuma, says: “After all my years in the GCC, I like Saudi Arabia the most, especially Al Khobar. The people are friendly and the location is great with a beautiful shoreline. I find Al Khobar is a hidden gem, just like this restaurant.”
Indeed, everything seems to slow down once you walk into Nozomi, and you're greeted with a refreshing scent and smiling hostesses. Within, traditional Japanese architecture, replete with bamboo and wood, creates a secluded, intimate and luxurious space for diners, while a seat on the terrace comes with beautiful views of the Moon suspended over Khobar's corniche.
Nozomi is the first restaurant in Khobar to ship its produce – from the seafood and Grade 12+ Wagyu to the wasabi – directly from Japan, guaranteeing the “freshness and quality of your sushi platter”, Viktorek says.
My dining partner and I start with edamame followed by miso soup, one with Angus beef, the other with vegetables, served in colour-coordinated handcrafted ceramic bowls. The accompanying steamed buns are stuffed with Angus and tonkatsu sauce, and are branded with the Nozomi logo for an Instagrammable shot.
Next we try the crispy fried shrimp popcorn. This is served with a side of green chilli mayonnaise, which is a refreshing change from the typical sauce-drenched style. It's tempting to keep on snacking, but do save room for the authentic Japanese seafood platter, which is exquisite. It includes hamachi, akami and an unbelievably fresh and delicious gold-seared salmon dressed with avocado truffle cream and tobiko, and classic California maki.
While Wagyu beef sliders are a favourite starter in Saudi Arabia, we'd replace them with Nozomi's new entry: Wagyu sandos, scrumptiously tender meat sandwiched between soft brioche.
The Wagyu sando is the unexpected star of the show, and comes sprinkled with 24k gold confetti. The juicy meat and buttery bread are held together with Japanese honey mustard, all of which melts in the mouth and fills up the heart simultaneously.
The flavourful, tender black cod is another showstopper. It comes wrapped in bamboo branded with the Nozomi logo, and unfolds in front of your eyes.
A chat with the chef
Head chef Gohei Kishi says he always tries to bring out the most umami flavour in his dishes. “Umami-focused dishes can be about enhancing the flavour of a single ingredient, or touching upon five points: the main ingredient, freshness, aroma, texture and even the colour.”
Some dishes Kishi recommends include: for vegetarians, the mushroom takikomi rice, with shiitake, dashi kombu, soy miso butter and shiso powder; for meat-lovers, Grade 12+ Japanese Wagyu beef cooked on a charcoal robata grill; for seafood-seekers, a sushi-sashimi omakase platter; and, for dessert, the signature sharing platter filled with exotic fruit, fondant au chocolate, miso cheesecake and sorbets.
Those celebrating something special can glam up their table with chef Pawel's recommendation: the indulgent seared salmon truffle maki with 24k gold.
Price point and contact information
Small dishes range from the miso soup, priced at a modest 35 Saudi riyals ($9), to the Wagyu sliders, which will set you back SR210. The chef's nigiri and sashimi platters go from SR200-SR350, while maki rolls are priced in the SR78-SR135 range. Mains are divided between seafood (SR145-SR255) and robata meats (SR138-SR270), and desserts go from SR58 for three scoops of ice cream, to a tasting platter for SR380.
Reservations are recommended and can be made by calling +966 9200 12681 or from the website.
This review was conducted at the invitation of the restaurant