Mitsu-Ya review: where brilliant ramen bowls over diners

The Beirut import is a Japanese restaurant to watch out for in Dubai

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Reputable restaurants don’t always travel well from one country to another. A venue that receives rave reviews in one city often falls flat when its owners attempt to export it.

However, the Dubai outpost of Beirut-born Mitsu-Ya is a more than welcome arrival.

The sushi bar and izakaya is named after its founder Mitsu Arai and “ya”, the Japanese word for “house”. The original is on bustling Gouraud Street in Gemmayzeh, the Lebanon capital’s artistic quarter that is still reeling from the port explosion that ripped through the area in August 2020.

Since launching in 2015, it has gained a loyal following, a mix of the neighbourhood’s uber-cool clientele and residents from across the city. It is known as one of the best places to enjoy sushi in Beirut.

Mitsu-Ya launched in the UAE in March, in a city home to Japanese juggernauts. The National went along to see how it is faring.

What to expect, where to sit

Seating options include a dining corner and a counter facing the open kitchen. Photo: Mitsu-Ya

First things first: finding Mitsu-Ya in the Dubai International Financial Centre can be tricky. Don’t be fooled by the Google Maps location of “Mitsuya” in JBR; this is an error the restaurant is trying to fix with the tech company. Secondly, although the valet parking is offered by The Ritz-Carlton, DIFC, the restaurant is independently owned and is separate from the resort — although you can access it via the hotel lobby. Follow signs for the Sunken Garden, which is part of the five-star hotel, and you’ll soon stumble across the charming Mitsu-Ya.

And, it is well worth the expedition.

Inside, the minimalist spot is a mix of cosy tables, a hidden dining corner and a long counter facing the open kitchen, which is a must for those opting to be fed the omakase way — meaning you get what you’re given.

Beaming staff are dressed in elegant geisha-style uniforms, while chefs operate from separate hot and cold kitchens. The latter sits beneath a stunning sunset mural of a Japanese home, which was hand-painted by the owner’s wife.

Despite its location, many other intrepid diners have found their way armed with spoons and chopsticks.

The menu

Sushi platter at Mitsu-Ya. Photo: Mitsu-Ya

Although we opt for a table in the middle instead of the counter, we still pick the kaiseki-style experience, where chefs serve several courses of their choosing. It is a set menu, which differs from omakase, where people can keep going or stop when they like.

For diners who prefer to take control of their own destiny, there is an a la carte menu on hand — serving everything from soups, salads and sushi plates to shoyu ramen, Wagyu steaks and soy sauce-sauteed squid.

My dining partner and I are gently eased into the evening with miso soup and seaweed salad. The two simple starters are elevated to sumptuous standards and provide a taste of what’s to come.

Shortly after, the smiling and informative staff, who are always on hand but never overbearing, bring out a quick-fire trio of sushi, five chicken gyoza and a hearty bowl of kinoko mushrooms.

Each dish manages to supersede the last. The sushi is delicately made using the finest cuts of seafood including tuna, salmon and sea bass, while the gyoza are punchy and terrifically seasoned, finished with a soy and chilli oil dip.

And, though a bowl of mushrooms may sound underwhelming written down, the reality is anything but. Portobello, eyringi, shimeji, white and brown mushrooms combine for a deep, beefy flavour of fabulous fungi, which are sauteed in a butter sauce and finished with fresh herbs. This is accomplished cooking made to look simple.

Next, we’re served sea bass. The fillets have been curled up, seasoned exquisitely and had the skin carefully taken off before being fried to a crispiness of eardrum-shattering proportions — and that’s a good thing. The dish is accompanied by wasabi-potato puree, steamed rice and stir-fried vegetables that, although thoroughly overshadowed by the fish skin, are pleasant.

Dessert is a simple affair of mochi — sweet rice flour balls stuffed with ice cream. Two pieces of mango and green tea-flavoured treats round off the kaiseki experience delightfully. They’re a one-bite ending, adding zing to a very fine introduction to the chef’s favourite plates.

Standout dish

The spicy miso ramen broth is a must-have. Photo: Mitsu-Ya

For Japanese chefs, broth recipes are secrets better guarded than the UK’s crown jewels. They take years to finesse. They’re deeply personal and, just like fingerprints, are unique to each. And, at Mitsu-Ya, I’ve never tasted one like it before.

The spicy miso ramen broth is fiery yet tempered. It cools off almost as quickly as it heats up. It’s light, yet deep with seasoning and flavour. The chicken cha-shu is tender and gorgeous, it is accompanied by a marinated boiled egg with a yolk that’s the right amount of runny. The only noises heard above the “mmms” and “oohs” are the slurp of noodles and the frenzied scraping of spoons. All around us, other diners are diving face-first into the ramen.

A chat with the chef

Chef Arai has been in kitchens since he was 16 years old, starting with an apprenticeship in his home town of Chiba, about an hour east of Tokyo. At 19, he moved to Japan’s capital and learnt under the supervision of the country’s most skilled chefs. From there, he moved to Vietnam, Germany, Italy, Singapore, Malaysia and Nepal before settling in Beirut and, now, Dubai.

I mention this because his decades as a journeyman have been spent perfecting the spicy miso ramen broth mentioned above. We’d cross mountains for another mouthful; it’s a winner.

Before we leave, Chef Arai explains how he is grateful to have been able to share his love for traditional Japanese cooking with diners and fellow chefs around the world. And, with the DIFC destination now in full swing, Dubai’s foodies are all the better off with this import.

Price point and contact information

Appetisers range from Dh25 to Dh110; sushi ranges from Dh30 to Dh70 with platters starting at Dh175; and mains range from Dh100 to Dh430, while ramen starts at Dh75.

Open daily from noon-3.30pm and 6pm-midnight. Reservations can be made by calling 04 591 6397.

This review was conducted at the invitation of the restaurant

Updated: August 04, 2022, 7:45 AM
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