Otoro review: Al Qana restaurant ups the ante for Japanese food in Abu Dhabi

Chef Anuar describes his style as 'dishing out honestly good food, without the bells and whistles that distract'

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Since opening in March, Otoro has distinguished itself in the busy market that is Abu Dhabi’s Japanese culinary world. It does so by combining traditional dishes and ingredients with which fans of Japanese cuisine will be familiar, with an overall modern approach to cooking.

Guests can enjoy a large but well-assembled menu that includes the excellent and much-celebrated Wagyu striploin, crudités combining lesser-known samjang and daikon radish, and sushi, which, of course, includes otoro, a cut of tuna.

Behind the project is chef Akmal Anuar and the wider team at White Rice, a boutique hospitality consultancy that has more than 40 years’ experience running restaurants and bars. Many of them are in the world’s most famous, and therefore competitive, food capitals of the world, such as Singapore, Dubai and New York. Otoro is the team’s debut in Abu Dhabi.

Chef Anuar describes his cooking style as “dishing out honestly good food, without the bells and whistles that distract”.

Where to sit and what to expect

The restaurant's location reflects its modern, international approach. Otoro is on the edge of the vast new waterfront at Al Qana, the site of Abu Dhabi’s recently opened aquarium and several other restaurants.

In the cooler months, a large terrace welcomes guests with views over the comings and goings in the marina. Inside, the setting is open, stripped-down and very Japanese, with the middle of the restaurant divided by a shoji partition and seats at the kitchen counter. The tables in the middle of the restaurant are particularly nice, with diners able to see both the marina and chefs at work.

The clientele, like the concept, is a mix. A visit to the restaurant can involve anything from a working lunch to a longer, grander dinner, so it caters well to both staff and students from the nearby Khalifa University and families from surrounding residential areas.

The menu

Our dinner is the longer kind. The A5 Japanese Wagyu, which gets flown in from Kagoshima in the country’s extreme south, stands out in sando form, of which we could have ordered many more.

Chef Anuar says: “While hard to choose a single favourite ingredient with the many that we have, one cannot go wrong with a good cut of Wagyu beef.” He says he wants the ingredients to “speak for themselves”. In all the dishes we tried, Otoro did exactly that.

For all this talk of beef, there is plenty for vegetarians too. Chef Anuar recommends the spinach and seaweed salad, calling it a “flavour bomb”. It is an accessible way to present a very Japanese ingredient, and meat eaters should also give it a try.

Being a Japanese restaurant and by the sea, fish is obviously on the menu. The otoro nigiri at, well, Otoro is obviously a must. The tuna that makes it is flown fresh from Toyosu Market in Tokyo. Guests can have it raw or lightly torched. If you’re feeling like more of the ocean’s best, you can have it topped with caviar and uni, the Japanese term for sea urchin, a loved and exclusive delicacy, this time flown in from Hokkaido.

Drinks are also good, and the Centro, made with yuzu juice, Japanese lime and ginger soda, is particularly so, another stand-out indication of the restaurant’s success at pulling off modern takes.

Finally, dessert involves an innovative chance to try matcha, a Japanese ingredient that has taken the world by storm in recent years, in the form of cheesecake. It is a great yet not too heavy end to a fine meal.

Price point and contact information

Starters range from Dh30 to Dh100; mains go from Dh40 to Dh450; two pieces of sushi range from Dh30 for salmon to Dh80 for Wagyu. House drinks are in the 30s; and desserts hover around Dh45.

Reservations can be made by contacting 02 886 9995 or reservations@otoroabudhabi.com.

This review was conducted at the invitation of the restaurant

Updated: September 30, 2022, 6:02 PM