Kaizu review: Abu Dhabi restaurant serves Japanese dishes with creativity and flair

The tan tan ramen comes highly recommended

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There's beauty in symmetry, and from its artfully prepared and presented sushi rolls to the arrangement of toppings in its ramen bowls, this is something Kaizu takes seriously. Its existence is rooted in the concept, the restaurant having opened its doors in Abu Dhabi on the wonderfully aligned 22/2/22 at 22.00.

The Japanese restaurant is tucked away in a narrow but busy thoroughfare in Al Zahiyah, Abu Dhabi. With cars parked on either side of the street and impatient traffic building up, it’s a blessing the restaurant offers valet parking.

What to expect and where to sit

The decor has a few fun touches. Photo: Kaizu Japanese Restaurant

Inside, it’s dark and elegant, all blacks, golds and granite finishings. It’s narrow, with tables, primarily for two, lining the edges. There’s also a private dining space and live sushi bar, which adds a nice theatrical touch.

The picture on the wall of a Japanese chef, his arm bursting from the frame to plate a piece of sushi, is the first of a few fun touches with the decor. Another is the large table at the back of the restaurant. It has been handcrafted, a silver plaque affixed to it reads "By Emirati Guy", and it acts as a storage cabinet for retro items ― vintage Casio watches, old cleavers and even an old ticket for an abra ride ― that add character to the space.

The menu

Warrior rolls at Kaizu

This is a mesmerising list of soups, appetisers, salads, tartare, new-style sashimi, classic sashimi, nigiri, raw sushi rolls, cooked sushi rolls, veg sushi rolls, maki, yakisoba, ramen, robataki grills, side dishes, desserts and drinks. You’d be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed, but staff (and the beautiful photography) are extremely helpful.

We decided to go with every one of the staff’s recommendations and first up, aside from the deliciously refreshing lemon, mint, honey and ginger welcome drink, was the tom yum soup (Dh35). It was pure sweet-and-sour joy, not too spicy, but with just enough kick to lift the lime, coriander and lemongrass flavours. The raw mushrooms, chunks of salmon, shrimp and calamari made it an ample starter.

Abu Dhabi is home to various nationalities, which gives me the opportunity to tailor dishes in a way that fuses cuisines
Karthick Gunasekaran, head chef, Kaizu

Then came a mix of raw and cooked sushi — the truffle solitare (Dh78) and warrior rolls (Dh68) from the former selection and the angry eel (Dh85) and scallop volcano (Dh68) from the latter — which we watched being expertly prepared.

It arrived on a decadent serving platter surrounded by giant leaves and colourful flowers, plus a tiny bowl of fish swimming around — pretty and perfect for Instagram.

The truffle solitare was a vibrant combination of prawn tempura, cream cheese and cucumber rolled up and topped with raw sliced salmon, truffle mushrooms and a truffle teriyaki sauce. The angry eel, a roll of seared salmon and avocado topped with blowtorched eel and coated in a dynamite mayo and yuzu teriyaki sauce, was packed with flavour.

The scallops secret carpaccio (Dh78) from the new-style sashimi menu was also a delight, the secret being a wonderfully creamy, subtle and yet slightly tart sauce made of durian fruit tamed with mayo and Japanese spices. The mango chunks added a welcome sweetness, while the thinly sliced scallop provided texture, making this a brilliantly inventive dish.

Our more substantial mains were the tan tan ramen (Dh60) and a sweet-and-sour mixed seafood yakisoba (Dh55). More on the ramen below.

Two little drops of ice-cream mochi completed the meal, with the ice cream ensconced in a glutinous, chewy coating. They were not overly sweet and the perfect size after a large meal.

Standout dish

Tan tan ramen. Photo: Kaizu Japanese Restaurant

The tan tan ramen was a hearty helping of noodles bathed in a thick and creamy broth made of chicken stock and soy milk. The wonderfully savoury flavour was lifted by the textures coming from the minced chicken, beansprouts, pak choi, broccoli, spring onion, sweetcorn and soft-boiled egg toppings.

Given the incredible variety of flavours we tried, we probably wouldn’t order the tom yum soup and yakisoba noodles, since they have quite similar flavours.

A chat with the chef

Head chef Karthick Gunasekaran has worked at Bushido by Buddha-Bar in Bahrain and many other restaurants, but has been at Kaizu since its opening last February. Here he has the freedom to demonstrate his passion for Japanese cuisine. “I like to think of my cooking style as a freestyle technique that allows for ample creativity,” he says. “I love having room to explore different cultural palette preferences and fusing different tastes into Japanese dishes to create beautiful blends.”

This is something he credits to Abu Dhabi and it’s why he loves working in the city. “It’s home to residents from various nationalities, which gives me the opportunity to tailor dishes in a way that fuses different cuisines.

“I also always prefer to develop my dishes from scratch and do not like to follow what other restaurants are doing,” he adds. “This allows me to delight and surprise our clientele.”

He says the restaurant primarily sources its ingredients from Japan to ensure it is offering dishes that are as authentic in taste as possible. His favourite ingredients to cook with are hamashi and otoro – yellowfin and bluefin tuna respectively – and akami, “the lean, reddish flesh from along the spine of the tuna that is used especially for sushi and sashimi. Another, less mainstream ingredient I love to use is black fermented garlic,” he says. “Incorporating it adds to the exclusivity of a dish. We’ve created many of our menu items using this ingredient, including our sauces, sushi and toppings.”

The dishes chef Gunasekaran recommends include: the route to beet for vegetarians, because it’s “a flavoursome sushi roll containing sweet potato, beetroot, cucumber, avocado and asparagus among other delicious toppings”.

For meat lovers, he suggests the newly introduced lamb chops served with purple potato "for extra flair”. Seafood lovers are, of course, spoilt for choice, but Gunasekaran recommends the pink lady or seamachi sushi.

Price point and contact information

Starters range from Dh29 to Dh68, sushi from Dh39 to Dh88, ramen for Dh60 and Dh65, and dessert from Dh32 to Dh39, with a platter priced at Dh134 ($36.50).

The restaurant is open from 1pm to 11pm, and reservations can be made by contacting 058 691 1981 or kaizu.ae@gmail.com.

This review was conducted at the invitation of the restaurant

Updated: February 03, 2023, 6:02 PM