The influence of South Korea on Dubai’s dining scene is growing.
Gimi is the second restaurant to open in the city in as many months; and, like Hoe Lee Kow, the country’s cuisine is front and centre on its menu.
In my recent review of chef Reif Othman’s latest venture, I spoke about how I was embracing K-food, South Korea’s next biggest export, with open arms and chopsticks.
Gimi is owned by Atelier House Hospitality, the brains behind some of the neighbourhood’s best restaurants including the Michelin-starred Woodfire 11 and the French venue RSVP, where Lyon-born chef Aadel Ouaoua is turning traditional recipes on their head.
And so I head to the Jumeirah 1 venue with an appetite for more of the company’s culinary wizardry.
Where to sit and what to expect
Gimi lives in the space Fat Uncle used to call home. As a result, like all good K-pop, Gimi is as familiar as a warm hug from family. In fact, the decor hasn’t changed at all – except the Fat Uncle tiles above the wood oven have gone.
It’s all dark walls with light bamboo accents, mirrored ceilings, under-the-counter lighting and neon lights. There’s a central bar surrounded by tables and booths and a semi-open kitchen in the corner. Having opened only last year, it would’ve been a crying shame to strip out the interiors and start again – but it ain’t broke, so they haven’t fixed it.
The restaurant is part of Al Wasl Vita Mall, although there is an entrance from the street, which has ample parking.
Inside, service is gently nudging along on a lazy Sunday afternoon, with several diners already trickling in.
Expect street-food-style dishes from South Korea on a menu that is pleasingly precise.
There is a selection of small plates, four types of dumplings, three rice and noodle dishes, three pizzas (at a Korean place? Love it) and seven mains.
Kimchi pancakes, chicken skewers, dumplings, bibimbap and Korean fried chicken are plates of unbridled comfort. They’re proper Seoul food.
But among them sit dishes born out of a well-travelled chef’s experiences – crab croquettes inspired by Spain; Wagyu sliders (Japan-meets-American bar food); and duck breast with fried kangkong (France on a backpacking trip around South-East Asia).
My dining partner and I forgo the meat-and-prawn-stuffed dumplings to try the cheese-and-truffle versions. The four parcels are outstanding, the delicate truffle doesn’t drown out the rest of the flavours with its pungency. They turn me 100 per cent vegetarian – until the Wagyu tacos arrive two minutes later.
The tacos are, apart from their appearance, anything but traditional Mexican bites. They’re salty, sticky and simply brilliant, but more on them later.
Our waiter also recommends the short rib pizza – “One of our best-sellers with diners” – and while I usually dive into oddball fusions, I sidestep it and the tom yum version for more K-grub.
Unlike Othman at Hoe Lee Kow, chef Paul Felicisimo’s tteokbokki follows more traditional lines. The rice flour cylinders are uncoated and sit in a bowl of fiery sauce; after all, Gimi means spice in Korean. There’s melty cheese on top and kim mari to dip in, which are made from rice noodles banded together with a nori roll at one end and kept free at the other. They’re fried tempura-style, leaving the untied ends to expand like tree branches – providing extra surface area to mop up the tomatoey gravy.
I have eyes firmly on the ramen, until I’m told it’s a dry version, so no broth, and opt for the bibimbap instead. It’s finished tableside, as our waiter mixes the selection of vegetables, gochujang sauce (fermented chilli) with the rice and fried tofu. Rice and veg, in all its various names and formats, is a staple in Asian cooking and Gimi’s holds its own against the best. Especially when doused in two portions of gochujang like mine.
With my mouth quickly turning into a ring of fire, the team swiftly bring out a cooling coconut ice cream to temper the heat, with a scoop of the black sesame version for good measure.
Authentic K-food aside, it’s when the Gimi chefs fuse international staples with the rising cuisine’s street food favourites that they really excel.
For the tacos, the premium beef is minced, marinated in a slightly sweet sauce with a hint of heat and stuffed inside a delicate black shell made from nori. It’s top-notch cooking and costs a ridiculously fair Dh44. It’s topped with crunchy shallots and perfectly suited to a side of kimchi with extra chilli, of course.
“One more?” asks the waiter.
“Oh yes, gimme, Gimi!”
Price point and contact information
Small plates and dumplings range from Dh42 to Dh79; noodles, rice, pizza and main dishes range from Dh60 to Dh265 ($16 to $72); and desserts range from Dh30 to Dh65.
Gimi is open from 6pm to midnight from Tuesday to Friday, and from noon to midnight on Saturday and Sunday. It's closed on Monday. Reservations can be made by calling 056 545 9575.
This review was conducted at the invitation of the restaurant