Nuri review: K-food arrives in Abu Dhabi with knockout barbecue

Capably cool, excellent value and proper South Korean grilling - Yas Bay has a new star

The Buddha's Feast set menu starts at Dh200 a head, and comes highly recommended. Photo: Nuri Grill & Bar
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"This cut’s my favourite; it’s like butter,” says our personal chef over the sizzle of barbecuing striploin.

She’s wrong, though; it’s not like butter at all. It’s even softer. This I could spread on bread without tearing gaping holes into my sandwich.

I don’t even need to chew, I can simply swallow it whole like a pelican.

Nuri Grill & Bar on Yas Bay Waterfront is the UAE’s newest South Korean restaurant – and my third in as many months after Dubai’s Hoe Lee Kow and Gimi.

As the rise of K-food shows no slowing down, I am first in line to try the latest addition.

Where to sit and what to expect

Nuri is grand and painfully cool thanks to a monochrome interior of dark tabletops, crisp white lines and little bursts of shiny copper detailing.

Particular praise must be reserved for staff who, merely days after opening, run smoother than an 80-person orchestra and an in-house DJ provides the soundtrack to their efficiency.

My dining partner and I make a beeline for the terrace during a wave of “Welcome,” and a cheek-busting smile from the bartender.

There, sumptuous views over the water, Al Raha Beach and beyond await.

The menu

Too often restaurants try to appease every appetite only to harm their own identity. I don’t want to go to an Italian restaurant and order ceviche.

Lamb cutlets at a Thai place? Behave. And the less said about sushi pizza, the better.

When trying a new cuisine, why hide out in the safety of the burger section rather than dive right into the weird and wonderful names?

Galbi tang, Nuri haejang guk, dongchimi guksu, bibim guksu. I’m in, unless any of it means brains … a hard lesson learnt during a point-and-eat afternoon in Tunisia.

Nuri sticks to its guns with a menu that is dominated by South Korean cooking. Admittedly, there are eyebrow-raisers on the last page, such as tacos and corn dogs, but I’m told the latter is as prevalent on Seoul’s streets as it is at American funfairs.

Grilled meats are the stars of the show here – although vegetarians, pescatarians and those who don’t eat red meat are well catered to.

There is a 12-course omakase-style menu, too, where chefs serve whatever they fancy.

Our table comes with a shiny new copper grill attached, so it feels fitting to make the most of it.

The Butcher’s Feast section of the menu offers starters, cuts of meat cooked tableside, soups, salads, sides and desserts.

We opt for the four-cut package and, at Dh250 a person, it’s exceptional value for a restaurant of this standing.

Within minutes, our table turns into a banquet as three bowls of ban-chan (pickled seasonal vegetables including two types of radish and one of onion) are joined by a salad of mixed greens and gochujang (red chilli paste) vinaigrette; lettuce with ssam-jang (a sauce of fermented soybeans and chilli paste); egg souffle and seaweed broth; spicy kimchi stew; and rice.

They’re joined by a plate for the grill including the four cuts and vegetables of mushrooms, asparagus and aubergine.

To finish, there’s a plate of seasonings – two dipping sauces, freshly grated wasabi, wasabi powder and four types of salt.

Head chef Roy Kim even brings out an overflowing bowl of his version of tteokbokki (spelt ddukbokki on Nuri’s menu), a South Korean street food staple of rice cylinders coated in sauce.

It’s like a personal buffet and I don’t have to go elbow to elbow with strangers. I don’t even have to leave my seat.

As a different chef comes over to sear the meats – we have ribeye cap and roll, galbi (short rib) and striploin (chef’s butter-soft favourite) – we dig in.

It’s a volley of flavours, with the fiery tofu and fishcake stew complemented by the sharp pickled radishes and the syrupy tteokbokki sauce.

The souffle is enormous and helps temper the heat.

The rest is a wild ride of texture and taste – acidity, sweetness, charring from the steak, roaring spice from the wasabi, crunch from the palette-cleansing salad sticks and top-of-the-mouth zinginess from the fermented kimchi.

By the time the snow bingsu dessert – red bean and coconut-topped ice shaved so finely it looks like iron filings, but morphs into frozen cream on the tongue – arrives, my taste buds are in overdrive.

And I’ll be back with a grin bigger than the barman’s.

Standout dish

Steaks on a plane grill with four types of salt to season at will are the knockout dish of the night.

Even though I count 17 different plates, bowls, griddles and pots on our table at one point, it’s the four cuts of prime beef that rise above them all.

A chat with the chef

Chef Roy is from South Korea and has refined his passion for pan-Asian food at many of Dubai’s best-known venues including Asia Asia, Karma Kafe and the Armani Hotel.

He’s been in professional kitchens for almost 20 years. Translation? He adores soy sauce. “It’s my go-to ingredient,” he tells me.

“I try to incorporate it in every dish. Not only does soy sauce play an extremely important role in the taste of a dish, but it is also an indispensable ingredient in Asian cuisine.”

As a result, for carnivorous diners, he recommends the galbi jjim – a popular dish during the festive season, which is braised short ribs with soy sauce and various ingredients slowly cooked for three hours.

For seafood lovers, he suggests the flatfish sourced from South Korea; the japchae stir-fried noodles for vegetarians; and the brilliant binsu for dessert.

Price point and contact information

Small plates range from Dh50 to Dh100; mains range from Dh70 to Dh240; meat cuts start at Dh100 for 150g; and desserts range from Dh50 to Dh55. The Butcher's Feast set menu starts at Dh200.

Nuri Bar & Grill is open from noon to midnight from Sunday to Wednesday, and noon to 2am from Thursday to Saturday. Reservations can be made by contacting 054 211 5151.

This review was conducted at the invitation of the restaurant

Updated: December 08, 2023, 6:02 PM