With the holy month of Ramadan now in full swing, Abu Dhabi sleeps by day and comes alive at night with an endless array of Iftar options to tempt you. Now don’t get us wrong, we love the traditional Arabic food of the region, but sometimes we’re looking for something a little bit different to mark the breaking of the daily fast.
The team at Khalidiya’s Mikado Cafe offer an alternative Iftar menu this Ramadan season. One that will delight your senses and stuff your stomachs, with a set menu of Japanese favourites that includes sushi, teriyaki and plump gyoza.
Having never visited Mikado cafe before, it was a surprise to find this modern space tucked away (just off of the corniche) in an alley bustling with small eateries. Parking is a nightmare, but if you can find a space, then you will certainly be rewarded for your efforts.
Mikado Cafe is a small venue, one that is modern and simplistic. Light wood, elongated mirrors and minimal decoration makes the space feel cosy. While white wisps of willow provide ornamentation, alongside a collection of Japanese paper lanterns that fill the entranceway.
The contemporary feel of Mikado equates to natural tones in furnishings, silver hanging lights – look like miniature flying robots – and a central sushi counter made of glistening marble. Tableware comprises rich bold colours rimmed in black and the sounds of traditional Japanese music emanate quietly from overhead speakers.
Selling themselves as a restaurant for Japanese comfort food, one glance at the breadth of the menu is likely to leave diners overwhelmed. For Iftar though, Mikado offers a comprehensive set menu, featuring some of their most popular signature dishes. Beginning with fresh fruits and dates (an Iftar staple) diners are asked to choose between green tea (Bancha, Kukicha, Houjicha) or iced teas to accompany their meal.
Despite being a set menu, customisation is the name of the game and the meal began with edamame, offering the choice of steamed, spicy or ginger varieties. Opting to start with simplicity (to match our surroundings) we selected the steamed version, scattered generously with sea salt.
Masai Guioza was next to arrive, delightful pockets of steamed seasonal vegetables that had been partly steamed and partly fried. The didn’t require a meat component, as the vegetables were unbelievably fresh and light held within their crisp doughy shell.
Mikado’s signature iced teas should be applauded and despite arriving sometime after the food, they were exceptional. Made with jasmine tea and infused with tropical fruits and exotic Asian ingredients, these refreshing beverages were a delight. The passion fruit was tangy and sweet, while lychee was strongly flavoured with lemon grass and brown sugar.
Best of all was the Nara, muddling together chilli, vanilla sugar, passionfruit juice and cinnamon with jasmine green tea. A combination of contrasting sweetness and spice, with an ever so slight heat, in the form of the aftertaste provided by the chilli. Embellished with natural ingredients – a stick of lemongrass and half a luscious passion fruit – this is a must try If visiting Mikado Cafe.
The next course was quite possibly the largest platter of sushi that we have encountered in our dining history! Comprising 28 pieces of the finest rolls and nigiri, the presentation was beautiful. The ‘ebi tempura uramkai’ was made to resembled a dragon and utilised the shells of a large shrimp to represent the head and tale of the beast. Sat atop of vibrant green pandam leaves and edible yellow petals, we tirelessly worked our way through salmon hossomaki and salmon nigiri. While for vegetarians, there were avocado hossomaki, vegetarian rolls and tamago nigiri – a traditional Japanese omelette that we had never sampled before.
Our favourite item on the platter was the ‘ebi tempura uramaki.’ The crisp tempura filling sits in the centre, surrounded by nori (seaweed), rice and toasted sesame seeds – the reverse format of standard makimono. The intricacy of sushi always leaves us impressed and this is where the name Mikado actually derives from:
“Japanese chefs believe their soul goes into the knives once they start using them, and food is an expression of art and craftsmanship. They also believe in the Power of ‘Mikado’, meaning emperor, who was inspired by the Gods to ensure the happiness and prosperity of his people” – Mikado Cafe.
Mikado have taken this statement and run with it, offering a menu that appeals to the soul as well as the belly. With a wide array of delicacies that span the traditional to the more modern interpretations, they endeavour to create a feast fit for an emperor. In fact, the staff were so proud of the food, that we were asked to sample items that were not present on the Iftar menu, such as the wonderful ‘Yaki Mikado Uramaki.’ A sushi made from grilled salmon, avocado and a spiced mayonnaise that was a textural marvel due to the crisp skin of the fish.
Another signature item not found on the Iftar menu were the ‘Tebasaki.’ Japanese style fried chicken wings, stuffed with shiitake mushrooms. Now we have never been a fan of chicken wings, but these were pretty good. The earthiness of the mushrooms certainly added to the succulent chicken wings, though it was the sticky and sweet bbq-like sauce that really excited us.
Main courses were chicken teriyaki and wagyu hambagu (wagyu hamburger), accompanied by a side of shiitake chahan – a fried rice dish that is more like a risotto. The wagyu was cooked rare and packed full of flavour, with a rich sauce and sweet caramelised onions. The teriyaki utilises broiled (and then slightly fried) chicken amid a soy-based sauce that is so clear and free from oil, that you can see your reflection it in. We also sampled a teriyaki salmon that contained beautiful thick salmon fillets but was ultimately overly salty for our palette.
Dessert was a Japanese bread pudding and a platter of fresh fruits (strawberry, kiwi, banana and orange). Putting the fruit aside for a moment, we delved into the bread pudding, similar to a traditional British bread and butter pudding (minus the dried fruits). We really appreciated the homely nature of this dessert and served with a warm custard (with hints of white chocolate) this was the perfect end to a sumptuous Iftar feast.
The food presented at Mikado cafe combines an array of authentic Japanese dishes infused with modern Western touches. Using seasonal ingredients, each dish is prepared fresh and we truly appreciated the fact that this alternative Iftar was not at all Arabesque. At 195 AED for two people, the Iftar set-menu offers Japanese cuisine at a fraction of the price offered by comparable eateries in the capital. For those wishing to order a la carte, the extensive menu comprises bento boxes, hot pots, sushi and a fine array of Japanese teas.
We left Mikado Cafe feeling stuffed, but content. Welcome to the world of Mikado, or as they say in Japan: “Yókoso.”
Location: Al Hana Tower, Corniche Street, Al Khalidiya, Abu Dhabi
Hours: 8am – 11pm
Contact: 02 667 7557
We were invited to dine at Mikado Cafe. All views are our own and all photographs are © Out & About UAE, unless otherwise stated.