Wakame is the latest Pan-Asian eatery to make its mark on the competitive Dubai dining scene. Located on level three of the ultra-modern Sofitel Downtown Dubai, the restaurant is a multi-sensory treat from the moment you arrive.
The entranceway is adorned with bamboo, immediately presenting diners with a distinct Asian aesthetic. The restaurants name is emblazoned in large bold lettering across the slatted bamboo, as if proudly announcing its arrival to the world. Inside, the space feels less modern and more refined, taking on the feel of a Japanese teahouse with an additional chic vibe. Clean lines and an abundance of light wood fill the large space, while an enticing raw bar sits just off to the left, featuring a startling array of sashimi, octopus tentacles and the like. Meanwhile an open kitchen provides a sense of transparency as the team of chefs work tirelessly to creating intricately wrapped dim sim parcels.
Despite being one large room, the venue takes on a number of personalities, from the casual bar area complete with chunky glass chandeliers and large artworks of ornamental Koi Carp. The dining room presents a more formal approach and is swept up in a sense of futuristic grandeur, with the traditional wooden interiors juxtaposed against the outside views of the Skeikh Zayed Road and the clattering of the Dubai Metro (which passes by the window every few minutes). We feel as though we’ve been transported into Neon-Tokyo of Ridley Scott’s 1982 movie Blade Runner and feel completely surprised that something like this exists in Dubai. A glass-fronted private dining room tucked away at the back of the space, completes the restaurant.
Pan-Asian as a concept seems to be the ‘in thing’ on the Dubai dining scene at the moment (that and Peruvian) and the only real issue we had with Wakame was the concept and the menu itself. Having dined at both Dubai’s Karma Kafe and Abu Dhabi’s BarFly in recent weeks, Wakame presents an almost identical menu. We understand that there’s only so much that you can do with Pan-Asian cuisine but we just wish for a little more that the usual black cod, aromatic duck and various sushi. Our wonderful server Marcus, did an admirable job of guiding us through the menu and assisted us in selecting the less obvious choices. Doing so with an almost infectious friendly nature and constant smile. It’s the team at Wakame that help to elevate the experience and make the restaurant stand out from the crowd.
Taking from the very best of Japanese, Chinese and Thai cuisine. The food as Wakame is made from three different kitchens and arrives at the table (sharing style) as each dish is ready. We begin with Salted Edamame, a dish of sheer simplicity that sets the tone in terms of quality. The edamame is followed in quick succession by another staple of Pan-Asian restaurants, Rock Shrimp Tempura. The tempura here is ever so slightly battered, allowing the flesh of the shrimp to shine though and in a refreshing change from the norm. The fiery sauce is presented as an accompaniment for dipping, rather than being slathered over the top.
Regular readers know of our obsession with all things dim sum and the selection at Wakame didn’t disappoint. From the golden crunch of the Chicken Money Bag to the steamed delights of the Prawn, Scallop and Mushroom Siu Mai. These delightful parcels are as good as anything we sampled on our travels to Hong Kong, with the stand out being the vegetarian friendly Butternut, Spinach, Feta and Pinenut. Presenting a unique texture from the creamed butternut squash that provides a startling complement to the dim sum skin and packed full of flavour and a little heat.
When it came to the sushi, we tried to stray as far from the usual choices as possible, looking to dig a little deeper into what sets Wakame apart from their competitors. We admired the ambition in the Beetroot Roll, for its combination of oven roasted beetroot, kimchi mango and cucumber. The rolls have a sweetness from the beets and a distinctive colouration of deep purple that provide an additional visual dimension but are not quite as good as the Snowcrab and Truffle Flamed Maki. The addition of truffle to the delicate snow crab adds an extra flavour profile but it’s the eye catching presentation method that is the focal point of this dish. The line of sushi rolls are brought to the table before being ‘flamed’ with a blowtorch, as an elaborate piece of dinner theatre and something that we’ve not seen elsewhere in the city.
Thinking we’ve finished with the sushi, we’re presented with a surprise dish. The signature Firecracker Roses make us feel a little foolish for not ordering these wonderful creations ourselves. Featuring salmon wrapped to resemble floral roses, inside is a spiced salmon mix topped with a tempura crumb. Making a refreshing change from the standard sushi options, we begin to realize that Wakame does have a few surprises up their sleeve that equates to more than just exceptional food.
Continuing the roll of great dishes, we delve into a salad of Crispy Japanese Eggplant and Burrata. Not usually fans of eggplant, this is the second time in recent months that an Asian restaurant has changed our opinion of the vegetable (the other was Sho Cho). Presenting a thin crisp of warm eggplant that works wonderfully against the cool and creamy burrata cheese, this is fusion at its very best.
The main plates move us back into more traditional territory with a standard selection of Yakitori Baby Chicken, Wagyu, Yuzu Black Cod and Lobster Tempura. We select the Marinated Glacier 51 a beautiful chunk of oven roasted sea bass, with a zingy marinade of jalapeño and ginger. This would be our dish of choice, though the 270 AED price tag may be a little off putting for some.
We also indulge in the Crispy Duck. Complete with cucumber, spring onion, pancakes and hoi sin dipping sauce. A staple of Beijing’s Imperial era, this signature dish which is prized for it’s crisp skin, was perhaps not quite as crispy as we would’ve liked but the flavours and portion size were excellent.
Wakame presents some truly wonderful dishes if you look past the more traditional choices. In a competitive marketplace in which Pan-Asian concepts abound, the major selling point here is the consistency and quality of the food. That and the exceptional service provided by a group of uplifting personalities who epitomize the phrase “service with a smile.” These two elements are more than enough to give Wakame the edge over their rivals, though a re-think of the menu may also be required.
We were invited to dine at Wakame. All views are our own and all photographs are © Out & About UAE.