Chef Izu Ani should require little introduction to Dubai diners. As the opening head chef of the acclaimed La Petite Maison, Chef Izu has garnered quite the reputation on the UAE dining scene leaving behind LPM to open numerous concepts throughout the city including the Mediterranean inspired Izu Brasserie and Bakery in City Walk, Carine at Emirates Golf Club, Greek concept Gaia in DIFC and Fika – a wellness dedicated restaurant at Jumeirah Beach Hotel.
With a slew of new openings, Chef Izu shows little signs of slowing down and rounds out a busy 2019 by venturing into a new culinary direction with the opening of Aya in the popular dining enclave at City Walk. While the chefs other Dubai restaurants have focused on Mediterranean food, Aya which means ‘beautiful in Japanese’ is exactly that, an exquisite restaurant that boasts impeccable interior design and a menu of high-quality Japanese dishes to match.
The restaurant space presents bright interiors, an expansive bar area, sushi counter and an open show kitchen where guests can peek through the glass into the inner workings of a busy kitchen. With ample seating both inside and outside on a pleasant garden terrace, guests can opt to sit amongst cherry blossom trees with twisted bows in full bloom or beneath large abstract light fittings. There truly is no bad seat in the house and Aya feels like a natural progression for Chef Izu as he turns his attention to a new cuisine.
Aya’s menu is interesting and takes traditional Japanese dishes while injecting them with a Mediterranean twist in a menu that comprises of mezze, buns, rolls, raw, josperyaki, mains and sides. We begin with the seaweed salad (AED 80) which comprises strands of thick purple seaweed as opposed to the expected wakame. The delicate seaweed is piled generously upon a robust tarama and works in conjunction with the pronounced flavour of the cured fish roe. The Short rib gyoza (AED 80) with shisho sweet and sour sauce is lightly fried and the durable skin wrapper gives way to the rich and tender short rib filling which could easily make for a standalone dish.
An interesting menu choice, the octopus ‘takoyaki’ croquettes (AED 85) are a delight. Lightly fried and adorned with tuna flakes the crisp exterior of the croquette gives way to a warm filling of diced octopus swimming in a hearty sauce that is at once warming and comforting. From the raw section the yellowtail (AED 80), smoked salmon gunkan (AED 65) and nigiri selection (AED 200) are all must order dishes with the sushi being rather exceptional thanks to the utilization of high-quality ingredients and the clever use of small jellies placed upon the cool raw fish to add additional bursts of flavour, with each of the six pieces becoming progressively spicier in a novel approach to sushi presentation.
The Wagyu Katsu Sando (AED 150) has probably become the most Instagrammed dish of 2019 but has only recently started appearing on menus here in Dubai. Though the price point is a touch high for what is essentially a sandwich it’s the premium 9+ Wagyu that is the commanding factor. Lovingly wedged between thick slices of sweet Hokkaido milk bread and slathered in Aya’s signature BBQ sauce its near-impossible not to get caught up in the hype, for the dish is an absolute sensation.
The beauty of a menu such as Aya is that there is no filler and each and every dish could be considered a must order and in all honesty, we could’ve structured our entire dining experience around the appetisers. The mains though limited in number maintain the consistency for quality that the dining experience at Aya successfully strives for, take for example the Spanish Octopus (AED 175) a tender tendril, loving coated in a sticky red yuzu glaze that successfully manages to strike the ideal balance between sweet and spicy. An accompaniment of coriander emulsion completes the plate.
With a variety of meat and seafood options cooked on the josper grill, our pick would be the Scottish Salmon (AED 170) with its teriyaki glaze and pomelo salad. A plate of distinct Asian flavours that complement rather than detract from the flaky protein that has been infused with teriyaki.
Chef Izu has managed quite the incredible task in curating the menu for Aya and how he balances Asian flavours and International influences is as astounding as it is impressive. This notion continues all the way through to the dessert course and the brown butter ice cream (AED 120) a literal mountain of dairy this is enhanced via the addition of hazelnut crumble and olive oil sponge that is presented a la minute and brings a unique textural counterpart to the dessert and is easily enough for two people to share.
Aya marks another strong opening from Chef Izu and it would seem as though he has the Midas touch, turning each one of his culinary endeavours into a success story. Aya sits comfortably alongside the likes of Lima and Toro + Ko in City Walks licensed district known as The Square and brings an exciting fine-dining concept into an area that is otherwise very much focused on causal concepts and coffee shops. Sure the price the point is a little higher than other restaurants in the vicinity but as the old saying goes “you get what you pay for” and at Aya that equates to an exceptional dining experience anchored around excellent food and strong service.
Out & About UAE were guests of Aya and all views are our own.