An international leader in contemporary Japanese cuisine, Koi has spread from LA’s West Hollywood district to Abu Dhabi. The restaurant is perfectly in keeping with its Saadiyat Island location and can be found tucked away in The Collection, an upmarket dining enclave set against the picturesque backdrop of natural sand dunes and palm-fringed beaches.
Koi has fast been gaining a reputation on the Abu Dhabi dining scene for their Saturday ‘Gochiso’ Brunch but it was the a la carte options that became the reason for our visit. On a Tuesday night when the rest of the city appears to be sleeping, Koi is abuzz with groups of young twenty-somethings enjoying the lounge with it’s chilled ambiance. The restaurant space is anchored around a central sushi counter that proves to be a hub of activity throughout our meal, as the chefs work with tireless precision to create dishes of impeccable quality. The ambiance is one of subdued candlelight, punctuated by textured walls, lush foliage and the hypnotizing brush strokes of Japanese calligraphy.
Boasting an intimacy unlike anywhere else in the capital, the seating is well-spaced and clustered around pockets of darkness which help to add to the atmosphere. Though seeing your actual food may be somewhat problematic, as the phrase ‘dining in the dark’ springs to mind. It may be atmospheric but it’s also not entriely practical. Dining underneath what little light can be mustered from a small table lamp, we indulge in a selection of Maki rolls that includes shrimp tempura, eel and avocado, and spicy tuna, though it was the slightly spicy Dragon Roll of shrimp tempura, eel and baked crab that proved to be a textural marvel.
Aside from the sushi, Koi’s menu takes diners on an expansive journey through the very best of Japanese cuisine. The selection includes the usual favourites (Miso Black Cod, Lobster Tempura) and a number of unique items that you’re unlikely to find at many other places in the capital, such as a seaweed medley or the sea urchin sashimi.
We try to gage the experience by ordering the staple dishes of any Asian restaurant to see how the food compares. Both the Creamy Rock Shrimp Tempura and Edamame come up trumps by keeping things simple with a firm focus on flavour. From the signature dishes our picks would be the Wagyu Beef Tataki, presented beautifully with edible flowers and the distinct aroma of summer truffle, and the Salmon Carpaccio with Ponzu dressing, that is presented in concentric circles reminding us of the spirograph designs of our youth. As lovers of all things raw, these are some standout choices. The only weakness comes from the Lobster Tacos which although light, are surprisingly lacking in flavour, unless consumed with the Yuzu guacamole.
Main courses run the usual gauntlet of sautéed tiger prawns and homemade tofu but it’s the Grilled Seabass and Braised Short Ribs that pique our interest. The short rib dish is unbelievably tender and is injected with a startling heat from the wasabi risotto, working to complement the meat with its creamy texture. The seabass is beautifully delicate, coated in a sweet honey-balsamic glaze, floating in the middle of a shisho-pea coulis. Sides come at an additional cost.
Desserts keep the Japanese focus with a Yuzu Passionfruit Trifle, Mochi and Coconut Tapioca available, yet it was the Sticky Toffee Pudding with coconut ice cream that got our vote. Soft and comforting with the coconut ice cream provided to cut though the sweetness of the warm toffee sauce, though it was a touch overdone.
Koi’s positioning as one of the premier Japanese restaurants in Abu Dhabi has provided them with a loyal clientele of locals and expats, who come for the unique hybrid of lounge and restaurant. With sufficient service (albeit a little slow at times) and upbeat music at just the right volume so as not to stifle conversation. The outside terrace would be our preference but with the thermometer averaging around forty degrees at the moment, it will have to wait until winter. Ultimately Koi is a winner and with it’s distinct blend of traditionalism and contemporary, provides a great addition to the dining landscape of Saadiyat.
An edited version of this post first appeared in the June 2017 issue of Dining & Nightlife Abu Dhabi:
We were invited to dine at Koi. All views are our own and all photographs are Out & About UAE,