For some time now, we have heard rumblings that the best sushi in the capital, is only available on a Monday night… at an Arabic themed restaurant! Now the idea of a restaurant known predominantly for its Middle Eastern cuisine, turning its hand to the intricate art of sushi is a questionable one. Let us tell you right now that Kahraman’s sushi night at the Southern Sun Hotel is one event that you don’t want to miss.
Having never dined at Kahraman before, we were suitably impressed by the decor. A huge bronze sculpture in the shape of a lotus flower rises out of the dining area and towers over a select number of cosy booths. The alluring pattern of the lotus flower is then replicated on the ceiling, in an impressive light fitting. Tables are a combination of semi-private dining areas (for larger groups and families) and more formal seating, with lavish high backed chairs upholstered in blue velvet. No matter where you are seated, privacy and discretion is provided via latticed wooden screens, carved in Arabic style upon darkened wood.
The space is charming, but feels somewhat lacking in atmosphere, despite the buzz (busy for a Monday evening in Abu Dhabi) and the melodic Arabic music emanating subtly from overhead speakers. Sometimes it is difficult for a venue to shake off its blatant hotel location and with a large number of guests staying in the hotel, the atmosphere at times felt a little dull. The Southern Sun can change this though. As they have done with the successful transformation of their all-day dining restaurant ‘The Foundry’, an exquisite space that is winning awards all over town.
Upon entering the venue, guests are immediately met with smiles and a warm welcome from the chefs working on the long, sleek sushi counter. The sushi presented at Kahraman is buffet style, with eight types available and despite its buffet trappings, all the sushi is made fresh and is constantly being replenished. We were mesmerised by the slicing, rolling and artistry on display, as the chefs worked tirelessly at creating these mini raw masterpieces.
The sushi buffet offers up a variety of rolls from the popular vegetable and California variety to the less obvious, crispy salmon skin maki. For those not au fait with sushi – we are by no means experts – the California roll is an American interpretation of the makizushi and comprises crab meat, avocado and cucumber, housed within an inside-out roll, surrounded by rice and scattered with the vibrant orange tobiko (flying fish roe). The Tobiko are little bubbles of delight that pop in the mouth when eaten. Despite the California roll being an Americanised version of traditional sushi, globally it is one of the most recognised and is said to have been responsible for the worldwide popularity of sushi.
All of the sushi available was of an exceptional quality, though out undoubtedly favourite was the dynamite maki. The dynamite roll uses Japanese mayo to create the slightly spicy kick, which acts as the perfect complement to the cool freshness of the raw ingredients, textures that blend into one mildly spicy hit for your mouth.
The other item we especially enjoyed was the crisp salmon skin maki. A slightly salty/crisp exterior that works textural marvels on the palette. There is also a selection of salmon and tuna sashimi, thinly sliced and draped over a garnish of radish, cucumber, lemon and carrot. The very name sashimi means ‘pierced body’ and relates to an ancient culinary technique that was said to be achievable only via the precision of a samurai sword. The staff at Kahraman are no samurai’s, but there is little doubt that their skilful carving of these raw fish is a talent all in itself.
The final item is the nigiri, a small oblong shaped mound of firmed rice that is draped with neta fish (salmon or tuna). Critics of sushi may say that it all the same – just a mixture of rice, salmon and tuna, presented in different forms- yet this is the beauty of sushi’s sophistication, in the texture and additional ingredients can completely change the flavours and enjoyment of these small Japanese delicacies.
If sushi is not your thing, or you just want to sample something else, the Arabic buffet at Kahmaran is also available to those enjoying Monday night sushi. This included a hot and cold buffet and also some ‘odd ball’ extras such as deep fried calamari, Italian arancini and miso soup. We thoroughly enjoyed the soft rice of the arancini which could have packed slightly more flavour. Meanwhile, the calamari looked crisp and golden but was unfortunately slightly tough, probably due to its time under the heat lamp.
The salads section is an assault of bright colours and the individual salads are beautifully presented in glass jars and upon miniature plates. Unfortunately for us, none of the salads were labelled and what we believed to be an Asian mango combination, transpired to be yellow cheese. Despite this lack of labelling, staff were freely available to guide us through the cold salad section upon request.
With a good selection of fresh bread and Arabic buffet, of which the mixed grill was very good for its spices and juiciness. Our favourite non-sushi item was most definitely the fish harra, a tender piece of white fish in a wonderful spiced tomato based sauce that we would happily return to Kahmaran for again.
Despite the choice of Arabic and international cuisine, we constantly found ourselves drifting back to the sushi counter, it really is that good! We found it so moreish that it got to a point where the chef brought us a large platter, to save us returning to the buffet every few minutes (now that’s service!) We were also lucky enough to sample a tempura shrimp roll, that was not part of the standard buffet and accompanied by a bowl of sake (Japanese fermented rice wine) it really was a great combination.
Diners at Kahraman’s sushi night are also welcome to help themselves to the dessert table, offering sticky date pudding, creme brûlée, a beautiful dark chocolate mousse presented in an espresso cup and a delightful hazelnut creme with popping candy. Sampling a number of these desserts, they were all exceptionally well made and tasted as good as they looked (going against the grain of the usual UAE dessert buffets that look so delectable, but taste like nothing but fake cream and air).
We were also presented with a slate of Arabic sweets and a marvel to behold. Featuring various items that provided a sweet tour of your favourite Arabian ingredients, from cardamom to pistachio and rose and despite its typical denseness, it really was exceptional and provided us a chance to see what the restaurant does with its staple Middle Eastern cuisine.
For a Monday night, the restaurant was ticking over nicely and diners seemed to be there predominantly for the sushi. A combination of families and hotel guests were happily enjoying each tasty mouthful, and maybe the Southern Sun should look at making the weekly sushi night a more regular occurrence?
Don’t let the trepidation of an Arabic restaurant making sushi alarm you as the freshly made items are certainly some of the best you can find in the capital – stick to the raw stuff and you most definitely cannot go wrong.
Location: Southern Sun Abu Dhabi, Al Mina Street, Tourist Club Area, Abu Dhabi
Hours: 3:00pm – 1:00am
Phone: 02 8184 888
We were invited to this event but all views are our own and all photographs are © Out & About UAE, unless otherwise stated. Three interior photos used courtesy of Kahraman Rstuaraunt and Southern Sun Hotels.