An international leader in contemporary Japanese cuisine, Koi has spread from LA’s West Hollywood district to Las Vegas, New York, Bangkok and Abu Dhabi. Koi Abu Dhabi is perfectly suited to its Saadiyat location, tucked away in The Collection, an upmarket dining enclave set against a picturesque backdrop of natural sand dunes and palm-fringed beaches.
Our half decade in Abu Dhabi means we are no strangers to the popular Japanese dining space, but our most recent visit marked our first experience of Koi’s lauded Friday brunch. During its initial launch, the Koi-Fu brunch was one of the city’s first a la carte table brunches and while many restaurants are now forgoing the vast buffet spread in favour of a more sensible and cost effective model. Koi can be seen as somewhat of a trailblazer when it comes to brunching in the capital.
Previous visits have always brought us to Koi under the cover of night, so it feels like a whole new restaurant when we enter during daylight hours. The lounge area adorned with shelves of potted plants gives way to a private dining room which feels much smaller than we remember. As does the dining room with its sleek glass sushi counter spanning the length of the back wall. Despite the pounding nightclub style music attempting to build atmosphere, the crowd when we dine is far more subdued and defined by the ebb and flow of families and young couples making the most of their weekends.
The Koi-Fu brunch aims to take diners on an expansive journey through the very best of Japanese cuisine and with the majority of Koi’s signature dishes on offer, the only choice diners need to make it between two soups. Everything else is brought to the table at well-paced intervals throughout the three and a half hour brunch.
Neither the Miso nor Kabocha soup make for a memorable start to the brunch, though we soon feel less Koi-Fu and more Koi-Phew with the arrival of two uniformly excellent salads. The simplicity the Seaweed salad with cucumber and sweet vinegar should be applauded for its uncompromising freshness, though the Fried Calamari Salad has the edge with its flavours of yuzu and almond that enhance the subtle flavours of the tempura seafood dramatically.
Being fans of all things raw, we relish in the arrival of a Wagyu Beef Tataki which is nicely balanced thanks to a yuzu sauce, though perhaps a touch truffle heavy. The Salmon Tiradito fares in its presentation of cool slithers of salmon marinated in a Sudachi soy and topped with slices of jalapeño to bring the slightest element of heat. The Hamachi Tartare however is visually unappealing and rather flavourless, leaving us to ponder its inclusion in the brunch considering the strength and quantity of the other dishes.
Mis-steps aside, the sashimi still remains the highlight of a meal at Koi. With the likes of Zuma and 99 Sushi much closer to home (we’re Reem Island residents) we can’t believe we’ve been neglecting the sashimi at Koi for so long. The experience is akin to re-discovering a long forgotten memento that fills us with such joy that we can’t help but order more. With salmon, tuna and yellowtail available the presentation should also be noted, displayed within an illuminated box, piled high with ice and adorned with edible flowers a touch of foliage. Yet it’s the flavour unembellished flavours that allow the strength of a good quality product to really shine though.
A selection of maki rolls includes the expected California, alongside fried salmon, shrimp tempura and unagi varieties. The rolls are good and represent Koi’s commitment to contemporary Japanese creations using premium ingredients, but even these small delights are soon upstaged by the arrival of the Creamy Rock Shrimp Tempura and Vegetable Karaage which still remain some of Koi’s most popular menu choices.
To be honest the starters are quite enough and we’re pretty full before the main courses arrive. Yet the onslaught of food continues! While many Japanese brunches would ask diners to select one main course (we’re looking at you Morimoto), the team at Koi generously serve six dishes to the table sharing style, though the portions are too large to manage! After such consistency with the starters, we find the mains to be rather underwhelming. A selection of lamb spare ribs look and smell fantastic thanks to a Takiniku glaze, but the resulting meat is so fatty that it becomes difficult to navigate. The roasted baby chicken transpires to be a touch on the dry side and the Wagyu striploin is surprisingly bland. It’s not a complete disaster though with the Miso Marinated Black Cod redeeming the entire course, proving why the UAE has taken to the sweet and succulent fish dish with such ferveur!
Desserts retain the Japanese focus with a selection of Yuzu Tart Brulee, Matcha Tiramisu and Sticky Toffee Pudding. Again were impressed by the flavour combinations but when we next return for this brunch we can envision ourselves sticking firmly with the starters. For they are miles ahead of the remainder of this particular brunch.
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 hybrid lounge/restaurant concept and the quality sushi. With sufficient service, a pleasant outside terrace and a good beverage selection for brunch, it’s Koi’s distinct blend of traditionalism and the contemporary that continues to make the restaurant such a popular spot to dine on Saadiyat.
Out & About UAE were guests of Koi. All views are our own and photographs are © Out & About UAE.
The Verdict: Koi
A sophisticated brunch offering that offers plentiful food and a pleasant if somewhat subdued atmosphere. Koi continues to impress with a strong selection of sushi and sashimi, but when it comes to this particular brunch the main courses should perhaps be revised.