Chef Masaharu Morimoto should require little introduction. Familiar to many at the Iron Chef, Morimoto has opened his latest venture on the 23rd and 24th floors of the Renaissance Downtown Hotel.
Having honed his sushi skills in his hometown of Hiroshima before opening his first restaurant in Japan. Morimoto turned to America to expand his culinary repertoire and in the process, developed a fusion concept that combines the best of both cultures. In 1994 he joined Nobu, before transcending into celebrity status via his role on television show Iron Chef. This newfound recognition and penchant for cutting-edge cuisine led to the opening of the first Morimoto restaurant in Philadelphia in 2001.
Almost two decades later and the Morimoto brand has expanded across the globe with restaurants situated in the likes of New York, Mexico City, Bangkok, Maui, Doha and now Dubai. Finally opening in March of this year with an unprecedented anticipation.
The man himself may be absent during our recent visit (he’s set to return to Dubai on occasion to oversee the restaurant) but to the uninitiated his likeness is imprinted throughout the Dubai venue. A large photograph of the Iron Chef greets diners at the restaurant entrance and his name is emblazoned across bulbous paper lanterns that rise throughout the restaurant space. And what a space it is, for the split level venue encompasses a 250 seater restaurant, large bar area, three private dining rooms, sushi and teppanyaki counters and four outdoor terraces offering one of the best views of the Burj Khalifa in the city. Morimoto’s interiors feel modern and chic while paying homage to Japan via a huge conifer tree that traverses the restaurants upper and lower levels, while the collection of light fittings take on the likeness of Nomura jellyfish.
The outside terrace feels very “New York” with a vitality that lives up to the East meets West hybrid that Morimoto is famed for. The terraces (some of which can be privately hired) make for the ideal sundowner spot with innovative zodiac inspired cocktails infused with the likes of wagyu beef and parmesan cheese.
Morimoto Dubai incorporates some of the Chef’s signature dishes such as his tuna pizza and an intriguing sea urchin carbonara. Despite these inventive options, we find ourselves drawn towards the teppanyaki counters and the ‘Omakase’ style of dining, a Japanese tradition allowing the chef full creative freedom over what we’re going to eat. It’s an interesting notion that takes us out of our comfort zone and in the process, allows us the engage directly with the chef while also learning about the history and culinary techniques surrounding each dish.
Don’t expect flames, the catching of food in pockets or the rice towers resembling beating hearts that are the focus of other similarly themed venues. For Morimoto is far more refined.
Being Morimoto we can’t help but indulge in the fatty tuna and salmon nigiri which literally melts in our mouths as the iron teppanyaki grill heats up. Our interactive teppanyaki experience begins with an interesting interplay of flavours and textures from the oyster foie gras in which the oysters are cooked on the grill with a sweet teriyaki sauce before being topped with seared foie gras and steamed sea urchin. Plated upon spices and rock salt ,the intricacies of the flavours blend together well as the dish is eaten in one mouthful.
Teppanyaki is recognised as a grilling method, but in creating the lamb cutlet the team at Morimoto bring new cookery methods to classic teppanyaki. A square is drawn onto the grill out of a potato and flour mixture creating a ‘wall’ into which oil is poured, thus allowing the breaded lamb to be shallow fried before being served with a demi-glace inspired by French cookery. French inspiration continues with the wild caught salmon which is seasoned #SaltBae style before being cooked in a beurre blanc sauce which works to enhance the flavours of the fish.
A quick display of beautifully marbled Wagyu beef segues into our favourite dish of the evening, the Wagyu sukiyaki. A traditional hot pot dish in which the Wagyu is briefly seared on the grill before being added to a sweet sauce containing tofu, shiitake mushrooms, cabbage rolls and a poached egg which is broken into the mix. This particular sukiyaki presents a modernized take on the Japanese hot stone cookery known as ishiyaki, bringing an abundance of flavour to the premium wagyu and the velvety heartwarming sauce.
Our evening finishes with dessert as we move away from the heat of the grill into the ambient lounge to indulge in a fiery chocolate tart and the refreshing mango coconut. Reflective of the name, the chocolate tart is more of a sphere which is flambéed with rum causing the chocolate to melt and reveal a wealth of goodies hidden inside. It’s certainly an impressive dessert but we much prefer the salted caramel biscuits that adorn the side of the plate.
The Renaissance Downtown Dubai represents a harmonious fit for the Morimoto brand and the hotel continues to set the bar when it comes to dining in Dubai. Each of the hotels food and beverage outlets are playing to particular strengths, while forging their own unique identity – from Italian concept Basta, through to Middle Eastern BHAR, and David Myers’ Bleu Blanc. Morimoto may have been the last to open but its been well worth the wait and represents the final jewel in the Renaissance’s glittering crown. Morimoto offers slick service amidst sky high dining, and Japanese cuisine that looks set to rival the likes of Zuma, Tomo and Play.
This article originally appeared in the June 2018 issue of FACT Magazine.
Out & About UAE were guests of Morimoto Dubai. All views are our own and photographs are © Out & About UAE.