Every so often a restaurant comes out of nowhere to pique the interest of Dubai diners. There can be a number of reasons for this sudden surge in popularity – a celebrity chef, spectacular location or (as is all too often the case) some food related gimmick. Thanks in large part to the power of our social media driven culture, it’s newly opening Yugen that has become the most recent target for the cities young Emiratis.
It’s easy to see why, as Yugen’s Instagram account exudes a sense of intrigue. Pitch black pastas, smoked sushi and some unique dessert creations have been slowly teased over the last few weeks to build momentum in the run up to the restaurants opening. We visit late on a Saturday night to find the place absolutely packed.
Yugen is situated opposite Mercato Mall on the Jumeriah Beach Road and is easily identifiable via a cubic structure and subtle lettering. The exterior looks sleek and modern but step inside and the story is altogether perplexing. Camels are everywhere, with little ceramic ‘ships of the desert’ perched on each table and ever-present in 3D artworks from which they appear to be crawling out of the frame. Look upwards and you’ll witness camel legs hanging from the ceiling as if stuck between the restaurants two levels or peek into one of the gloomy corners and you’ll find a table where swing seats replace the expected chairs.
It’s a surreal environment with empty picture frames reminiscent of the works of Salvador Dali and a distinct purple hue providing the feeling of dining in a nightclub, albeit one with no drinking or dancing.
Yugen is certainly unique in terms of design and that in itself is likely to be a draw for many but what of the concept? Described in the menu as “a conceptual restaurant with a curious menu” it’s safe to say the interiors had heightened our interest and with phrases such as “unique flavours” and “gastronomic experimentation” being thrown around we couldn’t wait to get started on the food.
The menu itself is divided into ‘acts’ with each act comprising dishes of a distinct texture and taste. Yugen aims to tell a story through food and art, inspired by surrealism and altered perception.
Act I makes up the appetizers and features Yugen’s take on a Ceasar salad (shrimp or duck), corn on the cob and rock shrimp tempura – so far, so standard! The first item to catch our eye is the Under The Mexican Sun, a dish described in the menu as a beef taco but one that transpires to be something far more interesting. The spiced minced beef is wrapped in a thick paratha and resembles a burrito rather than a taco. Slathered in a cheese sauce and dressed like the canvas of a Jackson Pollack painting , the plate is striking and matched by the flavours. Sticking with the Mexican theme, the Mexican Nachos were altogether disappointing and tasted like cool original Doritos covered in Thai sweet chilli sauce.
Continuing through the first act, we opt to try two of the signature sliders, Muwa Mai Sweet Chilli Prawns and Wagyu beef. Both offer a lesson in how sliders should be made, with a soft sweet bun that holds its shape and complements the ingredients within. Much like the Choco x coffee slider at Parkers, the Wagyu iteration here blends some interesting flavour combinations of coffee, blueberry syrup and a honey bun. It may sound like an overly sweet offering but the sweetness is extremely subtle and provides a strange (in a good way) complement to the Wagyu. Meanwhile the prawn slider has a potato bun that we couldn’t get enough of.
With chicken, duck and Japanese tempura beef sliders also available, it’s safe to say that we may need to make a return visit to sample them.
Acts II and III make up the sushi and main courses in this menu but there are only three main courses to choose from… Wagyu tenderloin, black penne pasta and corn fed chicken (known as Saudis In Dubai). Skipping these ‘big plates’ altogether we settle on the Yugen On Fire, a sushi made of crispy prawns, crab, spring onions, cream cheese, dynamite sauce and wasabi mayo. Although not too spicy we really appreciated not only the size of these rolls but their crisp texture. On a side note, Yugen’s thick cut Dynamite Truffle Fries are the best we’ve sampled in the UAE (#JustSaying).
Act IV takes an interesting turn as we move into dessert territory. Skipping over the usual raspberry cheesecake and chocolate fondant in a bid to be adventurous, we end up with two desserts, one good and one not so good…
It’s often said that bad news should be followed by good news, so lets start with the dessert we didn’t care for. The name Pretzel Nachos may sound like an interesting one but that is where the excitement ends! A packet of salted pretzels tipped into some chocolate sauce does not a dessert make and this plate was completely off in terms of both texture and flavour and a huge disappointment that couldn’t be saved no matter how many scatterings of caramelized popcorn, edible flowers and chocolate butterflies you may add. This dessert is a case of too much of one thing and though the idea of converting savory nachos into a dessert is a novel one, the execution is all over the place. We’re all for innovation and offering something unique but these nachos were a step too far…
Much better were the Oreo Churros Infused With Nutella. A chocolate lovers dream of soft warm Oreo dough covered in sugar. These churros provide an instant sense of delight and the addition of raspberry, blueberries and passionfruit help to cut through the sweetness of the plate.
Act VI refers to the usual list of beverages and mocktails that were again hit and miss. The Yellow Submarine is a refreshing blend of mango, passionfruit and lemon but the Raspberry Flame Raba arrives far too sweet and overly syrupy. Sure Yugen is in the early stages of opening but it would appear that in certain areas of the menu, some refinement is required.
Similar in vein to the likes of Salt, Parkers and Switch, Yugen shows great potential with a number of dishes that are bound to become talking points in coming months. Many of our dining companions were ordering food based upon Instagram posts rather than the physical menu and with no alcohol, it’s easy to see why Yugen has become a firm favourite with the local population. Even at 10:30pm on a Friday night the restaurant was near to full capacity.
As much as we enjoyed the food (especially the dynamite fries and the sliders), we do feel as though the surrealist element has been vastly overplayed. Aside from immaculate plating on the majority of dishes, there’s little to indicate surrealism or altered perceptions when it comes to the food. It will be interesting to see how Yugen stacks up against it’s competitors once its novelty factor wears off
We were invited to dine at Yugen. All views are our own and all photographs are © Out & About UAE.