DUBAI: It isn’t easy to find Kohantei. The fact that this tiny restaurant discreetly tucked away in an outbuilding next to Dubai Opera isn’t signposted, and that even the security guard wasn’t sure where it was, all seems intentional — part of the narrative that makes it the complete antithesis of the typical Dubai fine-dining restaurant.
But fine dining this certainly is. Kohantei serves traditional Kaiseki cuisine — Japan’s version of the French-style degustation menu, a high-end affair consisting of several small, meticulously prepared courses. But that’s only half the story; Kaiseki also refers to the culinary skills required to create the food, as well as the ritual of the experience, complete with refined and sincerely hospitable service.
Kohantei — which translates to ‘lakeside pavilion’ — stays true to its time-honored traditional roots in every way. You could be forgiven for thinking you’re in a ryoken in Kyoto once you enter the restaurant (shoes off at the entrance, of course), thanks to the minimalist décor in small private rooms separated by rice paper partitions. Patrons sit on sunken tables to replicate the traditional low seating, and the restaurant is staffed by an all-Japanese team led by celebrated executive chef Hisao Ueda.
You can select from six to eight courses, with price points varying according to number of courses and the produce used to create them. Ingredients are of paramount importance, with most being shipped directly from Japan twice weekly. They are treated with appropriate reverence by the chefs when creating the dishes. This is integral not only to the Kaiseki concept, but to food in Japan in general, and Kohantei follows the Kaiseki tradition in which suppliers actually vet restaurants before allowing them to cook and serve their produce.
A pleasant surprise from this afternoon’s supply drop of Japanese produce - Katsuo (Bonito). . Chef Ueda presents “Katsuo no Tataki” - Seared Bonito. A time honoured traditional recipe. . 本日、日本より鰹が届きました。 . Bookings recommended +971 (0) 4 243 4951 . #Traditional #JapaneseFood #mydubai #Kaiseki #katsuo #DowntownDubai #DubaiOpera#chef_ueda #Kohantei_Dubai
That level of respect shows in the final product. Typically, a meal will start with an intricate appetizer such as marinated deep fried seafood with shallot and paprika, served with in-season canola flower topped with bonito flakes.
I could wax eloquent about the flavors, but since the available dishes largely depend on whatever is in season (the slightly bitter canola flower for example, is widely eaten in Japan in springtime as it has a detoxifying effect, our gracious hostess informed us) it wouldn’t matter.
Suffice to say that each course, from the delicately flavored seafood broth with silken tofu, bamboo shoot, and a Japanese-pepper herb garnish to the as-fresh-as-it-gets sashimi of salmon, tuna, and prawn, served with a fiery but delicious house-made wasabi, were meticulously crafted to elicit the maximum umami.
Beef plays a starring role at Kohantei, with the many options — an A4-grade Japanese Wagyu and 9+ Australian Wagyu in my case — proudly displayed raw at first, then cooked and served in a number of ways, including as a grilled dish with deep fried potato and shisito peppers with citrus soy sauce on the side; boiled and served with marinated onions as a cold dish, served, enjoyably but somewhat unusually, after a hot main course; and finally in an utterly delicious rice bowl with miso soup on the side.
A citrus sorbet provides an appropriately light and refreshing finish to the meal.
The Kohantei experience is as much a cultural education as it is a meal. For fans of Japan — both its cuisine and its customs — the restaurant is a must-try.